Bash Shell Programming

Bash is my preferred console shell and scripting language. I use it mainly to script the execution of running various experiments or applications. I use too many different programming langauges to remember the syntax for any of them, so here are some of the basic control mechanisms that come up often.

The Very Basics

  • Assign to a variable with: var1=34
  • Variables are preceeded by a $ when being accessed: echo $var1
  • Spacing is important: var1 = 34 ## produces an error
  • More thorough introductions: here and here
  • Reference cards here

Preset Variables

Some useful variables are:

  • $1, $2, $3, etc = the command line arguments passed to the script.
  • $0 = the name of the script
  • $# = number of argument passed
  • $! = process id of last executed process

Control Flow

Examples are below.

#If/else statements
if [ -z $1 ]
    echo "No argument provided!"
    echo "arg 1 = $1"

#For loop from 5...10
for i in $(seq 5 10)
    echo $i

# case/switch:
case "$type" in
    "init" )
        echo "case init"
    "end" )
        echo "case end"
    * )
        echo "default case"

function myecho {
    # arguments to function are like arguments to a script
    echo $1
myecho "hello world"


You can do integer math easily with code like:


Floating point can be done with the help of external programs like bc:

#C like syntax, scale tells how many decimal places to use
a=`echo "scale=4; 1/4" | bc`        # a = "0.2500"
b=`echo "scale=4; $a*2" | bc`       # b = "0.5000"

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