Perl One Liners

Perl Argument Overview | Example One Liners | Encoding | perl from vi | Converting One Liners | END without END

Example perl one liners for command line use, a summary of important perl command line arguments, and how to convert between 1-liners and full Perl scripts. This page assumes the reader has a reasonable amount of Perl experience. Consult sites like and Perl Monks to learn more about Perl, or visit the #perl channel on the Freenode IRC network. Also consider the book Minimal Perl by Tim Maher, which covers one liner style Perl in great detail.

The following examples require a Unix shell, such as zsh. Windows systems will need double quotes in place of single quotes. Devel::REPL provides an interactive shell, if you are instead looking for a Perl command line interface.

perl one liners favor quick command line searching and editing. I recommend the practices outlined in Perl Best Practices when developing scripts or applications with Perl. See also Famous Perl One-Liners Explained for additional discussion of Perl one liners.

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Perl Argument Overview

Arguments to perl can alter how Perl processes input. For a complete list of these invocation options, see perlrun.

In addition to the various options to perl, there are also arguments to the program being run, though these are often just filenames in one liners. @ARGV contains the complete arguments; unlike other languages, the program name is stored in the $0 variable, not with the program arguments.

$ perl -le 'print "$0 and $ARGV[0] $ARGV[1] $ARGV[2]"' first second third
-e and first second third

perl -nle 'BEGIN { $n = shift } print "$. $n"' foo /etc/passwd…

Example One Liners

Experiment with these to practice the expressions; otherwise, make backups in the event an expression runs amok. The examples assume a Unix Bourne compatible shell (such as zsh); other command lines may require altering the quotes around the Perl code (double quotes for Windows), or changes to support C-like shells (csh, tcsh). For more information on shell commands, see my shell tips page.

Current Filename

The special $ARGV variable holds the current filename, or - when data arrives via the standard input filehandle. See perlvar for more information on special variables like $ARGV. As -nle or -ple run code for each line of input, a special block (such as BEGIN or END) or lookup hash must be used if the filename must only be printed once.

$ wc -l /etc/passwd
36 /etc/passwd
$ perl -nle 'END { print $ARGV }' /etc/passwd

$ echo test | perl -nle 'print $ARGV'
$ (echo test; echo test2) | perl -nle 'print $ARGV'

$ perl -nle 'print $ARGV if !$seen{$ARGV}++' /etc/passwd /etc/shells

The filename can be used when sending output to a new command that needs the original filename.

Strip out lines

Use perl -nle 'print if ! …' to say “print, except for the following cases.” Practical uses include omitting lines matching a regular expression, or removing the first line from a file. For more information on regular expressions in Perl, see perlretut and perlreref. Lookup $. in perlvar. Operator precedence may require the use of unless instead of if ! or parenthesized expressions. See perlop for details.

$ (echo a; echo b) | perl -nle 'print if !/b/'
$ (echo a; echo b) | perl -nle 'print unless $. == 1'

A warning about the special line number variable $. and multiple files: the eof function must be used to reset $. for each new file, as otherwise the line count increases across the files. The following examples demonstrate this behavior by looping over the input file twice; note the use of close ARGV if eof in the second case.

$ cat input
$ perl -nle 'print $.' input input
$ perl -nle 'print $.; close ARGV if eof' input input

For help debugging regular expression problems, consider the re module:

$ perl -Mre=debugcolor -le 'print "yes" if "data" =~ m/(a).\1/'

Add a line to a file

Appending data to existing files is easy. So is inserting data into arbitrary locations in a file, such as prepending a new first line to a set of files. In the following case, #!/usr/bin/perl will be added as the first line of all *.pl files in the current directory.

$ perl -i -ple 'print q{#!/usr/bin/perl} if $. == 1; close ARGV if eof' *.pl

If a recursive replace is needed, either investigate the use of the modules File::Find or IO::All, or list all the files via a Unix shell command. If filenames contain spaces, use find -print0 and xargs -0 to avoid filenames being misinterpreted by the shell.

$ perl -i -ple 'print q{#!/usr/bin/perl} if $. == 1; close ARGV if eof' \
`find . -type f -name "*.pl"`

$ find . -type f -name "*.pl" -print0 | \
xargs -0 perl -i -ple 'print q{#!/usr/bin/perl} if $. == 1; close ARGV if eof'

The following trick shows how to replace the second line of a file with some text, but only if that line is blank.

$ perl -ple '$_ = "some text" if $. == 2 and m/^$/; close ARGV if eof'

To pipe null delimited data to perl without using xargs -0, supply no argument to the -0 option to perl:

$ find . -type f -print0 | perl -0 -ne 'print "$_\n"'

To alter the last line of a file with an in-place edit, use the eof function as a test:

$ (echo one; echo two) > test
$ perl -i -ple 'tr/a-z/A-Z/ if eof' test
$ cat test

Home on the range

To match or skip blocks of text, use the .. operator. perlop details this operater. This example prints lines, unless blank:

$ cat input

$ perl -ne 'print unless /^$/../^$/' input

The unless statement is equivalent to if not, but is different from if ! due to the associativity and precedence rules covered in perlop. A benefit of this behavior allows the reduction of runs of blank lines to a single blank line.

