shell - How do I set a variable to the output of a command in Bash?

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Top 5 Answer for shell - How do I set a variable to the output of a command in Bash?

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In addition to backticks `command`, command substitution can be done with $(command) or "$(command)", which I find easier to read, and allows for nesting.

OUTPUT=$(ls -1) echo "${OUTPUT}"  MULTILINE=$(ls \    -1) echo "${MULTILINE}" 

Quoting (") does matter to preserve multi-line variable values; it is optional on the right-hand side of an assignment, as word splitting is not performed, so OUTPUT=$(ls -1) would work fine.

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$(sudo run command) 

If you're going to use an apostrophe, you need `, not '. This character is called "backticks" (or "grave accent"):

#!/bin/bash  VAR1="$1" VAR2="$2"  MOREF=`sudo run command against "$VAR1" | grep name | cut -c7-`  echo "$MOREF" 
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Some Bash tricks I use to set variables from commands

Sorry, there is a loong answer, but as is a , where the main goal is to run other commands and react to result code and/or output, ( commands are often piped filter, etc... ).

Storing command output in variables is something basic and fundamental.

Therefore, depending on

  • compatibility ()
  • kind of output (filter(s))
  • number of variable to set (split or interpret)
  • execution time (monitoring)
  • error trapping
  • repeatability of request (see long running background process, further)
  • interactivity (considering user input while reading from another input file descriptor)
  • do I miss something?

First simple, old, and compatible way

myPi=`echo '4*a(1)' | bc -l` echo $myPi  3.14159265358979323844 

Mostly compatible, second way

As nesting could become heavy, parenthesis was implemented for this

myPi=$(bc -l <<<'4*a(1)') 

Nested sample:

SysStarted=$(date -d "$(ps ho lstart 1)" +%s) echo $SysStarted  1480656334 


Reading more than one variable (with Bashisms)

df -k / Filesystem     1K-blocks   Used Available Use% Mounted on /dev/dm-0         999320 529020    401488  57% / 

If I just want a used value:

array=($(df -k /)) 

you could see an array variable:

declare -p array declare -a array='([0]="Filesystem" [1]="1K-blocks" [2]="Used" [3]="Available" [ 4]="Use%" [5]="Mounted" [6]="on" [7]="/dev/dm-0" [8]="999320" [9]="529020" [10]= "401488" [11]="57%" [12]="/")' 


echo ${array[9]} 529020 

But I often use this:

{ read -r _;read -r filesystem size using avail prct mountpoint ; } < <(df -k /) echo $using 529020 

( The first read _ will just drop header line. ) Here, in only one command, you will populate 6 different variables (shown by alphabetical order):

declare -p avail filesystem mountpoint prct size using declare -- avail="401488" declare -- filesystem="/dev/dm-0" declare -- mountpoint="/" declare -- prct="57%" declare -- size="999320" declare -- using="529020" 


{ read -a head;varnames=(${head[@]//[K1% -]});varnames=(${head[@]//[K1% -]});   read ${varnames[@],,} ; } < <(LANG=C df -k /) 


declare -p varnames ${varnames[@],,}  declare -a varnames=([0]="Filesystem" [1]="blocks" [2]="Used" [3]="Available" [4]="Use" [5]="Mounted" [6]="on") declare -- filesystem="/dev/dm-0" declare -- blocks="999320" declare -- used="529020" declare -- available="401488" declare -- use="57%" declare -- mounted="/" declare -- on="" 

Or even:

{ read foo ; read filesystem dsk[{6,2,9}] prct mountpoint ; } < <(df -k /) declare -p mountpoint dsk declare -- mountpoint="/" declare -a dsk=([2]="529020" [6]="999320" [9]="401488") 

(Note Used and Blocks is switched there: read ... dsk[6] dsk[2] dsk[9] ...)

... will work with associative arrays too: read foo disk[total] disk[used] ...

Dedicated fd using unnamed fifo:

There is an elegent way! In this sample, I will read /etc/passwd file:

users=() while IFS=: read -u $list user pass uid gid name home bin ;do     ((uid>=500)) &&         printf -v users[uid] "%11d %7d %-20s %s\n" $uid $gid $user $home done {list}</etc/passwd 

Using this way (... read -u $list; ... {list}<inputfile) leave STDIN free for other purposes, like user interaction.


echo -n "${users[@]}"        1000    1000 user         /home/user ...       65534   65534 nobody       /nonexistent 


echo ${!users[@]} 1000 ... 65534  echo -n "${users[1000]}"       1000    1000 user       /home/user 

This could be used with static files or even /dev/tcp/xx.xx.xx.xx/yyy with x for ip address or hostname and y for port number or with the output of a command:

{     read -u $list -a head          # read header in array `head`     varnames=(${head[@]//[K1% -]}) # drop illegal chars for variable names     while read -u $list ${varnames[@],,} ;do         ((pct=available*100/(available+used),pct<10)) &&             printf "WARN: FS: %-20s on %-14s %3d <10 (Total: %11u, Use: %7s)\n" \                 "${filesystem#*/mapper/}" "$mounted" $pct $blocks "$use"      done  } {list}< <(LANG=C df -k) 

And of course with inline documents:

while IFS=\; read -u $list -a myvar ;do     echo ${myvar[2]} done {list}<<"eof" foo;bar;baz alice;bob;charlie $cherry;$strawberry;$memberberries eof 

Practical sample parsing CSV files:

In this answer to How to parse a CSV file in Bash?, I read a file by using an unnamed fifo, using exec {FD}<"$file" syntax. And here is the same script, but using CSV as inline document.

