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The venerable dd command has been a staple of Unix systems since the 5th Edition, released in 1974. It reads blocks from an input file and outputs them to a destination, so although it has rather unusual options compared to modern conventions, it’s still extremely useful for duplicating or transforming disk images.

However, one function which was missing from dd for a long time is a progress indicator. There are two ways to make up for this deficiency depending if you have a modern version of dd or you are stuck with an older operating system.

First, let’s recap a couple of common usage patterns for dd itself.

Basic dd operation

dd‘s most basic function is to take an input file (remember, in Unix almost everything is a file) and stream its contents to another file. That can be in one operation thus:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/null

That operation can also be broken into a pipeline of two dd commands, which gives us the opportunity to insert other processing into the pipeline:

dd if=/dev/zero | dd of=/dev/null

pv to the rescue

Pipeviewer, or pv, is another small utility which takes standard input and passes it on through standard output, but here’s the magic: it can output a progress bar along the way. If the size of the file is known in advance then the progress bar is accurate; if not, it simply slides from side to side to indicate activity (and provides other information such as transfer rate).

A generic progress bar can be inserted into a dd pipeline directly:

dd if=/dev/zero | pv | dd of=/dev/null

Or, when the input is a normal file, pv can read it directly and then the progress bar is accurate:

pv my-disk-image.img | dd of=/dev/null

dd‘s own progress

Newer versions of dd have a progress bar built in; it’s a simple extra switch to enable this:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/null status=progress


Photo by SioraPhotography on Unsplash

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