Home > Articles > Operating Systems, Server > Linux/UNIX/Open Source

Shell Programming FAQs

This chapter is from the book

Variable and Argument Questions

This section examines some questions that relate to variables and their use in shell scripts. It also covers questions related to command-line arguments.

How can I include functions and variable definitions located in one script in to another script?

To include functions and variable definitions defined in one script in to another script, you need to use the . command as follows:

. file

Here file is the pathname of the script you want to include. This topic is covered in detail in Chapter 21, "Problem Solving with Functions."


When you include a file using the . command, make sure that the file does not contain the exit command as this will cause the current instance of the shell to exit.

If you are using the . command to include a file in your login session, your session will be terminated and you will have to log in again.

Is it possible to consider each argument to a shell script one at a time?

This can be accomplished using a for loop of the following form:

for arg in "$@"

Here the variable arg will be set to each argument in turn. The specified list of commands, list, will be executed for each argument. The following function illustrates the use of this for loop:

echoargs () {
  for arg in "$@"
   echo $arg
  return 0

How can I forward all the arguments given to my script to another command?

A common task of shell programmers is writing a wrapper script for a command. A wrapper script might need to define a set of variables or change the environment in some way before a particular command starts executing.

When writing wrapper scripts, you need to forward all the arguments given to your script to a command. Usually the following is sufficient:

cmd "$@"

Here cmd is the name of the command you want to execute.

The one problem with this is that if no arguments were specified to your script, some versions of the shell will expand "$@" to "". If no arguments were specified, you want to execute cmd, not cmd "". To avoid this problem, you can use the following:

command ${@:+"$@"}

Here you are using one of the forms of variable substitution discussed in Chapter 9, "Substitution." In this case you check to see whether the variable $@ has a value. If it does, you substitute the value "$@" for it. If your script was not given any command-line arguments, $@ will be null; thus no value will be substituted.

How do I use the value of a shell variable in a sed command?

The simplest method to use variables in a sed command is to enclose your sed command in double quotes (") instead of single quotes ('). Because the shell performs variable substitution on double-quoted strings, the shell will substitute the value of any variables you specify before sed executes.

For example, the command

sed "/$DEL/d" file1 > file2

deletes all the lines in file1 that contain the value stored in the variable $DEL.

How can I store the output of a command in a variable?

You can store the output of a command in a variable by combining the assignment operator, =, and the backquotes, '':


Here var is the name of a variable and cmd is the command whose output you want to store. For example, the following command stores the current date in the variable THEDATE:


How do I check to see whether a variable has a value?

There are several methods for determining this. The simplest is the if statement:

if [ -z "$VAR" ] ; then 
  list ; 

Here VAR is the name of the variable, and list is the list of commands to execute if VAR does not have a value. Usually list initializes VAR to some default value. For example, the following command initializes the variable THDATE if it does not have a value:

if [ -z "$THEDATE" ] ; then

If you are just interested in variable initialization, this can be accomplished in a much more succinct fashion using variable substitution. For example, the previous if statement can be written as

: ${VAR:=default}

Here default is the default that should be assigned to VAR, if VAR does not have a value. If you need to execute a set of commands to obtain a default value, the backquotes (´´) can be used to obtain the value to be substituted:

: ${VAR:=´default´}

Here default is a list of commands to execute. If VAR does not have a value, the output of these commands will be assigned to it. The following command also initializes the variable THEDATE:

: ${THEDATE:=´date´}

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020