Golang: Pipes and redirection in command line applications

Powerful features of the Linux command line shell are redirection and pipes that allow the output and even input of a program to be sent to a file or another program.

In this article, I will demonstrates how we can pipe a file into a go application.


Pipes allow you to funnel the output from one command into another where it will be used as the input. We should use | symbol to redirect the output.

A good way to see how many devices are available is the following command:

ls -l /dev | wc -l

We are counting the number of devices by sending the ls output to world count command wc input. The -l parameter display only the number of lines.


Every application in unix and linux has a three file descriptors associated to it: standard input 0, standard output 1 and standard error 2.

In go you can access them by using the following fields:


Lets develop an application searchr that is looking for a concrete pattern in a text. The application should highlight in red the lines that contains the specified pattern:

cat yourfile.txt | searchr -pattern=<your_pattern>

The following snippet implements this matching functionality:

func match(pattern string, reader *bufio.Reader) {
	line := 1
	for {
		input, err := reader.ReadString('\n')
		if err != nil && err == io.EOF {

		color := "\x1b[39m"
		if strings.Contains(input, pattern) {
			color = "\x1b[31m"

		fmt.Printf("%s%2d: %s", color, line, input)

We should be able to use this application with different text source. To do that we should make sure that os.Stdin file descriptor points to a pipe. For this purpose we should get os.FileInfo metadata for the standard input:

info, _ := os.Stdin.Stat()

The Stat function returns a os.FileInfo object that keeps information about the file mode and file size. We should validate that the os.Stdin is not a character device.

if (info.Mode() & os.ModeCharDevice) == os.ModeCharDevice {
	fmt.Println("The command is intended to work with pipes.")
	fmt.Println("  cat yourfile.txt | searchr -pattern=<your_pattern>")
} else if info.Size() > 0 {
	reader := bufio.NewReader(os.Stdin)
	match(*pattern, reader)

You can check whether there is a content to read from by comparing info.Size().

Note: Character devices in Linux/Unix are unbuffered devices that have direct access to underlying hardware. They do not necessarily allow you to read or write single character at a time. Example: audio or graphics cards, or input devices like keyboard and mouse.

You can get the sample source code from here.

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