wc: Is there anything it can’t count?!

Ostensibly, wc counts words. And for the purpose of wc, “a word is a non-zero-length sequence of characters delimited by white space.” Feed wc a file, and it will happily spit out a total for you.


Except, as you can see, by default wc gives more than just word counts. It counts newlines, then words, then bytes. Perhaps wc should be renamed to “nwbc?”

But wait, there’s more: wc can also total up characters, which may come in handy from time to time.


And as a curiosity, wc can show the length of the longest line in a file.

kmandla@6m47421: ~/temp$ wc -L output.txt 
16 output.txt

I can’t imagine a situation where that would be useful, but I don’t dare argue with a member of the hallowed coreutils package. 😀

So in short, wc will count newlines, words, bytes, characters and even show the length of the longest line in a file. Is there anything it can’t count?! 😯

5 thoughts on “wc: Is there anything it can’t count?!

  1. John

    I wish I had known about the -L flag a few days ago! My IDE was unable to open a particular file normally because it claimed it had lines exceeding maximum length. I was curious, so I went to the command line and did something stupid like:

    while read l ; do wc -c <<< "$l" ; done < sourcefile.cc | sort -n

    Whereas apparently the faster and simpler approach would've been

    wc -L sourcefile.cc

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