Archive for June, 2014

Two advanced bash tricks

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Well, tricks is not the right word to describe advanced shell scripting usage, however, it does make some sense. These two topics are relevant to Bash version 4.0 and above, which is common for all modern-enough Linux distributions. Yours probably.

These ‘tricks’ are for advanced Bash scripting, and will assume you know how to handle the other advanced Bash topics. I will not instruct the basics here.

Trick #1 – redirected variable

What it means is the following.

Let’s assume that I have a list of objects, say: ‘LIST=”a b c d”‘, and you want to create a set of new variables by these names, holding data. For example:

a=1
b=abc
c=3
d=$a

How can you iterate through the contents of $LIST, and do it right? If you’re having only four objects, you can live with stating them manually, however, for a dynamic list (example: the results of /dev/sd*1 in your system), you might find it a bit problematic.

A solution is to use redirected variables. Up until recently, the method involved a very complex ‘expr’ command which was unpleasant at best, and hard to figure at its worst. Now we can use normal redirected variables, using the exclamation mark. See here:

for OBJECT in $LIST
do
# Place data into the list
export $OBJECT=$RANDOM
done

for OBJECT in $LIST
do
# Read it!
echo ${!OBJECT}
done

Firstly – to assign value to the redirected variable, we must use ‘export’ prefix. $OBJECT=$RANDOM will not work.
Secondly – to show the content, we need to use exclamation mark inside the variable curly brackets, meaning we cannot call it $!OBJECT, but ${!OBJECT}.
We cannot dynamically create the variable name inside the curly brackets either, so ${!abc_$SUFFIX} won’t work either. We can create the name beforehand, and then use it, like this: DynName=abc_$SUFFIX ; echo ${!DynName}

Trick #2 – Using strings as an array index

It was impossible in the past, but now, one of the most useful features of having smart list is accessible in shell. We can now call an array with a label. For example:

for FILE in $( ls )
do
array[“$FILE”]=$( ls -la $FILE | awk ‘{print $7}’ )
done

In this example we create array cells with the label being the name of the file, and populating them with the size (this is the result of ls -la 7th field) of this file.

This will work only if the array was declared beforehand using the following command (using the array name ‘array’ here):

declare -A array

Later on, it is easier to query data out of the array, as long as you know its index name. For example

FILE=ez-aton.txt
echo ${array[$FILE]}

Of course – assuming there is an entry for ez-aton.txt in this array.

The best use I found for this feature so far was for comparing large lists, without the need to reorder the objects in the array. I find it to boost the capabilities of arrays in Bash, and arrays, in general, are very powerful tools to handle long and complex lists, when you need to note the position.

That’s all fox. Note that the blog editor might change quites (single and double) and dashes to the UTF-8 versions, which will not go well in a copy/paste attempt to experiment with the code examples placed here. You might need to edit the contents and fix the quotes/dashes manually.

If you have any questions, comment here, I will be happy to elaborate. I hope to be able to add more complex Bash stuff I get into once a while 🙂