A handful of bash tips – part 1

During last weeks I’ve been doing lot of scripting (a user management system for our internal infrastructure which is formed by lots of services) and it ended being something like 3000 lines of bash code. Not too much but probably this is my greatest experience til now with bash :)

So, I’ve learnt a couple of things with this project and I’d like to share some tips and lessons learnt during the process. I’m not a bash guru, and if you find something could be improved, feel free to leave a comment.

Stand on the giant’s shoulders

You can find lot of docs on bash, like the Advanced Bash Scripting Guide, but these are better in my opinion

and the #bash IRC channel on irc.freenode.net. Just lurking the conversations will teach you lot of things

Use the latest and greatest bash version

This means right now to use Bash4. I mean, if you are using a shell to script things, use the latest version and take advantage of all its features! Really, I don’t care about portability, I script for my systems where I have full control. I’ve upgraded a Debian box from Lenny to Squeeze just to get bash4, go figure :) Obviously if you cannot update easily or you need to be portable, don’t fall in the bashisms trap, try to be as POSIX as possible and discard my tip(s).

Quote everything. I mean, really everything

If you are used to the simple $VARIABLE form, drop it right now and use always “${VARIABLE}”. It’s cleaner, it’s safer, it supports white spaces in the variable content etc.

Only the first quote matters

I’ve seen very often (and I was using this too) escaped quote chars when creating queries or strings to be passed somewhere. For example

QUERY="SELECT * FROM foo WHERE name=\"${VAR}\";"

because you fear that ${VAR} won’t be expanded if single quoted. But what really matters in this case is the first double quote. bash will interpret every other single quote before the closing double quote as a normal char, and pass it to the next hop. So this is perfectly right:

QUERY="SELECT * FROM foo WHERE name='${VAR}';"

${VAR} will be expanded as expected. This is quite useful if calling another script with parameters via ssh, and leave a cleaner syntax (I hate escaping chars)

ssh user@host "/path/to/script 'foobar goes first' 'second parameter'"

Use shift when receiving parameters

Probably you are already doing this, anyway it’s a lesson learnt in these days. If you’re are passing parameters to functions/other scripts instead of

# etc

use the power of shift. If you are going to change your mind about those parameters, you won’t need to rename everything.

shift 1
shift 1
# etc

Use input redirection instead of pipes when possible

A classic example

cat /path/to/mylst|while read foo
# do somtething with foo

should be

while read foo
# do something with foo
done < /path/to/mylist

why? because input redirection it is meant to do that!


2 thoughts on “A handful of bash tips – part 1

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