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Shell Scripting, oooh...its easy Print E-mail
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Source: Blessen Cherian - Posted by Benjamin D. Thomas   
Article Index
Shell Scripting, oooh...its easy
Page 2
Features Blessen Cherian, CTO and Executive Team Member of writes, "Shell scripting is nothing but a group of commands put together and executed one after another in a sequential way. Let's start by mentioning the steps to write and execute a shell script."

Step 1: touch a file

e.g.: touch

Step 2: Open the file using the command vi or pico

e.g.: vi

Step 3: All shell script should begin with "#!/bin/bash ". This line is called the Shebang and this line looks like a comment but its not. It's a message which talks about the interpreter to be used for this script.

Normally the format is #! <path of the bash installation if its a bash script >

Step 4: Write the code / script which you want to develop in the file named Here let's write our first shell script and let it be the normal hello world display script.

Step 5: For hello world to be displayed in the shell script. Put this content in the file

echo "Hello World"

Step 6: Next step is to make the script executable by using the command chmod

e.g.: chmod 744


chmod u + x

Step 7: Execute the script using the command sh

i.e. bash> sh

If you want to see the entire execution then use the command

sh -xv < script name>

Step 8: The above command would display the contents like what is shown below

bash> sh

bash > Hello World

Finally Success, we have written our first shellscript and executed it.

A hello world script will look like what is shown below, if you cat or open the script named



echo Hello World

Comments in a Shell

All lines beginning with # is a comment in shell scripting. You can have multiple comments by using colon and single quotes.


:' This is a comment line

Again this is a comment line

My God again this is a comment line'

Notes: This will not work if there is a single quote in between the contents.


As you all know, variables are the most significant part of any software language, be it Perl, C or anything. Similarly, in shell scripting as well variables are very significant and is classified mainly into 2. They are System Variables and User Defined Variables.

  • System Variables

The System Variables are variables which are already defined and kept in the OS and they are also called Environment Variables. These variables are all named in capital letters. One can see these variables and their values by executing the command set. Examples of System variables are PWD, HOME, USER etc. The values of these system variables can be displayed individually by echoing the System variables i.e. echo $HOME, will display the value stored in the system variable HOME.

To set a System Variable use "set" command

e.g.: bash > set $PATH=/home/blessen/shellscript

  • User Defined Variables

These kinds of variables are commonly used in scripting. They are normal variables but their variable name should not be in capital letters, should not start with a number etc. An ideal naming of variable will be like _define_tempval.

To set or define a user defined variable, please read below.

When we assign or create a variable we just write the variable name, equal to its value i.e. _define_tempval = blessen. Now to use / display the value in the variable _define_tempval we have to use echo command i.e.

echo _define_tempval. The out put of which will be blessen

Please find an example script which will set a variable named username and displays its content on the screen when it is executed.



echo " The username is $username"

  • Command Line Arguments

These are variables which pass values or argument to a script to process it. These variables which are passed into the script are accessed using $1,$2...$n where $1 is the first command line argument and $2 the next etc. The delimiter is space here. $0 is the name of the script. The variable $# will display the number of command line argument supplied.

Let me explain. Consider a script which will take in 2 command line arguments and displays it. The name of the script is and the script will look like the one below


echo "The first variable is $1"

echo "The second variable is $2"

When I execute with command line argument like blessen and lijoe then the output of the script will be like the one shown below

bash>sh blessen lijoe

The first variable is blessen

The second variable is lijoe

  • Exit status variable

This variable tells us if the command executed just above this was successful or not. The variable is represented using $?. If the value is 0, it means that the command which was executed just above this was successful. But if the value is any other number it means that the above command was unsuccessful. Thus it is very useful in scripting.

For testing, create a file named test by using the command touch test. Then try cating the file

bash > cat test

Then check the value of $?.

bash> echo $?


The value is zero because the command was successful. Now try catting a file which is not there. Let it be xyz1.

bash> cat xyz1

bash> echo $?


The value 1 for the exit status shows that the above command was unsuccessful.

