10.1. Loops

A loop is a block of code that iterates (repeats) a list of commands as long as the loop control condition is true.

for loops

for (in)

This is the basic looping construct. It differs significantly from its C counterpart.

for arg in [list]
do
 command...
done

Note

During each pass through the loop, arg takes on the value of each variable in the list.

for arg in "$var1" "$var2" "$var3" ... "$varN"  
# In pass 1 of the loop, $arg = $var1	    
# In pass 2 of the loop, $arg = $var2	    
# In pass 3 of the loop, $arg = $var3	    
# ...
# In pass N of the loop, $arg = $varN

# Arguments in [list] quoted to prevent possible word splitting.

The argument list may contain wild cards.

If do is on same line as for, there needs to be a semicolon after list.

for arg in [list] ; do

Example 10-1. Simple for loops

#!/bin/bash
# List the planets.

for planet in Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto
do
  echo $planet
done

echo

# Entire 'list' enclosed in quotes creates a single variable.
for planet in "Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto"
do
  echo $planet
done

exit 0

Note

Each [list] element may contain multiple parameters. This is useful when processing parameters in groups. In such cases, use the set command (see Example 11-10) to force parsing of each [list] element and assignment of each component to the positional parameters.

Example 10-2. for loop with two parameters in each [list] element

#!/bin/bash
# Planets revisited.

# Associate the name of each planet with its distance from the sun.

for planet in "Mercury 36" "Venus 67" "Earth 93"  "Mars 142" "Jupiter 483"
do
  set -- $planet  # Parses variable "planet" and sets positional parameters.
  # the "--" prevents nasty surprises if $planet is null or begins with a dash.

  # May need to save original positional parameters, since they get overwritten.
  # One way of doing this is to use an array,
  #        original_params=("$@")

  echo "$1		$2,000,000 miles from the sun"
  #-------two  tabs---concatenate zeroes onto parameter $2
done

# (Thanks, S.C., for additional clarification.)

exit 0

A variable may supply the [list] in a for loop.

Example 10-3. Fileinfo: operating on a file list contained in a variable

#!/bin/bash
# fileinfo.sh

FILES="/usr/sbin/privatepw
/usr/sbin/pwck
/usr/sbin/go500gw
/usr/bin/fakefile
/sbin/mkreiserfs
/sbin/ypbind"     # List of files you are curious about.
                  # Threw in a dummy file, /usr/bin/fakefile.

echo

for file in $FILES
do

  if [ ! -e "$file" ]       # Check if file exists.
  then
    echo "$file does not exist."; echo
    continue                # On to next.
   fi

  ls -l $file | awk '{ print $9 "         file size: " $5 }'  # Print 2 fields.
  whatis `basename $file`   # File info.
  echo
done  

exit 0

The [list] in a for loop may contain filename globbing, that is, using wildcards for filename expansion.

Example 10-4. Operating on files with a for loop

#!/bin/bash
# list-glob.sh: Generating [list] in a for-loop using "globbing".

echo

for file in *
do
  ls -l "$file"  # Lists all files in $PWD (current directory).
  # Recall that the wild card character "*" matches everything,
  # however, in "globbing", it doesn't match dot-files.

  # If the pattern matches no file, it is expanded to itself.
  # To prevent this, set the nullglob option
  # (shopt -s nullglob).
  # Thanks, S.C.
done

echo; echo

for file in [jx]*
do
  rm -f $file    # Removes only files beginning with "j" or "x" in $PWD.
  echo "Removed file \"$file\"".
done

echo

exit 0

Omitting the in [list] part of a for loop causes the loop to operate on $@, the list of arguments given on the command line to the script. A particularly clever illustration of this is Example A-11.

Example 10-5. Missing in [list] in a for loop

#!/bin/bash

# Invoke both with and without arguments, and see what happens.

for a
do
 echo -n "$a "
done

# The 'in list' missing, therefore the loop operates on '$@'
# (command-line argument list, including whitespace).

echo

exit 0

It is possible to use command substitution to generate the [list] in a for loop. See also Example 12-32, Example 10-9 and Example 12-29.

Example 10-6. Generating the [list] in a for loop with command substitution

#!/bin/bash
# A for-loop with [list] generated by command substitution.

