Bash is a Unix shell written by Brian Fox in 1989 for the GNU Project as a free replacement for the Bourne shell. To this day, Bash remains one of the most powerful and ubiquitous scripting tools on the planet.

Brian Fox the creator of Bash


Kudos to Denys Dovhan and his awesome Bash handbook. The most digestable, and enjoyable method I’ve found to groking bash. <3

Useful Shortcuts


  • Ctrl+A: move cursor to beginning of line
  • Ctrl+E: move cursor to end of line
  • Ctrl+L: clear screen
  • Alt+F: Move cursor forward one word on the current line
  • Alt+B: Move cursor backward one word on the current line


  • Ctrl+U: delete from cursor to beginning of line
  • Ctrl+K: delete from cursor to end of line
  • Ctrl+W: delete whole word before the cursor
  • Ctrl+H: delete last character (backspace)
  • Ctrl+T: transfer (swap) the last two characters before the cursor
  • Esc+T: transfer (swap) the last two words before the cursor


  • Ctrl+C: kill whatever is interactively running
  • Ctrl+D: exit the current session
  • Ctrl+Z: puts whatever is running into a suspended background process, use fg to restore it.


  • Ctrl+R: search through previous commands
  • Ctrl+P: previous command (from history)
  • Ctrl+N: next command (from history)
  • !!: the last command (handy when you forget to sudo, sudo !!)
  • !1050: run command 1050 (as journalled by history)

Shell Grammar


Local variables

A local variable can be declared using = sign (no spaces) and its value can be retrieved using the $ sign.

echo $os
unset os

We can also declare a variable local to a single function using the local keyword.

local local_var="NAND gate"

Environment variables

Environment variables are variables accessible to anything running in current shell session. They are created just like local variables, but using the keyword export instead.

export GLOBAL_VAR="guten tag"

Bash comes with a bunch of reserved variables, here’s some handy ones:

Variable Description
$HOME The current user’s home directory.
$PATH A colon-separated list of directories in which the shell looks for commands.
$PWD The current working directory.
$RANDOM Random integer between 0 and 32767.
$UID The numeric, real user ID of the current user.
$PS1 The primary prompt string.
$PS2 The secondary prompt string.
$OSTYPE Operating system Bash is running on.
$HISTFILE File used to store command history.

Some like to make their prompt stand out from the noise (e.g. by making it bright green). Add to ~/.bash_profile:

export PS1="\[$(tput bold)\]\[$(tput setaf 2)\][\u@\h \W]\\$ \[$(tput sgr0)\]"

Custom prompt string with PS1

Positional arguments

Defined within the context of a function.

  • $0: Name of script.
  • $1 to $9: The parameter list elements from 1 to 9.
  • ${10} to ${N}: The parameter list elements from 10 to N.
  • $* or $@: All positional parameters except $0.
  • $#: The number of parameters, not counting $0.
  • $FUNCNAME: The function name.


Brace expansion

Using a pair curly braces { and }, can be used to generate strings or ranges of numbers.

echo beg{i,a,u}n # begin began begun
echo {e..a} # e d c b a
echo {0..5} # 0 1 2 3 4 5
echo {00..8..2} # 00 02 04 06 08

Command substitution

Stores the result of an evaluation into a variable, or passes the result along for another evaluation. Done by enclosing the expression either in backticks `, or within $().

kernel=$(uname -r)
kernel=`uname -r`
echo $kernel #4.4.6-301.fc23.x86_64

Arithmetic expansion

Bash eats arithmetic for breakfast. Syntax is similar to the command substitution capture group $(), but doubles up on the braces $(()).

bug=$(( ((10 + 5*3) - 7) / 2 ))
echo $bug # 9
echo $(( bug * 1000 )) #9000

Double and single quotes

Unlike single quotes, with double quotes, variables and command substitutions are expanded automatically.

echo "Your home: $HOME" # Your home: /home/vimjock
echo 'Your home: $HOME' # Your home: $HOME

If a variable contains whitespace, take care to expand it in double quotes, which will preserve the literal value of all characters.

WEIRD="A string  that   is    just     trouble"
echo $WEIRD   # A string that is just trouble
echo "$WEIRD" # A string  that   is    just     trouble

Words of the form $'string' expands, with backslash-escaped characters replaced as specified by the ANSI C standard (such as \n for newline, \t for horizontal tab, \u3b2 for unicode character 3b2, and so on).`

Stream Redirection

Bash views the outside world (input and output) as streams of data. The brilliant thing about streams, like water streams, is that their flow can be channeled in and out of many upstream and/or downstream programs, creating complex results.

0 stdin The standard input.
1 stdout The standard output.
2 stderr The errors output.

