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I'm interested to find out the line number of the longest line from a file.

For example, if I have a file with the following content:

mu mu mu

how can I write a bash script that will give me an output something like this: 3 -> abracadabra?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

You don't need a script for doing this. A simple command is enough:

egrep -n "^.{$(wc -L < filename)}$" filename

This will work even when you have two or more lines with the same maximum length.

If you want that the output to be exactly in this form: 3 -> abracadabra, then use:

egrep -n "^.{$(wc -L < filename)}$" filename | sed 's/:/ -> /'


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@don.joey: that's the power of unix. Simple commands, that can work together. here, he looks for "^.{n}$", ie any line that, between the beginning of line (^) and its end ($) has exactly n characters (.{n}). Then he just needs to find n: for this he uses a GNU-ism, "wc -L filename" (note that this is not posix) which returns the length of the longest line of filename. So he greps any line that has the longest length. $(cmd) is replaced by the output of cmd. – Olivier Dulac Nov 12 '13 at 16:26
@OlivierDulac Great comment. – Radu Rădeanu Nov 12 '13 at 16:27

You could use awk to print the length of each line (length()) and the line number (NR), then reverse (-r) sort the result by number (-n):

$ awk '{ print length(), NR, $0 | "sort -rn" }' tmp.txt
10 3 abracadabr
8 4 mu mu mu
7 2 tatatat
6 1 lalala

To show just the first line:

$ awk '{ print length(), NR, $0 | "sort -rn" }' tmp.txt | head -n 1
10 3 abracadabr
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@user214965 please see my update, the line number displayed is the second number in the result. – Attila O. Nov 12 '13 at 9:57
What if there are 2 lines with the same maximum length? – Radu Rădeanu Nov 12 '13 at 10:09
@RaduRădeanu good point. +1 for wc -L, I didn't know about that argument. It is very useful indeed. – Attila O. Nov 12 '13 at 14:31

A O(N) can be achieved with a perl one liner :

perl -e 'while (<>) { if (length > length $max) { $max=$_}}; print $max'

usages (where machin is a file name)

cat machin | perl -e 'while (<>) { if (length > length $max) { $max=$_}}; print $max'


perl -e 'while (<>) { if (length > length $max) { $max=$_}}; print $max' machin

or (less clear but shorter)

perl -ne 'if(length>length$m){$m=$_};END{print$m}' machin
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Much, much more efficient. Thanks! Was looking for it. – test30 Jan 13 at 17:50

O(n) For machines, for example OpenWRT, where perl is not available, @awk@ version might be useful.

awk 'length > l {l=length;line=$0} END {print line}' FILE

or python:

python -c "print max(open('$file', 'r'), key=len)"
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