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Bash Remove Last Character From String / Line / Word

I have a file of that looks as follows:

foo bar
tom jerry
UNIX Linux

Each word and/or Linux is a different length. How do strip or remove the last character from each line using bash or ksh shell only on a Linux or Unix-like systems?

You can use any one of the following commands:

  • Bash/ksh shell substitution
  • cut command
  • head command
  • tail command

Bash/ksh shell substitution example

The syntax to remove last character from line or word is as follows:

x="foo bar"
echo "${x%?}"

Sample outputs:

foo ba

The % is bash parameter substitution operators which remove from shortest rear (end) pattern. You can use the bash while loop as follows:

while IFS= read -r line
       echo "${line%?}"
       # or put updated line to a new file
       #echo "${line%?}" >> /tmp/newfile
done < "/path/to/file"

cut command example

The syntax is as follows:

## if length of STRING is 3, pass 2 as  character positions 
echo "foo"| cut -c 1-2
## if length of STRING is 14, pass 13 as character positions 
echo "nixCraft Linux" | cut -c 1-13
See also:

# Additional correction by James K; Editing by VG – log #

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • punktyras April 27, 2011, 2:15 pm

    whiile IFS= read -r line

    whiile -> while

  • null May 11, 2011, 7:55 am

    Did you ever heard of “wc -l”? Or “head”/”tail” commands?

  • Keilaron November 19, 2011, 8:25 pm

    Although a bit rude, the previous comment has a point: You can use head and tail to strip off characters. If you want it to be the first X or last X, you can use -/+, like so:

    echo '"foo!"'


    echo '"foo!"' | head -c -2


    echo '"foo!"' | tail -c +2


    echo '"foo!"' | head -c -2 | tail -c +2

    This is particularly useful with tree -Q (it doesn’t escape properly otherwise).

  • Seshadri June 3, 2013, 1:24 am

    Excellent, Keilaron !

    Just noticed a typo in your post (transposed cut paste):

    echo '"foo!"' | head -c -2

    echo '"foo!"' | tail -c +2

  • NightFlight March 19, 2014, 4:23 pm

    echo ‘”foo!”‘ | head -c -2
    head: illegal byte count — -2

    • Keilaron March 23, 2014, 10:19 pm

      Odd, I just updated and it still works for me.
      What do you get from head –version (which distro/OS, too)? I get head (GNU coreutils) 8.21 Packaged by Gentoo (8.21 (p1.0))…

      • Nix Craft April 12, 2014, 6:33 am

        Mostly head/tail command on *BSD/OSX and older Unix-like oses will not accept GNU/{head|tail} syntax.

        • Keilaron April 16, 2014, 6:05 pm

          Oh, good point. I even have an old Mac here I could have tested on, but I didn’t think of it. I was just thinking of Linux at the time.. and yeah, the GNU/Linux tools tend to have little quirks and additions.

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