Try / Bash in Y minutes

Bash is a name of the unix shell, which was also distributed as the shell for the GNU operating system and as the default shell on most Linux distros. Nearly all examples below can be a part of a shell script or executed directly in the shell.

Introduction · Variables · Control flow · Files and directories · Running processes · Useful commands

✨ This is an open source guide. Feel free to improve it!


First line of the script is the shebang which tells the system how to execute the script:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
# As you already figured, comments start with #.
# Shebang is also a comment.

Simple hello world example:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
echo "Hello world!"
Hello world!

Each command starts on a new line, or after a semicolon:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
echo "This is the first command"; echo "This is the second command"
This is the first command
This is the second command


Declaring a variable looks like this (I'll skip the shebang from now on):

variable="Some string"

But not like this:

variable = "Some string"
variable: command not found

Bash will decide that variable is a command it must execute and give an error because it can't be found.

Nor like this:

variable= "Some string"
Some string: command not found

Bash will decide that Some string is a command it must execute and give an error because it can't be found. In this case the variable= part is seen as a variable assignment valid only for the scope of the Some string command.

Using the variable:

echo "$variable"
echo '$variable'
Some string

When you use a variable itself — assign it, export it, or else — you write its name without $. If you want to use the variable's value, you should use $. Note that ' (single quote) won't expand the variables! You can write variable without surrounding quotes but it's not recommended.

Parameter expansion ${...}:

echo "${variable}"
Some string

This is a simple usage of parameter expansion such as two examples above. Parameter expansion gets a value from a variable. It "expands" or prints the value. During the expansion time the value or parameter can be modified. Below are other modifications that add onto this expansion.

String substitution in variables:

echo "${variable/Some/A}"
A string

This will substitute the first occurrence of Some with A.

Substring from a variable:


# This will return only the first 7 characters of the value
echo "${variable:0:length}"

# This will return the last 5 characters (note the space before -5).
# The space before minus is mandatory here.
echo "${variable: -5}"
Some st

String length:

echo "${#variable}"

Indirect expansion:

echo ${!other_variable}
Some string

This will expand the value of other_variable.

The default value for variable:

echo "${foo:-"DefaultValueIfFooIsMissingOrEmpty"}"

This works for null (foo=) and empty string (foo=""); zero (foo=0) returns 0. Note that it only returns default value and doesn't change variable value.


# Declare an array with 6 elements:
array=(one two three four five six)

echo "First element:"
echo "${array[0]}"
echo ""
echo "All elements:"
echo "${array[@]}"
echo ""
echo "Number of elements:"
echo "${#array[@]}"
echo ""
echo "Number of chars in 3rd element:"
echo "${#array[2]}"
echo ""
echo "Two elements starting from 4th:"
echo "${array[@]:3:2}"
First element:

All elements:
one two three four five six

Number of elements:

Number of chars in 3rd element:

Two elements starting from 4th:
four five

Print all elements each of them on new line:

array=(one two three four five six)
for item in "${array[@]}"; do
    echo "$item"

Built-in variables:

echo "Last program's return value: $?"
echo "Script's PID: $$"
echo "Number of arguments passed to script: $#"
echo "All arguments passed to script: $@"
echo "Script's arguments separated into different variables: $1 $2..."
Last program's return value: 0
Script's PID: 1
Number of arguments passed to script: 0
All arguments passed to script:
Script's arguments separated into different variables:  ...

Brace expansion {...} is used to generate arbitrary strings:

echo {1..10}
echo {a..z}
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

This will output the range from the start value to the end value.

Note that you can't use variables here:

echo {$from..$to}

Expressions are denoted with the following format:

echo $(( 10 + 5 ))

Control flow

We have the usual if structure. Condition is true if the value of $name is not equal to the current user's login username:

if [[ "$name" != "$USER" ]]; then
    echo "Your name isn't your username"
    echo "Your name is your username"
Your name isn't your username

To use && and || with if statements, you need multiple pairs of square brackets:


if [[ "$name" == "Steve" ]] && [[ "$age" -eq 15 ]]; then
    echo "This will run if $name is Steve AND $age is 15."

if [[ "$name" == "Daniya" ]] || [[ "$name" == "Zach" ]]; then
    echo "This will run if $name is Daniya OR Zach."
This will run if Daniya is Daniya OR Zach.

