Some Bash notes (or things I always forget)

Bash arrays

Bash arrays have a weird syntax and are full of caveats (well, it’s bash…)

Array initialization:

declare -a foo

arr=(1 2 3 4)

It’s also possible to read the output of a command directly into an array, but don’t do it. Look for the readarray command below to do avoid common pitfalls (wildcard and space expansion, etc).

declare -a foo
foo=$(ls -l)

Acccessing members of the array:

"${foo[@]}"      # Entire array, not IFS separated
"${foo[*]}"      # Entire array, IFS parsed
"${#foo[index]}" # Length of element 'index' in bytes
"${#foo[@]}"     # Number of elements in array
  • Notes:
    • Braces are mandatory when accessing arrays.
    • Negative subscripts mean from the end of the array (-1 == last)

Appending to array:


To read stdin into an array safely:

declare -a foo
readarray foo < <(ls -l)

It’s possible to use readarray to quickly parse a list separated by spaces or anything else:

$ a="a b c d e"
$ echo "${a}"
a b c d e
$ readarray -d ' ' foo <<< "${a}"
$ declare -p foo
declare -a foo=([0]="a " [1]="b " [2]="c " [3]="d " [4]=$'e\n')

Bash also has associative arrays:

declare -A assoc
assoc["string"]="another string"


declare -A assoc=(

Besides the usual ways to reference elements, it’s also possible to use ${!name[@]} and ${!name[*]} to expand the indices in the associative array.

To pass an associative array as a function argument, use a reference:

function foo() {
  local -n xref="${1}"
declare -A x
# Note: No dollar sign.
foo x

Deleting elements:

unset arr            # removes the entire array
unset arr[subscript] # remove one element from the array

Bash regexp examples

[[ $a =~ \[(.+)\] ]] && echo "yeah ${BASH_REMATCH[0]}"
  • Neither the value to match nor the regexp are quoted.
  • [] need to be quoted if matched literally.
  • grouping () and one-or-more (+) don’t need quoting.

Command-line substitution

  • First argument of last command: !!:^
  • nth argument of last command: !!:n
  • Last argument of last command: !!:$
  • All arguments of last command: !!:*
  • Repeat command starting with ‘cmd’: !cmd
  • Repeat command containing ‘cmd: !?cmd
  • Sed like substitution: !!:s/ls -l/cat/ (!!:gs for sed’s /g modifier)
  • !^cmd^
  • !cmd:p


ISO date in bash

$ date '+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S'

Running commands in parallel (with control)

Example using xargs:

echo -e "\\" | xargs -I ARG -P 6 curl --silent -q http://ARG/ -o /tmp/ARG.html

This won’t work when quotes are present in the input. For those cases, escape the quotes with %q in bash’s printf:

cat /tmp/file_with_lines_to_be_quoted | while read -r str; do
  printf "%q\n" "echo The argument value is: ${str}"
done | xargs -I ARG -P 6 /bin/bash -c ARG

Note that xargs will apparently add implicit single quotes around ARG, so plan accordingly. Quoting issues can get complicated here.

Another example, using find:

find . -print0 | xargs -0 -I{} -P 50 bash -c '{ echo "Sleeping for[{}]"; sleep 1; echo "$$"; }'


  • xargs always interprets the command as an executable, so bash -c is needed for bash commands.
  • Don’t forget to finish the {} construct with a semicolon.
  • The -L option in xargs is incompatible with -P, but -L 1 is assumed if we use -I {}
  • Output is line buffered if sending to stdout, as always. Otherwise, sending to a separate file is a better idea.