  • Scope of a Variable

I am sure most of the programmers have learned and most probably worked with variables and its scope. In shell also we use the scope of a variable for various programming activities. In shell there are 2 types of scope. One is global and other is local scope. From the name itself you can understand that scope of global variable is throughout the program i.e. any other shell program can use these variables for its functioning and its set using the export command.

Syntax is:

variable1=<its value>

export variable1

In shell program the local variables are defined using a local tag before the variables, while it is defined.

Syntax is:

local variable=<some value>

The below script will demonstrate the scope of a local and global variable.


function display()


local local_var=100


echo " local variable is $local_var\n";

echo "global variable is $global_var\n";


echo " ======================"


echo "=======outside ========"

echo "local variable outside function is $local_var\n";

echo "global variable outside function is $global_var\n";

Input and Output in shell scripting

For taking inputs from keyboard we will have to use a tool provided by shell which is called read. The read command will read the values which are typed from keyboard and assigns it to the variable mentioned along with it.

Syntax is: read <variable name>

For outputting, we use echo command and we have already dealt with it in our above explanation.

Syntax is: echo "statement to be displayed"

Arithmetic Operations in shell scripting

Like all other scripting languages shell script also allows us to play with numerical and functions associated with it like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. To do these arithmetic operations a function called expr is used, which tells the shell script interpreter that these are numerical on which the specified function is to be performed, i.e. expr a + b means add a and b .

Syntax: expr <expression>

e.g.: sum=`expr 12 + 20`

Similarly syntax can be used for Subtraction, Division and Multiplication. There is another way to handle Arithmetic operations; include the variables and function inside a square bracket which starts with a $sign. The syntax is

Syntax is: $[expression / statement]

e.g.: echo $[12 + 10]

Conditional Loops

Lets have some fun with a conditional statements like "if condition “. Most of the time, we shell programmers have situations where we have to compare two variables and execute certain statement depending on true or false of the condition. So in such cases, where we have to execute certain set of commands, depending on certain conditions then we have to use if condition. The syntax of if is show below


if [Conditional statement]


..Any commands/statements ..


For conditional check we can also use a different form of if condition using the test condition. The syntax of test is test <condition>. The new if condition will look like the one below

if test Conditional statement


..Any commands/statements ..


The below script will prompt for entering the username and if the user name is blessen then it will display the message showing that I have successfully logged in. If it's not blessen then it will display the message “wrong username'.


echo " Enter your username:"

read username

if test $username=blessen


echo " Success!!!, you are now logged in"


echo “Sorry, wrong username"


Test the above for yourself.

Variable Comparison

In shell script while have a different way to compare variables . If the value of a variables to be compared are numerical then you have to use options like

-eq For equal to

-ne Not Equal to

-lt Less than

-le Less than or equal to

-gt Greater than

-ge Greater then or equal to

If the value of variables to be compared are strings then you have to use options like

= Equal too

!= Not Equal too

> Greater than

= Greater than or equal to

< Less than

<= Less than or equal to


In this section we will deal with the loop statements like for and while loop.

  • For Loop

Most commonly used loop is for loop and in shell script there are 2 types of for loop. One type of for loop is similar to the C programs for loop and the other type of for loop will be new to you all.

Syntax for first type of for loop:

for ((initialization;condition;increment/decrement))




Syntax for second type of for loop:

for <variable> in <list of option >


....statements ....


The below script will read all the contents of /etc/passwd file and displays each line one by one.




for i in `cat /etc/passwd'


count=`expr $count + 1`

echo "Line $count is being displayed"

echo $i


echo "End of file"

Another example on forloop, where we use 'seq' generator to generate the sequence.



for i in `seq 1 5`


echo $i


  • While Loop

While loop is another useful loop used in all programming languages. This loop will continue executing till the condition specified is met.

Syntax is: while [condition]


...statement ....