There are other comparison operators for numbers listed below:

  • -ne - not equal
  • -lt - less than
  • -gt - greater than
  • -le - less than or equal to
  • -ge - greater than or equal to

There is also the =~ operator, which tests a string against the Regex pattern:
if [[ "$email" =~ [a-z]+@[a-z]{2,}\.(com|net|org) ]]
    echo "Valid email!"
Valid email!

There is also conditional execution:

echo "Always executed" || echo "Only executed if first command fails"
Always executed
echo "Always executed" && echo "Only executed if first command does NOT fail"
Always executed
Only executed if first command does NOT fail

Bash uses a case statement that works similarly to switch in Java and C++:


case "$variable" in
    # List patterns for the conditions you want to meet
    0) echo "There is a zero.";;
    1) echo "There is a one.";;
    *) echo "It is not null.";;  # match everything
There is a one.

for loops iterate for as many arguments given. The contents of $variable is printed three times:

for variable in {1..3}
    echo "$variable"

Or write it the "traditional for loop" way:

for ((a=1; a <= 3; a++))
    echo $a

They can also be used to act on files. This will run the command cat (prints file contents) on file1 and file2:

for variable in file1.txt file2.txt
    cat "$variable"
hello from file1
hello from file2

...or the output from a command. This will cat the output from ls (lists files that match the pattern).

for output in $(ls *.txt)
    cat "$output"
hello from file1
hello from file2

Bash can also accept patterns, like this to cat all the text files in current directory:

for output in ./*.txt
    cat "$output"
hello from file1
hello from file2

While loop:

while [ true ]
    echo "loop body here..."
loop body here...

You can also define functions:

function foo ()
    echo "All arguments passed to function: $@"
    echo "Arguments separated into different variables: $1 $2..."
    echo "This is a function"
    returnValue=0    # Variable values can be returned
    return $returnValue

Call the function foo with two arguments, arg1 and arg2:

foo arg1 arg2
All arguments passed to function: arg1 arg2
Arguments separated into different variables: arg1 arg2...
This is a function

Return values can be obtained with $?:

foo > /dev/null  # hide the output

echo "result = $resultValue"
result = 0

More than 9 arguments are also possible by using braces, e.g. ${10}, ${11}, etc.

You can also define functions like this:

bar ()
    echo "Another way to declare functions!"
    return 0

# call the function `bar` with no arguments:
Another way to declare functions!

Files and directories

Our current directory is available through the command pwd. pwd stands for "print working directory". We can also use the built-in variable $PWD. Observe that the following are equivalent:

# execs `pwd` and interpolates output
echo "I'm in $(pwd)"

# interpolates the variable
echo "I'm in $PWD"
I'm in /sandbox
I'm in /sandbox

If you get too much output in your terminal, or from a script, the command clear clears your screen:


Ctrl-L also works for clearing output.

Reading a value from input:

echo "What's your name?"
read name
# Note that we didn't need to declare a new variable.
echo "Hello, $name!"

Unlike other programming languages, bash is a shell so it works in the context of a current directory. You can list files and directories in the current directory with the ls command:


This command has options that control its execution:

# Lists every file and directory on a separate line
ls -l
echo ""

# Sorts the directory contents by last-modified date (descending)
ls -t
echo ""

# Recursively `ls` this directory and all of its subdirectories
ls -R
total 8
-r--r--r-- 1 sandbox sandbox  40 Feb 12 00:54 file.txt
-r--r--r-- 1 sandbox sandbox 226 Feb 12 00:54



Results (stdout) of the previous command can be passed as input (stdin) to the next command using a pipe |. Commands chained in this way are called a "pipeline", and are run concurrently. The grep command filters the input with provided patterns. That's how we can list .txt files in the current directory:

ls -l | grep "\.txt"
-r--r--r-- 1 sandbox sandbox 40 Feb 12 00:53 file.txt

Use cat to print files to stdout:

cat file.txt
Hello, World!
Today is a beautiful day.

We can also read the file using cat:

Contents=$(cat file.txt)

# "\n" prints a new line character
# "-e" to interpret the newline escape characters as escape characters
echo -e "START OF FILE\n$Contents\nEND OF FILE"
Hello, World!
Today is a beautiful day.

