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At some point you’ve probably typed grep foo instead of grep foo file or grep -r foo and then spent far too long waiting for output before realizing grep was waiting for input from stdin 🤦 Reading from stdin can be confusing. The program appears to be working, but it’s actually waiting to read from stdin.

So, for years I’ve been adding this little line to tell users the program is reading from stdin:

fmt.Fprintf(stderr, "%s: reading from stdin...\n", filepath.Base(os.Args[0]))

This is in Go because that’s what I’m using today, but it will work just as well in any other language. It’s printed to stderr so it won’t interfere with regular stdout piping.

This is helpful especially in cases where reading from stdin isn’t necessarily expected; for example my uni tool will identify all codepoints with uni identify hello, but with just uni identify it will read from stdin, which is very useful but probably not expected by everyone.

The downside is that actually using it in a pipe looks a bit ugly:

$ echo x | uni identify
uni: reading from stdin...
     cpoint  dec    utf-8       html       name
'x'  U+0078  120    78          x     LATIN SMALL LETTER X (Lowercase_Letter)

We can further improve on this by only showing this message if stdin is a terminal:

if isatty.IsTerminal(os.Stdin.Fd()) { //
    fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "%s: reading from stdin...\n", filepath.Base(os.Args[0]))

stdin, err := ioutil.ReadAll(os.Stdin)
if err != nil {
    panic(fmt.Errorf("read stdin: %s", err))

Or, alternatively, erasing the message after reading from stdin:

fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "%s: reading from stdin...", filepath.Base(os.Args[0]))

stdin, err := ioutil.ReadAll(os.Stdin)
if err != nil {
    panic(fmt.Errorf("read stdin: %s", err))

fmt.Fprintf(stderr, "\r")

One thing to be careful of is that \r won’t erase anything; it just puts the cursor in the first column so new output will overwrite what’s there. You can see this with something like printf 'Hello\ra\n', which appears as aello.

For many applications this is fine, but if the first line of output might be shorter than the stdin message you can erase the line with an escape sequence:

fmt.Fprintf(stderr, "\r\x1b[0K")

Here’s a shell script version, too:

printf >&2 '%s: reading from stdin...' "$(basename "$0")"
stdin=$(cat <&0)
printf >&2 '\r\033[0K'

echo "$stdin"