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Add 17: "Stream Editing"

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janlelis committed May 17, 2015
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title: Stream Editing
date: 2015-05-17
tags: cli-options, golf, globals, one-liner

One of Ruby's goals was to replace popular unix *stream editors* like `awk` or `sed`, which both have the concept of manipulating files in a line-based manner. Ruby has the `-n` option for this:

Causes Ruby to assume the following loop around your script, which makes it
iterate over file name arguments somewhat like sed -n or awk.

while gets

And its sibling `-p`:

Acts mostly same as -n switch, but print the value of variable $_ at the each
end of the loop.
For example:

% echo matz | ruby -p -e '$! "a-z", "A-Z"'
What you need to know is that the [special global variable]( `$_` contains the last read input. When using `-n` or `-p`, this usualy means the current line. Another thing to keep in mind: `gets` reads from [`ARGF`](, not from `STDIN`, so you can pass arguments that will be interpreted as filenames of the files that should be processed. Equipped with this knowlegde, you can build a very basic example, which just prints out the given file:
$ ruby -ne 'print $_' filename
Since print without arguments implicitely prints out `$_`, this can be shortened to:
$ ruby -ne 'print' filename
If one uses `-p`, instead of `-n`, no code is required, because `-p` will call `print` implicitely:
$ ruby -pe '' filename
Now let's modify each line:
$ ruby -pe '$_.reverse!' filename

This will print out the file with all its lines reversed.

Here is another example, which will print every line in a random ANSI color:

$ ruby -ne 'print "\e[3#{rand(8)}m#$_"' filename
There is more to assist you in writing these short line manipulation scripts:
## The Ruby One-Liner Toolbox
* CLI Options: `-n` `-p` `-0` `-F` `-a` `-i` `-l`
* Global Variables: `$_` `$/` `$\` `$;` `$F` `$.`
* Methods that operate on `$_`, implicetly: `print` `~`
* The special `BEGIN{}` and `END{}` blocks

## Running Code Before or After Processing the Input

You can run code before the loop starts with `BEFORE` and after the loop with `END`. For example, this will count characters:

$ ruby -ne 'BEGIN{ count = 0 }; count += $_.size; END{ print count }' filename
## Using Line Numbers
`$.` contains the current line number. A use-case would be counting the lines of a file:
$ ruby -ne 'END{p$.}' filename
## String Matching
Now let's do some conditional processing: Only print a line if it contains a digit:
$ ruby -ne 'print if ~/\d/' filename
The message to take away: The `~` method implicitely matches the regex against `$_`.
But it gets even better:
$ ruby -ne 'print if /\d/' filename
You thought conditions with a truthy value will always execute the `if`-branch of a conditions? They will not, if the truthy value is a non-matching regex literal!
This also works when using the ternary operator for conditions:
$ ruby -ne 'puts "#$.: #{ /\d/ ? "first digit: #$&" : "no digit" }"' filename
## Inplace-Editing files
Using the `-i` option, you can modify files directy (just like `sed`'s `-i` mode). For example, removing all trailing spaces:
$ ruby -ne 'puts $_.rstrip!' -i filename
Like in `sed`, you can provide a file extension to the `-i` option which will be used to create a backup file before processing:
$ ruby -pe '$_.upcase!' -i.original filename
## Auto-splitting Lines
The `-a` option will run `$F = $_.split` for every line:
$ ruby -nae 'puts $F.reverse.join(" ")' filename
## Specify Line Format
You might not always want to use `\n` as the character that separates lines. Fortunately, Ruby has [record separators](, and you can set some of them via command-line options:
Option | Variable | Description
`-0` | `$/` | Sets the *input record separator*, which is used by `Kernel#gets`. Character to use must be given as [octal number]( If no number is given (`-0`), it will use null bytes as separator. Using `-0777` will read in the whole file at once. Another special value is `-00`, which will set `$_` to `"\n\n"` (paragraph mode).
`-F` | `$;` | Sets the *input field separator*, which is used by `Array#split`. Useful in combination with the `-a` option.
`-l` | `$\` | Sets the *output record separator* to the value of the *input record separator* (`$/`). Also runs [String#chop!]( on every line!

## Further Reading

- [sed](
- [un](
- [pru](

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