I have a C program and the inputs are given through command line. Now I want to pass the inputs from a text file. There are two inputs, a and b, written line by line like this:

a    b
2   423
4    56.9
7   83.5

Now I want to call this txt file in a loop and pass each a and b value line by line so that the output of the C program is generated for each a and b value.

To do so I want to write a shell script which will call the txt file in read mode and after getting the data it will call the C program and then the C program will do the rest including the output.

As I am new to this shell scripting I am confused about how to open a text file and then read data line by line and store them in some variable in the shell script.

Please suggest how can I open the text file in read mode and then read data (which may not be always integers) and store them in some other variables.

  • 4
    why don't you read the txt file with your C program?
    – damadam
    Jul 5, 2018 at 6:21
  • you can also try accessing the file directly from your C program using various file handling methods.
    – Jrct
    Jul 5, 2018 at 6:22
  • 2
    because I am calling a pre- written C program that and there is no provision to modify it as I have the access of exe file only. So to incorporate this program in my program I want to run a shell script. Jul 5, 2018 at 8:09
  • Can you add examples, based on the example file contents you already provided, how exactly your "C application" needs to be called?
    – Byte Commander
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:22

2 Answers 2


Assuming "inputs are given through command line" means that the program accepts command-line arguments, then you should be able to do this with xargs

Ex. given a minimal C program

#include <stdio.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
  printf("Running %s\n", argv[0]);
  for(int i=1; i<argc; i++) printf("arg %d = %s\n", i, argv[i]);

compiled with gcc -o someprog someprog.c, and a file of whitespace-separated input arguments inputs.txt

$ cat inputs.txt 
2   423
4    56.9
7   83.5


$ xargs -L1 ./someprog < inputs.txt
Running ./someprog
arg 1 = 2
arg 2 = 423

Running ./someprog
arg 1 = 4
arg 2 = 56.9

Running ./someprog
arg 1 = 7
arg 2 = 83.5

If your input file has a header, you will need to remove it (using tail for example).

If parallel processing would be computationally advantageous for your task, then you could do a similar thing with GNU Parallel

parallel --colsep '[ \t]+' ./someprog {1} {2} :::: inputs.txt

Here is a simple Bash example of such script:

tail -n +2 "input-file" | sort -u | while read -a args
    echo "${args[0]}" "${args[1]}"
  • The first command tail -n +2 input-file will output the content of the file ./input-file, but without the first line. Here is assumed that the Bash script and the input file are in the same directory - ./ is the path to the current directory.

  • This output will be piped | to the standard input of the command sort (with -u only the unique lines will be outputted), that will sort this input by the first column (use man sort to find out more options).

  • The output of the command sort -u is piped to the STDIN of the while-do-done loop, where each line will be read as an array -a.

  • Further the echo command will output the first and the second element of the array, named args. You should tweak this line - change echo with the path and the name of your C program.

The one line syntax of this example is:

tail -n +2 "./input-file" | sort -u | while read -a ar; do echo "${ar[0]}" "${ar[1]}"; done

Another example:

tail -n +2 "$INPUT_FILE" | sort -u | while read -a args
    echo "${args[@]}"
  • Here the name of the file input-file is changed with the variable $INPUT_FILE, which value is assigned preliminary.
  • Also echo "${args[@]}" will output the whole content of the array args simultaneously.

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