First let me clarify that this is not going to be a detailed study of shell scripting, but as the name of the post indicates, it will be a quick reference to the syntax used in scripting for the bash shell. So if you are expecting the former, then you should buy yourself a good book on shell scripting . ;) So let's move on to the guide. Start your stop watch now.

-- Start of The 10 secs Guide to Bash Scripting -- Common environment variables PATH - Sets the search path for any executable command. Similar to the PATH variable in MSDOS. HOME - Home directory of the user. MAIL - Contains the path to the location where mail addressed to the user is stored. IFS - Contains a string of characters which are used as word seperators in the command line. The string normally consists of the space, tab and the newline characters. To see them you will have to do an octal dump as follows: $ echo $IFS | od -bc PS1 and PS2 - Primary and secondary prompts in bash. PS1 is set to $ by default and PS2 is set to '>' . To see the secondary prompt, just run the command :

$ ls |

... and press enter.

USER - User login name. TERM - indicates the terminal type being used. This should be set correctly for editors like vi to work correctly. SHELL - Determines the type of shell that the user sees on logging in.

Note: To see what are the values held by the above environment variables, just do an echo of the name of the variable preceeded with a $. For example, if I do the following:

$ echo $USER ravi

... I get the value stored in the environment variable USER.

Some bash shell scripting rules 1) The first line in your script must be


... that is a # (Hash) followed by a ! (ban) followed by the path of the shell. This line lets the environment know the file is a shell script and the location of the shell.

2) Before executing your script, you should make the script executable. You do it by using the following command:

$ chmod ugo+x

3) The name of your shell script must end with a .sh . This lets the user know that the file is a shell script. This is not compulsary but is the norm.

Conditional statements The 'if' Statement - evaluates a condition which accompanies its command line. Those words marked in blue are compulsory. But those marked in red are optional. syntax:

if condition_is_true then execute commands else execute commands fi

if condition also permits multiway branching. That is you can evaluate more conditions if the previous condition fails.

if condition_is_true then execute commands elif another_condition_is_true then execute commands else execute commands fi

Example :

if grep "linuxhelp" thisfile.html then echo "Found the word in the file" else echo "Sorry no luck!" fi

if's companion - test test is an internal feature of the shell. test evaluates the condition placed on its right, and returns either a true or false exit status. For this purpose, test uses certain operators to evaluate the condition. They are as follows:

Relational operators

-eq Equal to -lt Less than -gt Greater than -ge Greater than or equal to -lt Less than -le Less than or equal to

File related tests

-f file True if file exists and is a regular file -r file True if file exists and is readable -w file True if file exists and is writable -x file True if file exists and is executable -d file True if file exists and is a directory -s file True if file exists and has a size greater

String tests

-n str True if string str is not a null string -z str True if string str is a null string str1 == str2 True if both strings are equal str1 != str2 True if both strings are unequal str True if string str is assigned a value

Test also permits the checking of more than one expression in the same line.

-a Performs the AND function -o Performs the OR function


test $d -eq 25 ; echo $d

... which means, if the value in the variable d is equal to 25, print the value.

test $s -lt 50; do_something

if [ $d -eq 25 ] then echo $d fi

In the above example, I have used square brackets instead of the keyword test - which is another way of doing the same thing.

if [ $str1 == $str2 ] then


if [ -n "$str1" -a -n "$str2" ] then


... above, I have checked if both strings are not null then execute the echo command.

Things to remember while using test If you are using square brackets [] instead of test, then care should be taken to insert a space after the [ and before the ]. Note: test is confined to integer values only. Decimal values are simply truncated. Do not use wildcards for testing string equality - they are expanded by the shell to match the files in your directory rather than the string.

Case statement Case statement is the second conditional offered by the shell. Syntax:

case expression in pattern1) execute commands ;; pattern2) execute commands ;; ... esac

The keywords here are in, case and esac. The ';;' is used as option terminators. The construct also uses ')' to delimit the pattern from the action.


... echo "Enter your option : " read i;

case $i in


Note: The last case option need not have ;; but you can provide them if you want.

Here is another example:

case date |cut -d" " -f1 in


Case can also match more than one pattern with each option.You can also use shell wild-cards for matching patterns.

... echo "Do you wish to continue? (y/n)" read $ans

case $ans in

[Yy][Ee][Ss]) ;;

[Nn][Oo]) exit ;;


In the above case, if you enter YeS, YES,yEs and any of its combinations, it will be matched.

This brings us to the end of conditional statements.

Looping Statements while loop Syntax :

while condition_is_true do



while [ $num -gt 100 ] do


while : do


The above code implements a infinite loop. You could also write 'while true' instead of 'while :' . Here I would like to introduce two keywords with respect to looping conditionals. They are break and continue. break - This keyword causes control to break out of the loop. continue - This keyword will suspend the execution of all statements following it and switches control to the top of the loop for the next iteration.

until loop Until complements while construct in the sense that the loop body here is executed repeatedly as long as the condition remains false. Syntax:

until false do



... until [ -r myfile ] do sleep 5 done

The above code is executed repeatedly until the file myfile can be read.

for loop Syntax :

for variable in list do execute commands done


... for x in 1 2 3 4 5 do


Here the list contains 5 numbers 1 to 5. Here is another example:

for var in $PATH $MAIL $HOME do


Suppose you have a directory full of java files and you want to compile those. You can write a script like this:

... for file in *.java do


Note: You can use wildcard expressions in your scripts.

A few special symbols and their meanings w.r.t shell scripts

$* - This denotes all the parameters passed to the script

$0 - Name of the shell script being executed. $# - Number of arguments specified in the command line. $? - Exit status of the last command.

The above symbols are known as positional parameters. Let me explain the positional parameters with the aid of an example. Suppose I have a shell script called . Now I execute this script in the command line as follows :

$ ./ linux is a robust OS

... as you can see above, I have passed 5 parameters to the script. In this scenario, the values of the positional parameters are as follows: $* - will contain the values 'linux','is','a','robust','OS'. $0 - will contain the value - the name of the script being executed. $# - contains the value 5 - the total number of parameters. $$ - contains the process ID of the current shell. You can use this parameter while giving unique names to any temporary files that you create at the time of execution of the shell.

$1 - contains the value 'linux' $2 - contains the value 'is' ... and so on.

The set and shift statements set - Lets you associate values with these positional parameters . For example, try this:

$ set date $ echo $1 $ echo $* $ echo $# $ echo $2

shift - transfers the contents of a positional parameter to its immediate lower numbered one. This goes on as many times it is called.

Example :

$ set date $ echo $1 $2 $3 $ shift $ echo $1 $2 $3 $ shift $ echo $1 $2 $3

To see the process Id of the current shell, try this:

$ echo $$ 2667

Validate that it is the same value by executing the following command:

$ ps -f |grep bash

read statement Make your shell script interactive. read will let the user enter values while the script is being executed. When a program encounters the read statement, the program pauses at that point. Input entered through the keyboard id read into the variables following read, and the program execution continues. Eg:

#!/bin/sh echo "Enter your name : " read name echo "Hello $name , Have a nice day."

Exit status of the last command Every command returns a value after execution. This value is called the exit status or return value of the command. A command is said to be true if it executes successfully, and false if it fails. This can be checked in the script using the $? positional parameter.

Here I have given a concise introduction to the art of bash shell scripting in Linux. But there is more to shell scripting than what I have covered. For one, there are different kinds of shells, bash shell being only one of them. And each shell has a small variation in its syntax. Like the C shell for example, which uses a syntax close to the C language for scripting. But what I have covered above applys to all the shells.

-- End of The 10 secs Guide to Bash Scripting --