How To Get Header For Only Column Matches Bash

Shell Programming

Sometimes while working with data or processing files in bash, you may encounter a situation where you need to extract the header for only specific columns. This can be a tricky task, but with the right approach, it’s definitely achievable. In this article, I’m going to show you how to accomplish this and provide some personal insights along the way.

Understanding the Problem

First things first, let’s understand what we’re dealing with. Suppose you have a large dataset with numerous columns, and you need to extract the header for only a few specific columns. This could be due to various reasons such as data validation, analysis, or simply for organizing the data in a meaningful way.

The Solution: Using AWK Command

One way to tackle this challenge is by utilizing the versatile AWK command. AWK is a powerful programming language for pattern scanning and processing, and it comes in handy for tasks like this.

Let’s say we have a file called data.csv with the following contents:

John,25,New York,60000
Alice,30,Los Angeles,75000

If we want to extract the header for the columns “Name” and “Location” only, we can achieve this using the following command:

awk -F',' 'NR==1{for(i=1;i<=NF;i++) if($i=="Name" || $i=="Location") print $i}' data.csv

Breaking Down the Command

Let's dissect the command to understand how it works:

  1. awk: This is the command we are using for text processing.
  2. -F',': This flag specifies that the field separator is a comma. This is important for parsing the CSV file correctly.
  3. NR==1: This condition ensures that the action is performed only on the first line (i.e., the header).
  4. {for(i=1;i<=NF;i++) if($i=="Name" || $i=="Location") print $i}: This is the AWK script that iterates through each field of the header and checks if it matches the desired columns ("Name" and "Location"). If there's a match, it prints the column header.

Personal Touch

Working with AWK can be a bit intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a powerful ally in your bash scripting journey. I remember the first time I used AWK for a similar task, and there was a sense of accomplishment in efficiently manipulating data with a few lines of code.


Extracting headers for specific columns in bash may seem like a complex task, but with the right tools and techniques, it becomes manageable. The AWK command, with its flexibility and robustness, provides a reliable solution for this requirement. I hope this article has shed light on how to approach this problem and inspired you to explore the wonders of AWK in your bash endeavors.