The below example script is a simple script which assigns value one to the num variable and adds one to the value of num each time it goes round the loop until the value of num is less than 5.




while [$num -lt 5]; do

num=$[$num + 1]

echo $num


Select and Case Statement

We have learned the switch case in C programming. The combination of select and case provides us with the same feature. Select statement is not at all a part of case statement but I just put it together for you to understand how both of it can be used in programming

Syntax of Select:

select <variable> in <list>




Syntax of Case:

case $<variable> in

<option1>) statements;;

<option2>) statements;;

*) echo "Sorry wrong option"


The example below will explain the usage of select and case together. Example below will display the options of service's which needs to be restarted in a machine. When a particular option is selected then the corresponding service will be restarted.



select options in "apache" "named" "sendmail"


echo "***********************"

case $options in

apache) /etc/rc.d/init.d/httpd restart;;

named) /etc/rc.d/init.d/named restart;;

sendmail)/etc/rc.d/init.d/sendmail restart;;

*) echo "Nothing will be restarted"


echo "***********************"


# If this break is not there then we wont get a shell prompt



In the modern world where all programmers use OOPs model for programming. Even we the shell programmers are also not far behind. We too break our codes into small chunks called functions and call them by name in the main program. This approach helps in debugging, code re-usability etc.

Syntax for function is:

function <name of function ()>

{# start of function


} #end of function

The function is invoked by just writing their function names in the main program.

Please find an example below which uses function for code re-usability.



function sumcalc


echo "Enter the first number:"

read num1

echo "Enter the second number:"

read num2

sum=$[$num1 + $num2]



echo "$sum -- O/P from function sumcalc"

Debugging Shell Script

Now and then, I have found people debugging their C program and other programs. Hence I wish to include the option to debug shell script for our shell programmers. We shell programmer are not far behind any other programmers. To debug a shell program use the option -x and -v along with sh where using -x option will expand each simple command, for command, case command, select command, or arithmetic for command, display the expanded value of PS4, followed by the command and its expanded arguments or associated word list . -v option is for verbose.

Syntax and Usage of debug options

e.g. sh -xv


I believe that this article has aided all the readers to write and debug a shell script by their own.

Mr. Blessen Cherian

CTO and Executive Team Member
Bobcares and Poornam Info Vision Pvt Ltd | |
Email :

Okay....Written by Sudip on 2006-11-26 22:03:29
Well the examples you mentioned here are no doubt very simple. The real fun starts when you start writing codes or creating functions for doing something specific. I seriously dislike the AWK scripting, no matter what others say. Creating arrays, breaking down fields into sub fields and breaking down sub fields into arrays and doing stuff, is really painful and takes a lot of thinking.
Good Point :-)Written by Blessen Cherian on 2006-11-26 23:50:42
Yes, This is just the first part of my article on shell scripting . The Advanced Part of Shell Scripting will be published soon . I hope to finish it soon with good number of examples on which i stress a lot.
Written by Scripto on 2006-11-27 15:29:54
Thanks for your very straight-forward article. I would have liked a little more on the select statements and more advanced examples (which you mentioned you'll provide in your next post :). Just a quick remark: You while example doesn't work because the $ and the 5 are right next to the []. Instead, there should be spaces, as in while [ $num -lt 5 ]; do. Cheers.
Thanks for the commentWritten by Blessen Cherian on 2006-11-28 00:44:28
Ok :-) 
Its working examples from my work dir for shell script . May be some formatting error which sneaked up while making the article. Sorry for that 
shell scriptWritten by Ruqaya on 2006-12-17 05:45:06
write shell program to determine if the given strings are identical or not
Good Question ;-)Written by Blessen Cherian on 2006-12-18 02:51:53
Please read the section called variable comparison and you will find the details on how to compare strings. But do not look for the flexibility that you get in C or other lnaguage .As shell program is developed for certain purposes than the aplication development languages like C++ or java
Very-very goodWritten by Deni Wibowo (Indonesia) on 2007-03-21 00:49:17
thank's for your explanation....... 
God Bless You.....
Written by Mohd Javaid Khan on 2007-03-22 01:16:42
it's a nice approach to let the newbies understand.we need to have some enhancement in that...........
u did a great jobWritten by venkat on 2007-05-27 08:37:12
go ahead!!!
Nice oneWritten by coolguy on 2007-10-12 20:33:59
Its a nice article for a beginner. 
you have given simple and lucid examples 
Simple but InformativeWritten by Sree on 2009-05-26 22:10:43
Thanks Blessen for that

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