$ perl -ne 'print if ! /^$/../^$/' input


Line numbers can also be used with the range operator, for instance to remove the first four lines of a file.

$ perl -nle 'print unless 1 .. 4' input

To match a single line with the range operator, use 5..5.

Altering record parsing

Perl uses the -0 option to allow changing the input record separator. Use -00 to operate in paragraph mode, and -0777 to treat the file as a single line. The paragraphs file contains the -0 documentation from perlrun, used in the following example:

$ perl -00 -ne 'print if /special/' paragraphs
The special value 00 will cause Perl to slurp files in paragraph
mode. The value 0777 will cause Perl to slurp files whole because
there is no legal byte with that value.

Parsing the entire input file as a single line can be used to alter the newlines that otherwise require a range operator to deal with, as shown above. By treating an entire file as a single line, a s///g expression can eliminate runs of blank lines:

$ cat input

$ perl -0777 -pe 's/\n+/\n/g' input

Match some data with Backreferences

Use backreferences to extract matching data. If matching a single expression, such as words from the paragraphs file, use a for loop to print them all:

$ perl -nle 'print for m/\b(\S+)\b/g' paragraphs

A while loop must be used when making multiple backreferences: find the matches, then use the $1 and $2 variables to print the results. Another contrived example: find the words on either side of all the the in a file.

$ perl -nle 'print for m/(\S+)\s+the\s+(\S+)/g' paragraphs
$ perl -nle 'while(m/(\S+)\s+the\s+(\S+)/g){print "$1 $2"}' paragraphs
specifies input
digits, null
follow digits.
by null
use hexadecimal
where "H"
use "-x"

Custom Quoting

Shell quoting may cause problems when writing expressions on the command line. On Unix, wrap Perl expressions in single quotes to prevent unwanted shell interpolation. To use a literal single quote inside a single quoted string, the awkward '\'' syntax ends the single quoted string, include a literal quote, then restart the quoted string:

$ perl -le 'print "'\'' is a single quote"'
' is a single quote

Alternative: use an octal code instead; see ascii(1) for a dictionary of ASCII to octal values.

$ perl -le 'print "\047 is a single quote"'
' is a single quote

The od -bc command will display the octal codes for any data passed to it:

$ perl -le 'print "\047"' | od -bc
0000000 047 012
' \n
$ perl -le 'print chr for 1..250' | od -bc

Perl also allows different quoting operators, see the “Quote and Quote-like Operators” section under perlop for more information on these.

$ perl -le 'print q{single quoted: $$} . qq{ interpolated: $$}'
single quoted: $$ interpolated: 11506

Output to Multiple Files

To split output among multiple files, change where standard output points at based on some test. For example, the following will split a Unix mail file inbox (in mbox format) into multiple files named filename.*, incrementing a number for each message in the mailbox.

$ perl -pe 'BEGIN { $n=1 } open STDOUT, ">$ARGV.$n" and $n++ if /^From /' inbox

Recursive File Mangling

Either the shell or Perl modules can be used to alter files in subdirectories. Perl modules to use include File::Find or File::Find::Rule, among others. Relevant shell commands on Unix include find(1) and xargs(1). Replace the echo in the examples below with the perl command to run on the files. The -print0 argument to find and xargs -0 will work even if files have spaces in their name, unlike the first case.

$ echo `find . -type f`
$ find . -type f -print0 | xargs -0 echo

Fun with @INC

Search under @INC (see perlvar for more information on this array) to find installed Perl modules. This example will search most of @INC for any module names beginning with Config. The shell backticks collapse the directory list into proper arguments for find(1), and the Perl grep excludes non-existent directories and the current directory from the search.

$ find `perl -le 'print for grep {$_ ne q{.}and -d} @INC'` -name "Config*"

Make use of the related %INC hash to find the location of loaded modules on the underlying filesystem:

$ perl -MCPAN -le 'print $INC{""}'

Downloading YouTube Videos

Peteris Krumins posted an excellent discussion on downloading YouTube videos with a Perl one-liner.


Data encoding can be specified for command line scripts either via environment variables such as PERL_UNICODE or the -C option to perl, as documented in perlrun. Proper output of any encoding requires that any other software used (fonts, terminals, text editors, and so forth) that view or alter the data also agree on and provide support for the encoding. Configure these properly before diving into any Perl problem. Database access via perl or other interfaces may also need appropriate use of Encode or binmode. Warnings, if any, should be looked up in perldiag.

perl from vi

The vi family of editors are a natural fit for perl one liners, as they offer easy means to run arbitrary commands against arbitrary lines of a file. Learn the range notation, such as :.,+4 (current to plus four lines) or :.,/^$/ (current to first subsequent blank line). Then append !perl -ne … or !perl -pe … as appropriate to alter the region in question.

Converting One Liners

One liners may be used as quick example code, or could be found in someone’s shell history. This may not be the ideal form for commonly used commands. The following section demonstrates how to convert one liners into Perl scripts.

END without END

-ple '$c++; END { print $c }' can also be written as -ple '$c++ }{ print $c'.