NUMBERS="9 7 3 8 37.53"

for number in `echo $NUMBERS`  # for number in 9 7 3 8 37.53
do
  echo -n "$number "
done

echo 
exit 0

This is a somewhat more complex example of using command substitution to create the [list].

Example 10-7. A grep replacement for binary files

#!/bin/bash
# bin-grep.sh: Locates matching strings in a binary file.

# A "grep" replacement for binary files.
# Similar effect to "grep -a"

E_BADARGS=65
E_NOFILE=66

if [ $# -ne 2 ]
then
  echo "Usage: `basename $0` string filename"
  exit $E_BADARGS
fi

if [ ! -f "$2" ]
then
  echo "File \"$2\" does not exist."
  exit $E_NOFILE
fi  


for word in $( strings "$2" | grep "$1" )
# The "strings" command lists strings in binary files.
# Output then piped to "grep", which tests for desired string.
do
  echo $word
done

# As S.C. points out, the above for-loop could be replaced with the simpler
#    strings "$2" | grep "$1" | tr -s "$IFS" '[\n*]'


# Try something like  "./bin-grep.sh mem /bin/ls"  to exercise this script.

exit 0

Here is yet another example of the [list] resulting from command substitution.

Example 10-8. Checking all the binaries in a directory for authorship

#!/bin/bash
# findstring.sh: Find a particular string in binaries in a specified directory.

directory=/usr/bin/
fstring="Free Software Foundation"  # See which files come from the FSF.

for file in $( find $directory -type f -name '*' | sort )
do
  strings -f $file | grep "$fstring" | sed -e "s%$directory%%"
  # In the "sed" expression, it is necessary to substitute for the normal "/" delimiter
  # because "/" happens to be one of the characters filtered out.
  # Failure to do so gives an error message (try it).
done  

exit 0

# Exercise for the reader (easy):
# Convert this script to taking command-line parameters for $directory and $fstring.

The output of a for loop may be piped to a command or commands.

Example 10-9. Listing the symbolic links in a directory

#!/bin/bash
# symlinks.sh: Lists symbolic links in a directory.

ARGS=1                 # Expect one command-line argument.

if [ $# -ne "$ARGS" ]  # If not 1 arg...
then
  directory=`pwd`      # current working directory
else
  directory=$1
fi

echo "symbolic links in directory \"$directory\""

for file in "$( find $directory -type l )"   # -type l = symbolic links
do
  echo "$file"
done | sort                                  # Otherwise file list is unsorted.

#  As Dominik 'Aeneas' Schnitzer points out,
#+ failing to quote  $( find $directory -type l )
#+ will choke on filenames with embedded whitespace.

exit 0

The stdout of a loop may be redirected to a file, as this slight modification to the previous example shows.

Example 10-10. Symbolic links in a directory, saved to a file

#!/bin/bash
# symlinks.sh: Lists symbolic links in a directory.

ARGS=1                 # Expect one command-line argument.
OUTFILE=symlinks.list  # save file

if [ $# -ne "$ARGS" ]  # If not 1 arg...
then
  directory=`pwd`      # current working directory
else
  directory=$1
fi

echo "symbolic links in directory \"$directory\""

for file in "$( find $directory -type l )"   # -type l = symbolic links
do
  echo "$file"
done | sort > "$OUTFILE"                     # stdout of loop
#           ^^^^^^^^^^^^                       redirected to save file.

exit 0

There is an alternative syntax to a for loop that will look very familiar to C programmers. This requires double parentheses.

Example 10-11. A C-like for loop

#!/bin/bash
# Two ways to count up to 10.

echo

# Standard syntax.
for a in 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
do
  echo -n "$a "
done  

echo; echo

# +==========================================+

# Now, let's do the same, using C-like syntax.

LIMIT=10

for ((a=1; a <= LIMIT ; a++))  # Double parentheses, and "LIMIT" with no "$".
do
  echo -n "$a "
done                           # A construct borrowed from 'ksh93'.

echo; echo

# +=========================================================================+

# Let's use the C "comma operator" to increment two variables simultaneously.

for ((a=1, b=1; a <= LIMIT ; a++, b++))  # The comma chains together operations.
do
  echo -n "$a-$b "
done

echo; echo

exit 0

See also Example 26-6 and Example 26-7.

---

Now, for an example from "real life".