Use cp to copy files or directories from one place to another. cp creates NEW versions of the sources, so editing the copy won't affect the original (and vice versa). Note that it will overwrite the destination if it already exists.

cp file.txt /tmp/clone.txt
cp -r /sandbox/ /tmp # recursively copy
ls -lR /tmp
total 4
-r--r--r-- 1 sandbox sandbox 40 Feb 12 01:00 clone.txt
drwxr-xr-x 2 sandbox sandbox 80 Feb 12 01:00 sandbox

total 8
-r--r--r-- 1 sandbox sandbox 40 Feb 12 01:00 file.txt
-r--r--r-- 1 sandbox sandbox 80 Feb 12 01:00

Look into scp or sftp if you plan on exchanging files between computers. scp behaves very similarly to cp. sftp is more interactive.

Use mv to move files or directories from one place to another. mv is similar to cp, but it deletes the source. mv is also useful for renaming files!

touch /tmp/src.txt
mv /tmp/src.txt /tmp/dst.txt
ls /tmp

Since bash works in the context of a current directory, you might want to run your command in some other directory. We have cd for changing location:

cd ~    # change to home directory
cd      # also goes to home directory
cd ..   # go up one directory
        # (^^say, from /home/username/Downloads to /home/username)
# change to specified directory
cd /sandbox

# change to another directory
cd /var/log/..

# change to last directory
cd -

Use subshells to work across directories:

(echo "First, I'm here: $PWD") && (cd /tmp; echo "Then, I'm here: $PWD")
pwd # still in first directory
First, I'm here: /sandbox
Then, I'm here: /tmp

Use mkdir to create new directories:

mkdir /tmp/one

# the `-p` flag causes new intermediate directories to be created as necessary.
mkdir -p /tmp/two/three/four

# show directory tree
tree /tmp
├── one
└── two
    └── three
        └── four

4 directories, 0 files

If the intermediate directories didn't already exist, running the above command without the -p flag would return an error.

You can redirect command input and output (stdin, stdout, and stderr) using "redirection operators". Unlike a pipe, which passes output to a command, a redirection operator has a command's input come from a file or stream, or sends its output to a file or stream.

Read from stdin until ^EOF$ and overwrite with the lines between "EOF" (which are called a "here document"):

cat > /tmp/ << EOF
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# read stdin and print it to stdout
if [[ "$stdin" == "" ]]; then
    echo "stdin is empty"
    echo "stdin: $stdin"

Variables will be expanded if the first "EOF" is not quoted.

Run the Bash script with various stdin, stdout, and stderr redirections:

# pass as input to the script
bash < ""

# redirect output from the script to output.out
bash > "/tmp/output.out"

# redirect error output to error.err
bash 2> "/tmp/error.err"
stdin: I appreciate your input.
stdin is empty

Redirect both output and errors to output-and-error.log &1 means file descriptor 1 (stdout), so 2>&1 redirects stderr (2) to the current destination of stdout (1), which has been redirected to output-and-error.log:

bash > "/tmp/output-and-error.log" 2>&1
cat /tmp/output-and-error.log
stdin is empty

Redirect all output and errors to the black hole, /dev/null, i.e., no output:

bash > /dev/null 2>&1

> will overwrite the file if it exists. If you want to append instead, use >>:

bash >> "/tmp/output.out" 2>> "/tmp/error.err"
bash >> "/tmp/output.out" 2>> "/tmp/error.err"

echo "output.out:"
cat /tmp/output.out

echo "error.err:"
cat /tmp/error.err
stdin is empty
stdin is empty

Overwrite output.out, append to error.err, and count lines:

help for > /tmp/output.out 2>> /tmp/error.err
wc -l /tmp/output.out /tmp/error.err
10 /tmp/output.out
  0 /tmp/error.err
 10 total

Run a command and print its file descriptor (e.g. /dev/fd/123) see: man fd

echo <(echo "#helloworld")

Overwrite output.out with #helloworld:

cat > /tmp/output.out <(echo "#helloworld")
echo "#helloworld" > /tmp/output.out
echo "#helloworld" | cat > /tmp/output.out
echo "#helloworld" | tee /tmp/output.out >/dev/null
cat /tmp/output.out

Cleanup temporary files verbosely (add -i for interactive). WARNING: rm commands cannot be undone:

touch /tmp/one.txt /tmp/two.txt
mkdir /tmp/subdir
touch /tmp/subdir/three.txt

rm -v /tmp/one.txt /tmp/two.txt
rm -r /tmp/subdir/ # recursively delete
removed '/tmp/one.txt'
removed '/tmp/two.txt'

You can install the trash-cli Python package to have trash which puts files in the system trash and doesn't delete them directly.

