Bug 178674

Summary: Pathalogically Obscure and Inconsistent sort behavior - relative key positions dependent on -t usage
Product: [Fedora] Fedora Reporter: JW <ohtmvyyn>
Component: coreutilsAssignee: Tim Waugh <twaugh>
Severity: medium Docs Contact:
Priority: medium    
Version: 4   
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Hardware: All   
OS: Linux   
Fixed In Version: Doc Type: Bug Fix
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Last Closed: 2006-01-23 02:18:58 EST Type: ---
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Description JW 2006-01-23 01:24:04 EST
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Description of problem:
When using sort to sort simple files the separator character specified with -t option is *included* in sort field, but the default separator is not (no -t option supplied).  This makes use of sort extraodinarily difficult because it is so inconsistent.

Version-Release number of selected component (if applicable):

How reproducible:

Steps to Reproduce:
1.echo "x 4a 2"  >testfile
2.echo "x 47 1" >>testfile
3.sort       -k 2.1,2.2n testfile
4.sort -t' ' -k 2.1,2.2n testfile

Actual Results:  step 3 produces:
x 47 1
x 4a 2
step 4 produces:
x 4a 2
x 47 1

Expected Results:  The same result in both cases.

Additional info:

The reason that this bug isn't always very visible is due to the happy coincidence that ascii digits, and the decimal point, are in same lexical order as their numerical values.

In the above example the intention is to sort on the entire 2nd numerical field.  Of course the "4a" isn't a proper number, but this has been chosen so that the bug becomes more easily discerned.

What is actually happening is that in case 3) the values "47" and "4a" get numerically compared as expected. However in case 4) the values " 4" and " 4" get compared, and subsequent non-numerical comparison of "7..." and "a..." is performed.  If the "a" was a digit then it would, through the aforementioned happy coincidence, appear to sort correctly.

The reason for  this very dire behavior is because if "-t" is used to specify the field separator then the separator is included in the field (!!!!).  But if -t isn't used then the default field separator (space) isn't (!&*@$%#).

Now how, one might wonder, could a "separator" be a separator but not actually be a "separator" - both at the same time.  It is abject nonsense to include a separator in a field because then it isn't a separator because it is also considered a part of a field.

If one has distinct fields and separators then they should be ... distinct.
Comment 1 JW 2006-01-23 01:28:26 EST
Just an additional clarification: I have reversed the logic in above.  The
separator is included when -t is *not* specified.
Comment 2 JW 2006-01-23 02:18:58 EST

*** This bug has been marked as a duplicate of 178676 ***