Example 10-12. Using efax in batch mode

#!/bin/bash

EXPECTED_ARGS=2
E_BADARGS=65

if [ $# -ne $EXPECTED_ARGS ]
# Check for proper no. of command line args.
then
   echo "Usage: `basename $0` phone# text-file"
   exit $E_BADARGS
fi


if [ ! -f "$2" ]
then
  echo "File $2 is not a text file"
  exit $E_BADARGS
fi
  

fax make $2              # Create fax formatted files from text files.

for file in $(ls $2.0*)  # Concatenate the converted files.
                         # Uses wild card in variable list.
do
  fil="$fil $file"
done  

efax -d /dev/ttyS3 -o1 -t "T$1" $fil   # Do the work.


# As S.C. points out, the for-loop can be eliminated with
#    efax -d /dev/ttyS3 -o1 -t "T$1" $2.0*
# but it's not quite as instructive [grin].

exit 0
while

This construct tests for a condition at the top of a loop, and keeps looping as long as that condition is true (returns a 0 exit status).

while [condition]
do
 command...
done

As is the case with for/in loops, placing the do on the same line as the condition test requires a semicolon.

while [condition] ; do

Note that certain specialized while loops, as, for example, a getopts construct, deviate somewhat from the standard template given here.

Example 10-13. Simple while loop

#!/bin/bash

var0=0
LIMIT=10

while [ "$var0" -lt "$LIMIT" ]
do
  echo -n "$var0 "        # -n suppresses newline.
  var0=`expr $var0 + 1`   # var0=$(($var0+1)) also works.
done

echo

exit 0

Example 10-14. Another while loop

#!/bin/bash

echo

while [ "$var1" != "end" ]     # while test "$var1" != "end"
do                             # also works.
  echo "Input variable #1 (end to exit) "
  read var1                    # Not 'read $var1' (why?).
  echo "variable #1 = $var1"   # Need quotes because of "#".
  # If input is 'end', echoes it here.
  # Does not test for termination condition until top of loop.
  echo
done  

exit 0

A while loop may have multiple conditions. Only the final condition determines when the loop terminates. This necessitates a slightly different loop syntax, however.

Example 10-15. while loop with multiple conditions

#!/bin/bash

var1=unset
previous=$var1

while echo "previous-variable = $previous"
      echo
      previous=$var1
      [ "$var1" != end ] # Keeps track of what "var1" was previously.
      # Four conditions on "while", but only last one controls loop.
      # The *last* exit status is the one that counts.
do
echo "Input variable #1 (end to exit) "
  read var1
  echo "variable #1 = $var1"
done  

# Try to figure out how this all works.
# It's a wee bit tricky.

exit 0

As with a for loop, a while loop may employ C-like syntax by using the double parentheses construct (see also Example 9-24).

Example 10-16. C-like syntax in a while loop

#!/bin/bash
# wh-loopc.sh: Count to 10 in a "while" loop.

LIMIT=10
a=1

while [ "$a" -le $LIMIT ]
do
  echo -n "$a "
  let "a+=1"
done           # No surprises, so far.

echo; echo

# +=================================================================+

# Now, repeat with C-like syntax.

((a = 1))      # a=1
# Double parentheses permit space when setting a variable, as in C.

while (( a <= LIMIT ))   # Double parentheses, and no "$" preceding variables.
do
  echo -n "$a "
  ((a += 1))   # let "a+=1"
  # Yes, indeed.
  # Double parentheses permit incrementing a variable with C-like syntax.
done

echo

# Now, C programmers can feel right at home in Bash.

exit 0

Note

A while loop may have its stdin redirected to a file by a < at its end.

until

This construct tests for a condition at the top of a loop, and keeps looping as long as that condition is false (opposite of while loop).

until [condition-is-true]
do
 command...
done

Note that an until loop tests for the terminating condition at the top of the loop, differing from a similar construct in some programming languages.

As is the case with for/in loops, placing the do on the same line as the condition test requires a semicolon.

until [condition-is-true] ; do

Example 10-17. until loop

#!/bin/bash

until [ "$var1" = end ] # Tests condition here, at top of loop.
do
  echo "Input variable #1 "
  echo "(end to exit)"
  read var1
  echo "variable #1 = $var1"
done  

exit 0