Commands can be substituted within other commands using $( ). The following command displays the number of files and directories in the current directory:

echo "There are $(ls | wc -l) items here."
There are 1 items here.

The same can be done using backticks ``but they can't be nested - the preferred way is to use$( ).

echo "There are `ls | wc -l` items here."
There are 1 items here.

Running processes

A single ampersand & after a command runs it in the background. A background command's output is printed to the terminal, but it cannot read from the input.

sleep 30 &

# List background jobs
jobs # => [1]+  Running                 sleep 30 &

# Bring the background job to the foreground

# Ctrl-C to kill the process, or Ctrl-Z to pause it
# Resume a background process after it has been paused with Ctrl-Z

# Kill job number 2
kill %2
# %1, %2, etc. can be used for fg and bg as well

Redefine command ping as alias to send only 5 packets:

alias ping='ping -c 5'

Escape the alias and use command with this name instead:

\ping -c 1
PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from seq=0 ttl=42 time=0.114 ms

--- ping statistics ---
1 packets transmitted, 1 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max = 0.114/0.114/0.114 ms

Print all aliases:

alias -p
alias ping='ping -c 5'

Useful commands

There are a lot of useful commands you should learn.

Prints last 5 lines of data.txt:

tail -n 5 data.txt
foo bar
foo baz bar

Prints first 5 lines of data.txt:

head -n 5 data.txt

Print data.txt's lines in sorted order:

sort data.txt
foo bar
foo baz bar

Report or omit repeated lines, with -d it reports them:

uniq -d data.txt

Prints only the first column before the , character:

cut -d ',' -f 1 data.txt | grep four

Replaces every occurrence of three with ten in data.txt (regex compatible):

cp data.txt /tmp
sed -i 's/three/ten/g' /tmp/data.txt
grep "three" /tmp/data.txt | wc -l
grep "ten" /tmp/data.txt | wc -l

Be aware that this -i flag means that data.txt will be changed. -i or --in-place erase the input file (use --in-place=.backup to keep a back-up).

Print to stdout all lines of data.txt which match some regex. The example prints lines which begin with foo and end in bar:

grep "^foo.*bar$" data.txt
foo bar
foo baz bar

Pass the option -c to instead print the number of lines matching the regex:

grep -c "^foo.*bar$" data.txt

Other useful options are:

# recursively `grep`
grep -r "^foo.*bar$" somedir/

# give line numbers
grep -n "^foo.*bar$" data.txt

# recursively `grep`, but ignore binary files
grep -rI "^foo.*bar$" somedir/

Perform the same initial search, but filter out the lines containing "baz"

grep "^foo.*bar$" data.txt | grep -v "baz"
foo bar

If you literally want to search for the string, and not the regex, use fgrep (or grep -F):

fgrep "baz" data.txt
foo baz bar

The trap command allows you to execute a command whenever your script receives a signal. Here, trap will execute rm if it receives any of the three listed signals.


sudo is used to perform commands as the superuser. Usually it will ask interactively the password of superuser:

NAME2=$(sudo whoami)
echo "Was $NAME1, then became more powerful $NAME2"

Read Bash shell built-ins documentation with the bash help built-in:

help <command>

Help for the return command:

help return
return: return [n]
    Return from a shell function.

    Causes a function or sourced script to exit with the return value
    specified by N.  If N is omitted, the return status is that of the
    last command executed within the function or script.

    Exit Status:
    Returns N, or failure if the shell is not executing a function or script.

Read Bash manpage documentation with man:

apropos bash
man 1 bash
man bash

Read info documentation with info (? for help):

apropos info | grep '^info.*('
man info
info info
info 5 info

Read bash info documentation:

info bash
info bash 'Bash Features'
info bash 6
info --apropos bash

Max Yankov + 16 others · original · CC-BY-SA-4.0 · 2024-02-12