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105.2 Customize or Write Simple Scripts

Candidates should be able to customize existing scripts, or write simple new BASH scripts.

Key Knowledge Areas

  • Use standard sh syntax (loops, tests).
  • Use command substitution.
  • Test return values for success or failure or other information provided by a command.
  • Perform conditional mailing to the superuser.
  • Correctly select the script interpreter through the shebang (#!) line.
  • Manage the location, ownership, execution and suid-rights of scripts.

What is a shell script?

A shell script is a text file that tells the shell what to do.

It contains the name of the program that is used as the interpreter for the rest of the content of the script. The line starting with #!ProgramPath+Name (normally the first line) designates the interpreter to be used:

#!/bin/bash or #!/bin/sh or #!/usr/bin/perl -w

In reality when the system is asked to start a script, the line starting with #! is read and the appropriate script interpreter is started which in turns reads the script and executes the commands included in it.

Conditions for running a script

The script file must be runnable by the user running it (chmod ....) The interpreter must be where the script says it is: the default is to call bash.

Language used in shell scripts

The script language depends on the script interpreter used. bash has its own syntax which can be used interactively or in a script.

Passing parameters to a script

Scripts can be given up to 9 positional parameters (for all interpreters) or up to 99 parameters with bash.

Inside the script each parameter will be identified as $1 to $9 or ${10} to ${99}

scriptname param1 param2 param3 param4..... param47.....$0 $1 $2 $3 $4 ${47} .....

Some special parameters are automatically set by the Bourne shell, and usually cannot be directly set or modified.

Parameter $n can be modified by the set command inside the script.(where n is 1-99 for bash)

set aaa bbb ccc ... $1 $2 $3

Special Parameters

$n - Positional parameter n max. n=9 ($0 is the name of the shell script)

${nn} - Positional parameter nn (for nn>9)

$# - Number of positional parameters (not including the script program)

$@, $* - All positional parameters

"$@" - Same as "$1" "$2" . . . "$n"

"$*" - Same as "$1c$2c . . . $n" c = content of $IFS (default is space)

$? - Exit status of the last command

$$ - Process ID of the current shell

$- - Current options in effect

$! - Process ID of the last background command

$- Name of the current shell (in this case 'bash')

The shift command

The shift command moves the assignment of the positional parameters to the left. If a

script is called like this:

script1 aaa bbb ccc ddd

And the following commands are run inside the script

# echo $1 $2 $3

# shift

# echo $1 $2 $3

The result of the first echo command is:

aaa bbb ccc

The result of the second echo command is:

bbb ccc

The set and unset commands

The unset command is normally used to unset values of variables, and the set command to assign values to positional parameters from inside a script. Very useful if a script has been started without positional parameters and after verifying this the script assigns default values to them.

set aa bb cc dd $1 $2 $3 $4 - assigns aa to $1, bb to $2, cc to $3 and dd to $4

The set command is also useful for changing properties of bash's behaviour.

One important option of set is:

# set -o noclobber

The command causes the redirection symbol (>) to fail to overwrite the contents of an existing file.

Conditional statements

Below is a list of the most used conditional directives

The if conditional branching directive

if - allows certain commands to execute only if certain conditions are met.

Syntax: (see also the section 'CONDITIONAL EXPRESSIONS' later in this topic):

if <condition_is_true> ; then



elseif <condition_is_true> ; then

if first condition is not met and this one is met then:




if all conditions above are not met then:




end of if directive block

<condition_is_true> can be of the following types:

(1) Test the status of files or directories.

if test -e /etc/fstab ; then


if [ -e /etc/fstab ] ; then

(2) Command or script exit code.

if (ifconfig | grep 'ppp0') ; then

(3) The contents of a variable corresponding to a certain value:

if $1 ; then - true if $1 has a value in it

if [ "$net" = "eth0" ] ; then - testing strings

if test ["$#" -eq 5 ] ; then

(integer testing)

The case conditional branching directive

case is normally used for conditionally branching to one of several choices depending on

the content of a variable.


case <Variable> in


commands to run



commands to run



commands to run



commands to run if none of the above conditions are met.



end of case directive block

Looping in scripts

Used whenever a sequence of commands must be executed more than once.

The while conditional loop directive

The while directive keeps looping and running the commands in its block for as long as its condition(s) (defined in the while statement) is/are met.


while <condition_is_true> ; do



end of while directive block

Note: While is often used to ask the user for a keyboard entry of some sort and if the response is not adequate then the request is repeated until the proper information is entered. The while loop is then exited and the program resumes its execution.

The until conditional loop directive

The until loop works exactly the same way as the while loop except that the logic is the opposite:

The loop continues until condition(s) is/are met.


until <condition_is_true> ; do



end of until directive block

The for loop directive

The for directive allows a sequence of commands to be executed as many times as there are items in a given list. Each time the loop runs through, the content of a specific variable becomes value of the current item in the given list.


for variable in list ; do



end of for directive block

variable =the variable name which will have its content become the current item on each loop round in the given list. The list can also be a variable which contains a list of items.

for item in ~/file1 ~/file2 ~/file3 ; do

echo "------------ Content of $item -----------"

cat $item >> ~/allfiles


Shell functions

Shell functions are a series of commands stored in one place that can be used from several points in the script. Parameters can be passed to functions via positional parameters.