Sample function for populating some variables:

#!/bin/bash  declare free=0 total=0 used=0 mpnt='??'  getDiskStat() {     {         read _         read _ total used free _ mpnt     } < <(         df -k ${1:-/}     ) }  getDiskStat $1 echo "$mpnt: Tot:$total, used: $used, free: $free." 

Nota: declare line is not required, just for readability.

About sudo cmd | grep ... | cut ...

shell=$(cat /etc/passwd | grep $USER | cut -d : -f 7) echo $shell /bin/bash 

(Please avoid useless cat! So this is just one fork less:

shell=$(grep $USER </etc/passwd | cut -d : -f 7) 

All pipes (|) implies forks. Where another process have to be run, accessing disk, libraries calls and so on.

So using sed for sample, will limit subprocess to only one fork:

shell=$(sed </etc/passwd "s/^$USER:.*://p;d") echo $shell 

And with Bashisms:

But for many actions, mostly on small files, Bash could do the job itself:

while IFS=: read -a line ; do     [ "$line" = "$USER" ] && shell=${line[6]}   done </etc/passwd echo $shell /bin/bash 


while IFS=: read loginname encpass uid gid fullname home shell;do     [ "$loginname" = "$USER" ] && break   done </etc/passwd echo $shell $loginname ... 

Going further about variable splitting...

Have a look at my answer to How do I split a string on a delimiter in Bash?

Alternative: reducing forks by using backgrounded long-running tasks

In order to prevent multiple forks like

myPi=$(bc -l <<<'4*a(1)' myRay=12 myCirc=$(bc -l <<<" 2 * $myPi * $myRay ") 


myStarted=$(date -d "$(ps ho lstart 1)" +%s) mySessStart=$(date -d "$(ps ho lstart $$)" +%s) 

This work fine, but running many forks is heavy and slow.

And commands like date and bc could make many operations, line by line!!


bc -l <<<$'3*4\n5*6' 12 30  date -f - +%s < <(ps ho lstart 1 $$) 1516030449 1517853288 

So we could use a long running background process to make many jobs, without having to initiate a new fork for each request.

Under , there is a built-in function: coproc:

coproc bc -l echo 4*3 >&${COPROC[1]} read -u $COPROC answer echo $answer 12  echo >&${COPROC[1]} 'pi=4*a(1)' ray=42.0 printf >&${COPROC[1]} '2*pi*%s\n' $ray read -u $COPROC answer echo $answer 263.89378290154263202896  printf >&${COPROC[1]} 'pi*%s^2\n' $ray read -u $COPROC answer echo $answer 5541.76944093239527260816 

As bc is ready, running in background and I/O are ready too, there is no delay, nothing to load, open, close, before or after operation. Only the operation himself! This become a lot quicker than having to fork to bc for each operation!

Border effect: While bc stay running, they will hold all registers, so some variables or functions could be defined at initialisation step, as first write to ${COPROC[1]}, just after starting the task (via coproc).

Into a function newConnector

You may found my newConnector function on GitHub.Com or on my own site (Note on GitHub: there are two files on my site. Function and demo are bundled into one unique file which could be sourced for use or just run for demo.)


source  tty /dev/pts/20  ps --tty pts/20 fw     PID TTY      STAT   TIME COMMAND   29019 pts/20   Ss     0:00 bash   30745 pts/20   R+     0:00  \_ ps --tty pts/20 fw  newConnector /usr/bin/bc "-l" '3*4' 12  ps --tty pts/20 fw     PID TTY      STAT   TIME COMMAND   29019 pts/20   Ss     0:00 bash   30944 pts/20   S      0:00  \_ /usr/bin/bc -l   30952 pts/20   R+     0:00  \_ ps --tty pts/20 fw  declare -p PI bash: declare: PI: not found  myBc '4*a(1)' PI declare -p PI declare -- PI="3.14159265358979323844" 

The function myBc lets you use the background task with simple syntax.

Then for date:

newConnector /bin/date '-f - +%s' @0 0 myDate '2000-01-01'   946681200 myDate "$(ps ho lstart 1)" boottime myDate now now read utm idl </proc/uptime myBc "$now-$boottime" uptime printf "%s\n" ${utm%%.*} $uptime   42134906   42134906  ps --tty pts/20 fw     PID TTY      STAT   TIME COMMAND   29019 pts/20   Ss     0:00 bash   30944 pts/20   S      0:00  \_ /usr/bin/bc -l   32615 pts/20   S      0:00  \_ /bin/date -f - +%s    3162 pts/20   R+     0:00  \_ ps --tty pts/20 fw 

From there, if you want to end one of background processes, you just have to close its fd:

eval "exec $DATEOUT>&-" eval "exec $DATEIN>&-" ps --tty pts/20 fw     PID TTY      STAT   TIME COMMAND    4936 pts/20   Ss     0:00 bash    5256 pts/20   S      0:00  \_ /usr/bin/bc -l    6358 pts/20   R+     0:00  \_ ps --tty pts/20 fw 

which is not needed, because all fd close when the main process finishes.

vote vote


As they have already indicated to you, you should use `backticks`.

The alternative proposed $(command) works as well, and it also easier to read, but note that it is valid only with Bash or KornShell (and shells derived from those), so if your scripts have to be really portable on various Unix systems, you should prefer the old backticks notation.

vote vote


I know three ways to do it:

  1. Functions are suitable for such tasks:**

    func (){     ls -l } 

    Invoke it by saying func.

  2. Also another suitable solution could be eval:

    var="ls -l" eval $var 
  3. The third one is using variables directly:

    var=$(ls -l)      OR  var=`ls -l` 

You can get the output of the third solution in a good way:

echo "$var" 

And also in a nasty way:

echo $var 

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