split Command in Linux with Examples

The split command in Linux stands out as a pivotal utility among the rich assortment of command-line tools. It’s primarily designed to divide large files into manageable segments, proving invaluable when handling substantial datasets, logs, or files requiring segmentation. With this tool, users can enhance their experience and streamline intricate data management tasks.

Understanding the Split Command

What is the split command?

At its core, the split command in Linux is a versatile utility that seamlessly breaks down large files into smaller fragments or chunks. This functionality is rooted in the command’s adaptability to various file types and sizes. Whether you’re dealing with colossal logs, lengthy texts, or even large binary files, split ensures your data remains intact while being divided.

Why use the split command?

  1. Size Management:
    • Transfer Efficiency: Large files can pose challenges when transferring across networks, especially when bandwidth is limited. By splitting files, users can transmit pieces in parallel or sequentially, ensuring faster and more reliable data movement.
    • Storage Restrictions: Some storage mediums or platforms have file size limitations. Splitting files can help overcome these constraints, making storage more flexible.
  2. Efficient Data Analysis:
    • Parallel Processing: Dividing a substantial dataset into chunks allows parallel processing, which can drastically reduce analysis time.
    • Focused Investigations: For log analysis, breaking logs into segments can help zero in on time-specific events or anomalies.
  3. Backup and Recovery:
    • Incremental Backups: Instead of backing up a massive file after a minor change, you can backup just the altered segment, saving both time and storage space.
    • Partial Restoration: In the event of data corruption, the split structure allows you to retrieve or replace only the corrupted segment without disturbing the entirety of the original file.
  4. Versatility in File Handling:
    • Diverse Formats: The split command isn’t restricted to text. Binary files, archives, and other formats can be effectively divided.
    • Compatibility: Split files can be merged using utilities like cat, retaining the original data’s integrity.

Key Syntax and Options

To maximize the benefits of the split command, it’s imperative to comprehend its syntax and various options. Here’s a deeper dive:

split [OPTION]... [FILE [PREFIX]]

Some vital options include:

  • -b, –bytes=SIZE:
    • This option facilitates size-based file splitting. For instance, to split a file into 100MB chunks, SIZE can be defined as 100M.
  • -l, –lines=NUMBER:
    • Ideal for text files or logs, this option ensures each segment contains a specific number of lines, preserving data contexts.
  • -a, –suffix-length=N:
    • In scenarios where numerous split files are generated, a longer suffix can help in organizing and differentiating these segments.

Moreover, the split command offers various other options tailored for different use-cases, enhancing its applicability and versatility in the Linux environment.

Practical Examples of the Split Command in Linux

Using Numeric Suffixes for Split Files

To uniquely name split files with numeric suffixes, the -d option is a suitable choice. This option ensures that split files get sequential numeric names:

split -l 1000 data.txt segment- -d
  • -l 1000: Specifies splitting the file every 1000 lines.
  • segment-: A prefix for the split files.
  • -d: Indicates the use of numeric suffixes.

The above command would generate files with names like ‘segment-01’, ‘segment-02’, and so on.

Ensuring Even Splitting with Equal Sizes

To make sure all split files, except possibly the last, are of the same size, you can use the -e option:

split -b 500M largevideo.mp4
  • -e: Ensures files are split evenly.
  • -b 500M: Specifies a byte size for each split file.

Splitting at Specific Patterns

Instead of just line or byte splits, you can split at specific patterns using the -p option:

split -p 'pattern' myfile.txt
  • -p 'pattern': Instructs the split command to break the file whenever the specified pattern appears.

This can be particularly useful when working with files that have specific delimiters or patterns you want to segment around.

Keeping Lines Intact during Split

The -C option ensures that lines aren’t divided between two files, especially useful when splitting files with data entries:

split -C 400 data.txt
  • -C 400: Specifies a byte size while ensuring that no line crosses two different files.

