Getting the count of unique values in a column in bash

I have tab delimited files with several columns. I want to count the frequency of occurrence of the different values in a column for all the files in a folder and sort them in decreasing order of count (highest count first). How would I accomplish this in a Linux command line environment?

It can use any common command line language like awk, perl, python etc.


To see a frequency count for column two (for example):

awk -F '\t' '{print $2}' * | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr


z    z    a
a    b    c
w    d    e


t    r    e
z    d    a
a    g    c


z    r    a
v    d    c
a    m    c


  3 d
  2 r
  1 z
  1 m
  1 g
  1 b

Here is a way to do it in the shell:

cut -f $FIELD * | sort| uniq -c |sort -nr

This is the sort of thing bash is great at.

The GNU site suggests this nice awk script, which prints both the words and their frequency.

Possible changes:

  • You can pipe through sort -nr (and reverse word and freq[word]) to see the result in descending order.
  • If you want a specific column, you can omit the for loop and simply write freq[3]++ - replace 3 with the column number.

Here goes:

 # wordfreq.awk --- print list of word frequencies

     $0 = tolower($0)    # remove case distinctions
     # remove punctuation
     gsub(/[^[:alnum:]_[:blank:]]/, "", $0)
     for (i = 1; i <= NF; i++)

 END {
     for (word in freq)
         printf "%s\t%d\n", word, freq[word]


This code computes the occurrences of all columns, and prints a sorted report for each of them:

while (<>) {
    @Fields = split /\s+/;
    for $i ( 0 .. $#Fields ) {
for $j ( 0 .. $#result ) {
    print "column $j:\n";
    @values = keys %{$result[$j]};
    @sorted = sort { $result[$j]{$b} <=> $result[$j]{$a}  ||  $a cmp $b } @values;
    for $k ( @sorted ) {
        print " $k $result[$j]{$k}\n"

Save the text as Run it as: perl files*


In the top-level while loop: * Loop over each line of the combined input files * Split the line into the @Fields array * For every column, increment the result array-of-hashes data structure

In the top-level for loop: * Loop over the result array * Print the column number * Get the values used in that column * Sort the values by the number of occurrences * Secondary sort based on the value (for example b vs g vs m vs z) * Iterate through the result hash, using the sorted list * Print the value and number of each occurrence

Results based on the sample input files provided by @Dennis
column 0:
 a 3
 z 3
 t 1
 v 1
 w 1
column 1:
 d 3
 r 2
 b 1
 g 1
 m 1
 z 1
column 2:
 c 4
 a 3
 e 2
.csv input

If your input files are .csv, change /\s+/ to /,/


In an ugly contest, Perl is particularly well equipped. This one-liner does the same:

perl -lane 'for $i (0..$#F){$g[$i]{$F[$i]}++};END{for $j (0..$#g){print "$j:";for $k (sort{$g[$j]{$b}<=>$g[$j]{$a}||$a cmp $b} keys %{$g[$j]}){print " $k $g[$j]{$k}"}}}' files*


#!/usr/bin/env ruby
Dir["*"].each do |file|
    open(file).each do |row|
        row.chomp.split("\t").each do |w|
            h[ w ] += 1
    h.sort{|a,b| b[1]<=>a[1] }.each{|x,y| print "#{x}:#{y}\n" }

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