Redirection operators for controlling the flow of streams:

Operator Description
> Redirecting output
>> Append redirecting output
&> Redirecting output and error output, &>pepsi same as >pepsi 2>&1
&>> Appending redirected output and error output
< Redirecting input
<<[-]word Here documents read input until word is found
<<<word Here strings, like here documents, but word undergoes expansion (brace, arithmetic, etc).

The order of redirections is important.

ls > dirlist 2>&1

Directs both stdout and stderr to file dirlist. While:

ls 2>&1 > dirlist

Directs only stdout to the file dirlist.

Another example:

join <(sort file1.txt) <(sort file2.txt)

This will bind the outputs of two sort commands, as input arguments one and two of the join command:

Bash redirection can integrate with logical devices:

/dev/fd/fd File descriptor fd is duplicated.
/dev/stdin File descriptor 0 is duplicated.
/dev/stdout File descriptor 1 is duplicated.
/dev/stderr File descriptor 2 is duplicated.
/dev/tcp/host/port Open the corresponding TCP socket.
/dev/udp/host/port Open the corresponding UDP socket.

Often when running text searches as a low privileged user, you will encounter permission and other errors, like this:

$ grep ben /etc/*
grep: abrt: Is a directory
grep: audisp: Permission denied
grep: audit: Permission denied

Lets redirect them to /dev/null:

$ grep ben /etc/* 2> /dev/null

Nice and clean.

here documents are a bit rad:

$ python - <<"XXXX"
> foo=15
> print "Magical number of foo is %i.\n" %(foo,)
Magical number of foo is 15.



Or as a single compound assignment:

langs=(c java go)

To refer individual elements:

echo ${langs[1]} # java
echo ${langs[*]} # c java go
echo ${langs[@]} # c java go

The @ operator (unlike *) can honor whitespace.

langs=(c java go "visual basic")
printf "+ %s\n" "${langs[@]}"
# c
# java
# go
# visual basic


langs=(c java go "visual basic")
echo ${langs[@]:1:2}
# java go


langs=(c awk)
echo ${langs[@]}
# c awk
langs=(java "${langs[@]}" sql bash)
echo ${langs[@]}
# java c awk sql bash


langs=(ruby python "visual basic" perl)
unset langs[2]
echo ${langs[@]}
# ruby python perl


for lang in ${langs[@]}; do echo "$lang is nifty"; done
# ruby is nifty
# python is nifty
# perl is nifty


# Expression is enclosed in double squares [[ ]]. Expressions can be daisy chained using the && and/or || operators.

File system expressions:

Test Description
-e or -a file Exists.
-f file Exists and is a regular file.
-g file Exists and is set-group-id.
-h or -L file Exists and is a symbolic link.
-k file Exists and its ``sticky’’ bit is set.
-p file Exists and is a named pipe (FIFO).
-r file Exists and is readable.
-s file Exists and has a size greater than zero.
-t fd descriptor fd is open and refers to a terminal.
-w file Exists and is writable.
-x file Exists and is executable.
-G file Exists and is owned by the effective group id.
-N file Exists and has been modified since it was last read.
-O file Exists and is owned by the effective user id.
-S file Exists and is a socket.
file1 -ef file2 True if file1 and file2 refer to the same device and inode numbers.
file1 -nt file2 True if file1 is newer (according to modification date) than file2, or if file1 exists and file2 does not.
file1 -ot file2 True if file1 is older than file2, or if file2 exists and file1 does not.

Shell variables:

Test Description
-o optname True if the shell option optname is enabled.
-v varname True if the shell variable varname is set.
-R varname True if the shell variable varname is set and is a name reference.


Test Description
-z string True if the length of string is zero.
-n string True if the length of string is non-zero.
string1 == string2 or string1 = string2 True if the strings are equal.
string1 != string2 True if the strings are not equal.
string1 < string2 True if string1 sorts before string2 lexicographically.
string1 > string2 True if string1 sorts after string2 lexicographically.
string =~ regex True if the extended regular expression matches.


Test Description
arg1 -eq arg2 arg1 is equal to arg2
arg1 -ne arg2 not equal to arg2
arg1 -lt arg2 less than arg2
arg1 -le arg2 less than or equal to arg2
arg1 -gt arg2 greater than arg2
arg1 -ge arg2 greater than or equal to arg2

if statements

With single and multi line variants:

# single line
if [[ 100 -eq 100 ]]; then echo "one hungey"; else echo "no hungey"; fi

# multi line
if [[ "drpepper" == "drpepper" ]]; then
  echo "one hungey"
  echo "no hungey"

# if else
if [[ -e main.c ]]; then
  echo "found main"
elif [[ $(date +%A) == "Sunday" ]]; then
  echo "day of rest"
  echo "no dice"

In some instances, such as pattern matching, omit double quotes:

if [[ $file == *.o ]]; then echo "its an ELF"; fi

case statements

| to delimit multiple patterns,) to terminate the pattern list, * as default catch all pattern, and ;; to divide each block.


if [[ -n $file ]]; then

  case $file in
      echo "my precious source code"
      echo "silly object file, nuke it"
      echo "something else"
  echo "not found bra";


Bash comes with C-like looping; for, for in, select, while and until loops. In addition bash also provides builtin break and continue commands, for manipulating the flow of loops.