The positional parameters ($1, $2, $3 ...), which will become local to the function. They use the same syntax as for a script except that the first ($0) stays global.

The variable FUNCNAME is used similarly to, for the same purpose as, $0.

Special variables like $#, $*, $@, are also local within the function.

All other variables are global to the script and can be modified by the functions.

The command return x (x=return code) can be used as a function exit command and to assign a function return code.


FunctionName () {

command ;

command ;



function FunctionName () {

command ;

command ;


(See functions in the previous section Customize and use the shell environment for more details on shell Functions.)

Exit codes and the variable $?

All programs, including scripts, return an exit code when their process ends. The exit code helps determine the success or failure of the program or the script. This exit code can be read via the special variable $? and be used to make decisions further in the calling script.

Generally the exit code of '0' means success and any other code (1-255) means some sort of failure. It is also often referred as the error code.

The && and || conditional branching

The exit code can be used to execute another command (only one) depending upon its success or its failure. The double ampersand '&&' is used to designate the command to run if the exit code is success (0). The double pipe '||' designates the command to run if the exit code is not a success (1-255).


# ifconfig ppp0 && echo "pppd running" || echo "pppd not running"

If the command ifconfig ppp0 succeeds then the command echo "pppd running" will be executed (&&) otherwise the command echo "pppd not running" will be executed.

Mailing messages to root from a script

Sometimes it is useful to mail a message to root or tother users announcing some anomalies or success in the running of an automated script. The program normally used is 'mail'. See man mail for all the options it uses.


# mail -s "subject" destination_mail_address "message.."


# program | mail -s "subject" destination_mail_address


# mail -s "subject" destination_mail_address <<EOM

message body.......



# df | mail -s "HD Space on $(date)" root

Mails the result of the command df to the local root user.

Location and security for bash scripts

Administration scripts are normally stored in the PATH which is either /usr/local/bin or /root/bin. The normal access rights are 755(rwx r-x r-x) or for more protection by preventing any other user than root to run it: 700(rwx --- ---).

Although the SUID doesn't have any effect on scripts, very old versions of Linux may be affected by SUID being set.

Conditional Expressions

The test and [...] commands are used to evaluate conditional expressions with file attributes, strings, and integers. The basic format is: test expression or [ expression ], where expression is the condition you are evaluating. There must be whitespace after the opening bracket, and before the closing bracket. Whitespace must also separate the expression arguments and operators. If the expression evaluates to true, then a zero exit status is returned, otherwise the expression evaluates to false and a non-zero exit status is returned.

Test File Operators

-a <file> True if file exists.

-b <file> True if file exists and is a block special file.

-c <file> True if file exists and is a character special file.

-d <file> True if file exists and is a directory.

-e <file> True if file exists.

-f <file> True if file exists and is a regular file.

-g <file> True if file exists and is set-group-id.

-h <file> True if file exists and is a symbolic link.

-k <file> True if file exists and its ``sticky bit is set.

-p <file> True if file exists and is a named pipe (FIFO).

-r <file> True if file exists and is readable.

-s <file> True if file exists and has a size greater than zero.

-t <fd> True if file descriptor fd is open and refers to a terminal.

-u <file>True if file exists and its SUID bit is set.

-w <file>True if file exists and is writable.

-x <file> True if file exists and is executable.

-O <file> True if file exists and is owned by the effective UID.

-G <file> True if file exists and is owned by the effective GID.

-L <file> True if file exists and is a symbolic link.

-S <file> True if file exists and is a socket.

-N <file> True if file exists and has been modified since it was last read.

file1 -nt file2 True if file1 is newer (according to the modification date) than file2, or if file1 exists and file2 does not.

file1 -ot file2 True if file1 is older than file2, or if file2 exists and file1 does not.

file1 -ef file2 True if file1 and file2 refer to the same device and inode numbers.

Test String Operators

-n string True if length of string is not zero

-z string True if length of string is zero

string True if string is not set to null

string1 = string2 True if string1 is equal to string2

string1 = string2 True if string1 is equal to string2

string1 = string2 True if string1 is not equal to string2

string1 < string2 True if string1 sorts before string2 lexicographically in the current locale.

string1 > string2 True if string1 sorts after string2 lexicographically in the current locale.

string = pattern True if string matches pattern

string = pattern True if string does not match pattern

Test Integer Operators

exp1 -eq exp2 True if exp1 is equal to exp2 eg. [ "$#" -eq 4 ]

exp1 -ne exp2 True if exp1 is not equal to exp2 eg. test "$#" -ne 3

exp1 -le exp2 True if exp1 is less than or equal to exp2

exp1 -lt exp2 True if exp1 is less than exp2

exp1 -ge exp2 True if exp1 is greater than or equal to exp2

exp1 -gt exp2 True if exp1 is greater than exp2

Other test Operators

! exp True if the given expression is false eg. [ ! -r /etc/motd ]

exp1 -a exp2 True if both exp1 and exp2 evaluate to true (see example below)

exp1 -o exp2True if either exp1 or exp2 evaluate to true

\( exp \) True if exp is true; used to group expressions

The \ used to escape parentheses. Use spaces before and after this character

[ "$A" = "$B" -a \( "$C" = "$D" -a "$E" = "$F" \) ]

The following is a partial list of files, terms and utilities that were used.* for

  • while
  • test
  • if
  • read
  • seq

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