wc Command in Linux Explained [With Examples]

Last updated: November 24, 2023 | Nimesha Jinarajadasa

The wc (word count) command in Linux allows you to count words, lines, and characters in a text file or the output of a command. It commonly becomes useful to analyze text data.

Syntax

The basic syntax of wc command

wc [options] [file]

Below are the 5 most useful options of wc:

  • -l or --lines: Count the number of lines.
  • -w or --words: Count the number of words.
  • -c or --bytes: Count the number of bytes (characters).
  • -m or --chars: Count the number of characters.
  • -L or --max-line-length: Find the length of the longest line.

By default wc command displays the number of lines, words, and characters in the specified file.

$ cat linux-info.txt
Linux is open source and used widely.

It's known for multitasking and stability.

Distros like Ubuntu and Debian exist.

Linux CLI is powerful.

Community supports its growth.
$ wc linux-info.txt
  9  27 177 linux-info.text
$

Examples

Let's look at how to use wc command with some examples

Count Lines

Use -l option to count the number of lines and display the total.

$ wc -l linux-info.txt
9 linux-info.text

You can count lines in multiple files by providnig more filenames:

$ wc -l linux-info.txt .bash_history
    9 linux-info.text
 1260 .bash_history
 1269 total

This displays the total line count in each file and the overall lines in the files.

Count Words

Use -w option to count the number of words, the following examples check the total word count in the linux-info.txt file:

$ wc -w linux-info.txt
27 linux-info.text

Whereas counting the words in the provided string, use

$ echo "It's known for multitasking and stability." | wc -w
6

Count Characters

Use -c option to count characters in a file or input stream.

$ echo "It's known for multitasking and stability." | wc -c
43

The 43 output shows the counts the characters (bytes) in the provided string.

Note: It treats each byte, including control characters, newline characters ('\n'), and special characters, as a single character.

The -m option does the same but treats multibyte characters as a single-character, and does not consider control characters or special characters as individual characters.

Length of the longest line

The wc -L command helps to check the length of the longest line in a text file.

$ wc -L linux-info.txt
42 linux-info.txt

The output 42 means there is a line in the file that is 42 characters long. Remember this may not necessarily be the same as the total number of bytes.

Few Practical Examples:

1. Count the number of times a specific word appears in a file:

$ grep -o -w 'linux' linux-info.txt | wc -l
0
$ grep -o -w 'Linux' linux-info.txt | wc -l
2

2. Count the total number of files and directories in the current directory

ls -1 | wc -l
or
find . -type f | wc -l

3. Count the total number of users on the Linux system

getent passwd | wc -l

Basically, it counts the number of user entries in the system's password database.

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