For Loops

The super handy for.

for hero in linus stallman ritchie kernighan pike fox
  echo $hero


Single line syntax:

for i in {1..5}; do echo $i; done


And lastly, the classical for:

for (( i = 0; i < 5; i++ )); do
  echo $i;


Move shell scripts from one location, to another and change their permissions along the way.

for FN in $HOME/*.sh; do
  mv "$FN" "$HOME/scripts"
  chmod +x "$HOME/scripts/${FN}"

Select Loops

Useful for creating menus. The list of expanded words from a list is printed out, each preceded by a number. The PS3 prompt is then displayed and a line is read from standard input.

PS3="Please choose an environment: "
select ENV in dev tst ppd prd
  echo -n "Enter build version to deploy: " && read BUILD
  case $ENV in
    dev) echo "./doinst.bash $BUILD noddy" ;;
    tst) echo "./doinst.bash $BUILD tulip" ;;
    ppd) echo "./doinst.bash $BUILD woody" ;;
    prd) echo "./doinst.bash $BUILD chipper" ;;

Here’s what this does:

$ ./select.bash 
1) dev
2) tst
3) ppd
4) prd
Please choose an environment: 2
Enter build version to deploy: 1.6
./doinst.bash 1.6 tulip

While Loops

The awesome keeps on coming.

while [[ $x -lt 5 ]]; do
  echo $(( x * x ))
  x=$(( x + 1 ))


Until Loops

Opposite of while; keeping looping if the condition is false.


A shell function stores a series of commands for later execution.

cool_func() {
  echo "be cool"


When a function is executed, the arguments to the function be the positional parameters during its execution. When the function is complete, these values are restored to the values they had prior to the functions execution. The function can return a result using an exit code.

get_day() {
  day=$(date +%A)

  if [[ -n $1 ]]; then
    echo "g'day $1, its $day"
    echo "g'day cobber"

  return 0

get_day Benjamin # g'day Benjamin, its Wednesday
get_day          # g'day cobber



bash, :, ., [, alias, bg, bind, break, builtin, caller, cd, command, compgen, complete, compopt, continue, declare, dirs, disown, echo, enable, eval, exec, exit, export, false, fc, fg, getopts, hash, help, history, jobs, kill, let, local, logout, mapfile, popd, printf, pushd, pwd, read, readonly, return, set, shift, shopt, source, suspend, test, times, trap, true, type, typeset, ulimit, umask, unalias, unset, wait

Bash Recipes

Top 6 largest things in the current directory

$ du -hxs * | sort -hr | head -6
234M    code
30M     cygwin
6.8M    datatsudio
5.0M    c-projects
4.9M    scripts

Display the 23rd line of /etc/passwd

head -n 23 /etc/passwd | tail -n 1
sed -n ' 23 p ' /etc/passwd
awk ' NR == 23 { print $0 } ' < /etc/passwd

Filter the first column from process status

awk ' { print $1 } ' <(ps -aux)

Delete Subversion scrap files

Delete files that report a status of ?

$ svn status bnc
M    bnc/amin.c
?    bnc/dmin.c
?    bnc/mdiv.tmp
A    bnc/optrn.c
M    bnc/optson.c
?    bnc/prtbout.4161
?    bnc/rideaslist.odt

A possible solution using a while loop and a combination of grep, cut and rm:

svn status bnc | grep '^?' | cut -c8- | while read FILE; do echo "$FN"; rm -rf "$FN"; done

Alternatively the read statement can be used to do the parsing:

svn status bnc | \
while read TAG FN
  if [[ $TAG == \? ]]
    echo $FN
    rm -rf "$FN"

Move shell scripts and mark them as executable

for FN in $HOME/*.sh; do
  mv "$FN" "$HOME/scripts"
  chmod +x "$HOME/scripts/${FN}"

Pattern matching


if [[ $text =~ ([[:alpha:]]*)[[:digit:]]+([[:alpha:]]*) ]]; then
  echo "${BASH_REMATCH[1]} ${BASH_REMATCH[2]}";
  echo "wat";

#DOOM rocks

Scan code base against list of patterns

Given a list of patterns, scan a code base for them, and report a total of how many hits there were for each.

cut -d $'\t' -f 2 keywords.txt | while read KEYWORD; do COUNT=$(grep -rnwo ~/code/git/das/src --include *.java --include *.jsp -e \""$KEYWORD"\" | wc -l); if [[ $COUNT -gt 0 ]]; then echo "$KEYWORD $COUNT"; fi; done

#ENV 19