Shell scripting (extra material)

Scripting is useful to perform complex interaction with programs and data. We revise basic commands to write simple bash scripts.


Values can be assigned to variables using = symbol and can be referred to by prepending a $:

Notice that = symbol needs to be near variable name and value, adding spaces would give an error as var1 would be considered a command to execute:

Inside double quotes variables are still replaced with their value. Notice that with double quotes it is not necessary to escape the single quote:

Single quotes, instead, prevent variable replacement, as shown below. Notice that we need to close the quote, escape the ‘ character we want to print and reopen the single quote:

Finally, it is possible to concatenate commands using ; and to break into different lines by ending each line with \. For example:

Executable script files

Writing long sequences of commands on the command-line might become complicate. It is possible to write scripts in files and execute them, as we would do with programs. It is important to remember, however, that shell scripts are interpreted by the shell as if they were entered from the command line. There is no compiler or static analysis of the code.
When we write a shell script we need to start with a directive telling the system what interpreter will be used. For example, using bash, we will write:

We can save this in a file named, make it executable with chmod u+x and execute it:

Exercise 1

Write a script that generates and execute another script that, in turns, prints Hello World.


Parameters passed on the command line can be accessed by scripts through special variables:

  • $0, $1, … , $n refer to parameters 0, 1, … , n;
  • $# contains the number of parameters;
  • $@ contains the list of all parameters, separated by a blank space.

For example:

gives the following output:

Iterating over list elements (for loop)

In order to process parameters (or in general elements of a list) one by one, we can use a for loop as follows:

which behaves as follows:


We give a simple example of if-then-else constructs:

Here is what we get when we execute the script:

Notice that numeric comparisons cannot be performed using < and > since the shell treats them as redirection operators. To see the full list of expressions supported type man [ or, equivalently, man test.

Command substitution

It is often very useful to execute a command and assign its output to a variable. This can be done using syntax $( command ). An example follows:

Exercise 2

Write a script that renames any .html file into uppercase .HTM ones. For example website.html should become WEBSITE.HTM. Renaming can be done via mv command while name conversion has been treated in Exercise 2 of previous class.