4.2 pr: Paginate or columnate files for printing

pr writes each file (‘-’ means standard input), or standard input if none are given, to standard output, paginating and optionally outputting in multicolumn format; optionally merges all files, printing all in parallel, one per column. Synopsis:

pr [option]… [file]…

By default, a 5-line header is printed at each page: two blank lines; a line with the date, the file name, and the page count; and two more blank lines. A footer of five blank lines is also printed. The default page_length is 66 lines. The default number of text lines is therefore 56. The text line of the header takes the form ‘date string page’, with spaces inserted around string so that the line takes up the full page_width. Here, date is the date (see the -D or --date-format option for details), string is the centered header string, and page identifies the page number. The LC_MESSAGES locale category affects the spelling of page; in the default C locale, it is ‘Page number’ where number is the decimal page number.

Form feeds in the input cause page breaks in the output. Multiple form feeds produce empty pages.

Columns are of equal width, separated by an optional string (default is ‘space’). For multicolumn output, lines will always be truncated to page_width (default 72), unless you use the -J option. For single column output no line truncation occurs by default. Use -W option to truncate lines in that case.

The program accepts the following options. Also see Common options.


Begin printing with page first_page and stop with last_page. Missing ‘:last_page’ implies end of file. While estimating the number of skipped pages each form feed in the input file results in a new page. Page counting with and without ‘+first_page’ is identical. By default, counting starts with the first page of input file (not first page printed). Line numbering may be altered by -N option.


With each single file, produce column columns of output (default is 1) and print columns down, unless -a is used. The column width is automatically decreased as column increases; unless you use the -W/-w option to increase page_width as well. This option might well cause some lines to be truncated. The number of lines in the columns on each page are balanced. The options -e and -i are on for multiple text-column output. Together with -J option column alignment and line truncation is turned off. Since spaces are converted to TABs in multicolumn output, they can be converted back by further processing through pr -t -e or expand. Lines of full length are joined in a free field format and -S option may set field separators. -column may not be used with the -m option.


With each single file, print columns across rather than down. The -column option must be given with column greater than one. If a line is too long to fit in a column, it is truncated.


Print control characters using hat notation (e.g., ‘^G’); print other nonprinting characters in octal backslash notation. By default, nonprinting characters are not changed.


Double space the output.

-D format

Format header dates using format, using the same conventions as for the command ‘date +format’. See date: Print or set system date and time. Except for directives, which start with ‘%’, characters in format are printed unchanged. You can use this option to specify an arbitrary string in place of the header date, e.g., --date-format="Monday morning".

The default date format is ‘%Y-%m-%d %H:%M’ (for example, ‘2020-07-09 23:59’); but if the POSIXLY_CORRECT environment variable is set and the LC_TIME locale category specifies the POSIX locale, the default is ‘%b %e %H:%M %Y’ (for example, ‘Jul  9 23:59 2020’.

Timestamps are listed according to the time zone rules specified by the TZ environment variable, or by the system default rules if TZ is not set. See Specifying the Time Zone with TZ in The GNU C Library Reference Manual.


Expand tabs to spaces on input. Optional argument in-tabchar is the input tab character (default is the TAB character). Second optional argument in-tabwidth is the input tab character’s width (default is 8).


Use a form feed instead of newlines to separate output pages. This does not alter the default page length of 66 lines.

-h header

Replace the file name in the header with the centered string header. When using the shell, header should be quoted and should be separated from -h by a space.


Replace spaces with tabs on output. Optional argument out-tabchar is the output tab character (default is the TAB character). Second optional argument out-tabwidth is the output tab character’s width (default is 8).


Merge lines of full length. Used together with the column options -column, -a -column or -m. Turns off -W/-w line truncation; no column alignment used; may be used with --sep-string[=string]. -J has been introduced (together with -W and --sep-string) to disentangle the old (POSIX-compliant) options -w and -s along with the three column options.

-l page_length

Set the page length to page_length (default 66) lines, including the lines of the header [and the footer]. If page_length is less than or equal to 10, the header and footer are omitted, as if the -t option had been given.


Merge and print all files in parallel, one in each column. If a line is too long to fit in a column, it is truncated, unless the -J option is used. --sep-string[=string] may be used. Empty pages in some files (form feeds set) produce empty columns, still marked by string. The result is a continuous line numbering and column marking throughout the whole merged file. Completely empty merged pages show no separators or line numbers. The default header becomes ‘date page’ with spaces inserted in the middle; this may be used with the -h or --header option to fill up the middle blank part.


Provide digits digit line numbering (default for digits is 5). With multicolumn output the number occupies the first digits column positions of each text column or only each line of -m output. With single column output the number precedes each line just as -m does. Default counting of the line numbers starts with the first line of the input file (not the first line printed, compare the --page option and -N option). Optional argument number-separator is the character appended to the line number to separate it from the text followed. The default separator is the TAB character. In a strict sense a TAB is always printed with single column output only. The TAB width varies with the TAB position, e.g., with the left margin specified by -o option. With multicolumn output priority is given to ‘equal width of output columns’ (a POSIX specification). The TAB width is fixed to the value of the first column and does not change with different values of left margin. That means a fixed number of spaces is always printed in the place of the number-separator TAB. The tabification depends upon the output position.

-N line_number

Start line counting with the number line_number at first line of first page printed (in most cases not the first line of the input file).

-o margin

Indent each line with a margin margin spaces wide (default is zero). The total page width is the size of the margin plus the page_width set with the -W/-w option. A limited overflow may occur with numbered single column output (compare -n option).


Do not print a warning message when an argument file cannot be opened. (The exit status will still be nonzero, however.)


Separate columns by a single character char. The default for char is the TAB character without -w and ‘no character’ with -w. Without -s the default separator ‘space’ is set. -s[char] turns off line truncation of all three column options (-COLUMN|-a -COLUMN|-m) unless -w is set. This is a POSIX-compliant formulation.


Use string to separate output columns. The -S option doesn’t affect the -W/-w option, unlike the -s option which does. It does not affect line truncation or column alignment. Without -S, and with -J, pr uses the default output separator, TAB. Without -S or -J, pr uses a ‘space’ (same as -S" "). If no ‘string’ argument is specified, ‘""’ is assumed.


Do not print the usual header [and footer] on each page, and do not fill out the bottom of pages (with blank lines or a form feed). No page structure is produced, but form feeds set in the input files are retained. The predefined pagination is not changed. -t or -T may be useful together with other options; e.g.: -t -e4, expand TAB characters in the input file to 4 spaces but don’t make any other changes. Use of -t overrides -h.


Do not print header [and footer]. In addition eliminate all form feeds set in the input files.


Print nonprinting characters in octal backslash notation.

-w page_width

Set page width to page_width characters for multiple text-column output only (default for page_width is 72). The specified page_width is rounded down so that columns have equal width. -s[CHAR] turns off the default page width and any line truncation and column alignment. Lines of full length are merged, regardless of the column options set. No page_width setting is possible with single column output. A POSIX-compliant formulation.

-W page_width

Set the page width to page_width characters, honored with and without a column option. With a column option, the specified page_width is rounded down so that columns have equal width. Text lines are truncated, unless -J is used. Together with one of the three column options (-column, -a -column or -m) column alignment is always used. The separator options -S or -s don’t disable the -W option. Default is 72 characters. Without -W page_width and without any of the column options NO line truncation is used (defined to keep downward compatibility and to meet most frequent tasks). That’s equivalent to -W 72 -J. The header line is never truncated.

An exit status of zero indicates success, and a nonzero value indicates failure.