Splitting and Archiving Directories

While split is primarily used for files, combined with the tar command, directories can also be divided:

tar cf - directory_name | split -b 100M - dir.tar.part.
  • tar cf - directory_name: Archives the directory.
  • split -b 100M: Divides the archive into 100MB segments.

Merging Split Files after Division

Once files are split, they might need to be merged. The cat command proves useful:

cat segment-* > data_merged.txt

This command merges files that were previously split, restoring the original file.

Line-Specific Splitting

For a simpler case, if you wish to split a file every three lines:

split -l 3 myfile.txt
  • -l 3: Splits the file after every third line.

Preventing Empty Split Files

There are occasions when using split might produce empty files. To avoid this scenario:

split -n l/3 largefile.txt
  • -n l/3: Ensures the division creates non-empty files.

Keeping Lines Intact while Splitting by Size

If you want to maintain entire lines during a size-specific split:

split -C 50M largefile.txt
  • -C 50M: Splits by size but ensures lines remain whole.

Simple Byte-Wise Split

To divide a file into segments of a specific byte size:

split -b 100M largefile.txt

This command breaks largefile.txt into chunks of 100MB each.

Directory Split with Tar

To split and archive a directory:

tar cf - directory_name | split -b 100M - dir.tar.part.

This combination of tar and split creates 100MB segments of an archived directory.

Custom Naming for Split Files

If you want to give a specific prefix to split files:

split -l 1000 data.txt custom-prefix-

This divides data.txt every 1000 lines, naming the split files with the prefix ‘custom-prefix-‘.

Splitting with Numeric Naming

To numerically name the split files:

split -l 1000 data.txt -d

The split files get sequential numeric names, like ’01’, ’02’, and so on.

File Division Based on Line Count

If you have a need to split a file based on a specific number of lines:

split -l 5000 largefile.txt

This command divides largefile.txt every 5000 lines.

Accessing Help and Version Information

Understanding more about the split command, its version, or seeking help is easy:

split --help
split --version

These commands provide documentation and version information about the installed split command.

Advanced Usage of the Split Command

Utilizing Custom Suffixes

By default, the split command uses alphabetic suffixes for split files. But you can customize this by employing the --suffix-length option:

split -b 500M largevideo.mp4 --suffix-length=4
  • --suffix-length=4: Specifies a custom suffix length of 4 characters.

This command creates split files with names having four-character suffixes, such as ‘xaaab’, ‘xaaac’, and so forth.

Multiple Pattern Delimited Split

For complex files, you might need to split at multiple patterns rather than a single delimiter:

split -p 'pattern1|pattern2' myfile.txt
  • -p 'pattern1|pattern2': The command breaks the file wherever either of the specified patterns appears.

This method is powerful for processing datasets with varying delimiters or separators.

Combining Split with Compression

You can use split alongside compression commands like gzip to split and compress files simultaneously:

gzip -c largefile.txt | split -b 100M - compressedfile.gz.
  • gzip -c largefile.txt: Compresses the file.
  • split -b 100M: Splits the compressed output into 100MB segments.

Splitting Binary Files

Although split is primarily used for text files, it’s equally competent with binary files. To split an image into parts:

split -b 1M image.jpg
  • -b 1M: Splits the binary image file into 1MB segments.

Remember to merge these parts using a binary-safe method, like the cat command, to restore the original image.

Dynamic Size Splitting with Environment Variables

You can use environment variables to determine the size for splitting, making the process more dynamic:

split -b $SPLIT_SIZE largefile.txt
  • SPLIT_SIZE=5M: Sets an environment variable with the desired size.
  • -b $SPLIT_SIZE: Utilizes the environment variable for splitting.

This approach is especially beneficial in scripts where file sizes might vary or be determined by other factors.


The split command in Linux is a robust tool designed to break down large files into manageable chunks. Whether you’re aiming to distribute files across systems, archive directories, or process vast datasets, split offers a range of options to suit different requirements. Understanding its nuances not only improves your efficiency with file management but also widens your toolkit for Linux-based data processing.

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