Shell scripting notes

Notes on using the Unix shell (bash, ash, et. al) to manipulate files, text, etc.

See also: General programming page, the Awk page, Vim notes, Text files.

Basic stuff

Assign variables like this:

VAR="foo"  # don't use any spaces around the = sign

Expand variables with $:

echo $VAR # prints "foo" to stdout

If the location of the variable is unclear in the input string use curly braces:

echo $VARbar # prints nothing
echo ${VAR}bar # prints "foobar"

Single quoted strings are interpreted literally:

echo '$VAR' # prints "$VAR" to stdout

Double quoted strings are interpreted literally except for $, ` (backquote), and \ (escape).

echo "$VAR" # prints "foo" to stdout 

Double quotes also group space separated words or variable together and can be used to append/prepend:

VAR2="bar foobar"
echo $VAR3 # prints "foobar foobar"

Backquoted strings are executed by your shell and are then replaced by the output of that execution, so:

echo The current date and time is: `date`


The current date and time is: Thu Feb 24 23:19:17 MST 2011

The backslash escapes the metacharacter ($,`,',") just after it so it is interpreted as a string"

echo $VAR # prints "$VAR" to stdout 

Redirection and piping

The > operator redirects the standard output (or stderr sometimes) of a command to a file.

ls -l > ls-l.txt # Writes the output of the ls command to ls-l.txt

>> will append to a file, rather than clobber the existing file with a new one. You can also set a "noclobber" option as the default in bash.

Redirecting in the opposite directions, <, can be used to feed the contents of a file into a command.

cat < textfile1 > textfile2 # Same as "cp textfile1 textfile2"

The | operator "pipes" the standard output of a command to the standard input of another command or process.

ps axl | grep zombie # select and show zombie processes from the full list of processes

Command line scripts

Simple shell scripts can be run from the command line, separating commands with a semicolon.

Nice utilities to put in shell commands and scripts:

  • The usual file commands cp, mv, rm, etc.
  • grep: prints text (from a file or standard input) matching a sequence of characters.
  • cut: cuts columns out of delimited files
  • tr: (translate) deletes (-d) or replaces characters in a file
  • tail: prints the last //n// lines in a given file (good for removing headers).
  • sed commands (see this tutorial)
  • awk oneliners
  • find: ????

For example in a particular directory, a list of files with the .csv extension can be generated with a simple loop:

greg@gm-thinkpad:~/Downloads/station_inventory$ for i in *.csv; do echo "$i"; done
# Outputs:

Using the same loop format, copies and substitutions to the filename can be made:

greg@gm-thinkpad:~/Downloads/station_inventory$ for i in *.csv; do cp "$i" "${i/.csv}2.csv"; done
# Outputs
greg@gm-thinkpad:~/Downloads/station_inventory$ ls
AZ_soilstations2.csv  MT_soilstations2.csv  UT_soilstations2.csv
AZ_soilstations.csv   MT_soilstations.csv   UT_soilstations.csv
CO_soilstations2.csv  NM_soilstations2.csv  WY_soilstations2.csv
CO_soilstations.csv   NM_soilstations.csv   WY_soilstations.csv
ID_soilstations2.csv  NV_soilstations2.csv
ID_soilstations.csv   NV_soilstations.csv

A similar effect to the substitution could be done with basename.

Sed, Awk, and tr all replace characters or patterns in textfiles. To remove all spaces from a directory of textfiles:

for i in  .csv; do tr -d ' ' < "$i" > "${i/.csv}2.csv"; done

To replace each line's first occurrence of a given phrase with another pattern, either of these will work:

for i in  *.csv; do sed 's/station id/station_id/' < "$i" >  "${i/.csv}2.csv"; done


for i in  .csv; do awk -F "," '{ sub(/station id/, "station_id"); print }' "$i" > "${i/.csv}2.csv"; done

To replace all occurrences of the pattern use global replacement - add a g after the sed statement, or use gsub instead of sub in awk.

This command will take each .csv file, cut out columns 13-15, and redirect this output to a new file.

for FILE in  .csv; do cut -d"," -f-12,16- "$FILE" > "${FILE/.csv}2.csv"; done 

Executing saved scripts

  • Start scripts with the path to bash (#!/bin/bash)
  • Make sure they are executable
  • From the current working directory they can be run with "bash scriptname" OR "./scriptname