CSC128: Introduction to UNIX

Variables and Arguments

Bourne Shell Variables

Information can be stored in shell variables (also known as parameters).  Each variable must have a name, which can consist of letters, digits, and underscores.  Note, however, that a variable cannot start with a digit. To assign a value to a variable, use the = symbol.
user@host $ myvar=abc
This will assign the value abc to the variable named myvar .  This value will be available in the current shell only.  This variable will not exist for any subshells (shells executed from a shell). To make the value available to subshells, use the export   command.
user@host:~$ export myvar

It is customary to use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for variables that are exported.

To display the value of a variable, use the echo command:
user@host:~$ echo $myvar
To reference a variable, it must be prefixed with a dollar sign ($ ).  Otherwise, echo would simply display the name of the variable and not expand  it to its value.

In some situations, the shell may confuse the name of a variable with text that immediately follows.  Use braces ({} ) to surround the variable name if this is likely.
user@host:~$ myvar=efgh

user@host:~$ echo abcd$myvarijkl

user@host:~$ echo abcd${myvar}ijkl

To see a list of all the variables in the current shell's environment, use the command set with no arguments.


When setting variables, bash will stop at whitespace.  For example:
user@host:~$ myvar=now

user@host:~$ myvar=now is the time

user@host:~$ echo $myvar
Both of these commands will set the value of myvar to now .   To assign the entire line, including spaces, surround the text with quotes:
user@host:~$ myvar='now is the time'


user@host:~$ myvar="now is the time"
There is a difference between single and double quotes.  Values in single quotes will be taken verbatim.  Values in double quotes will be expanded before they are used.  Examples:
user@host:~$ drink=cola

user@host:~$ order='I want a glass of $drink'

user@host:~$ echo $order
I want a glass of $drink

user@host:~$ order="I want a glass of $drink"

user@host:~$ echo $order
I want a glass of cola

Removing Variables

To remove the value assigned to a variable, set it to nothing.
user@host:~$ myvar=
To remove the variable entirely, use unset :
user@host:~$ unset myvar

Keyword Shell Variables

Many variables have special meaning to the shell and may change the shell's behavior.  Here are a few:
HOME  defines the user's home directory.  If you change it, the meaning of the tilde (~ ) will change to mean the directory HOME is now defined as.

PATH  holds a list of directories, seperated by colons (: ).  When you type a command (that is not a builtin) into the shell, it searches these directories in order for an executable file that matches the name of the command.  If it finds it, it executes it.  Note that the shell does not search the current working directory unless it is in the PATH .

PROMPT, PS1, PS2, etc. These variables hold information about what the shell prompt should look like and what information it should give.   See man bash for more information.

Shell Script Arguments or Positional Parameters

There are several shell variables that are particularly useful in scripts.

This will hold the name of the script as it was called from the command line.

$1, $2, $3, ... $9, ${10}, ${11} etc.
These will hold the arguments passed from the command line.  Each sequence of characters separated by whitespace will be placed in a different variable.  Quotes will force a sequence with spaces into a single variable.

This holds all the arguments passed from the command line as a single long string of characters.

Like $* this holds all the arguments passed from the command line but it keeps them separated.

This will return the number of arguments passed from the command line.

This will return the exit value or exit status of the last program run.  When a program exits normally, it should return an exit value (held in the variable '$?') of 0.  If there was an error, it should return a non-zero exit value,  sometimes indicating the nature of the error.

The arguments can be changed with the set command.  
user@host:~$ set one two three

user@host:~$ echo $#

user@host:~$ echo $0

user@host:~$ echo $1

user@host:~$ echo $2

user@host:~$ echo $3
The arguments can be shifted down one space with the shift command.  Note that $0 remains the same.
user@host:~$ shift

user@host:~$ echo $0

user@host:~$ echo $1

user@host:~$ echo $2

user@host:~$7 echo $3


History Mechanism (textbook,
pp. 340-344)

aliases (textbook,
pp. 348-350)