Dealing with containers such as lists or arrays you may want to code a condition like ‘does the array A contains an element (equal to) e’.
How to do this in bash? There are vivid discussions about this issue on relevant sites. As stated by tokland at

It’s an old question.

A frequently proposed solution is this.

A=(4 12 35 43)
if [[ ${A[@]} =~ $e ]] ; then
    echo "e=$e is in A"

It works fine under certain conditions.

e=5 is in A

If you actually want to rely on the outcome you should iterate over the array, see check-if-an-array-contains-a-value. This comes quite handy and you can even save some lines by using ;.


rush is an ruby-shell designed for command-line tasks such as file and process handling.

In lieu of bash command sequence joined by pipes, you subsequently apply methods or refere to members on the object yielded before. The following example start with a filtered list of the files in the directory some_dir.


This has several advantages:

  • Presuming you are in ruby you can fully use your ruby tools-set.
  • You can do one-liners subsequently processing arbitrary objects.
  • For more complex cases you have a descent programming language at hand.

There are downsides:

  • In order to call other system commands you have use bash-wrapper command.
  • The project does seem to be maintained at the moment and there is very little documentation. The above example, though taken from the projects home page, does not seem to work.

It is a good approach to start with reasonable programming language and then make some alternations in order to get a useful shell. Maybe ruby is not the very best choice as base language because it has a bit particular syntax that might be unnecessarily confusing to non-expert users.

The return statement is for passing a return code, e.g. number between 0 and 255. If you want to output a string you have to do a echo within the function body. There are two issues with that.

First, you cannot distinguish between the output the function returns and some information you want to print for instance for debugging while the body is executed.

Assume a function list_certain_pdfs that computes a list of all pdf-files that contain a certain string and can be found below a base-directory passed as input.
For each directory below the base-dir that contain at least one fitting pdf the function should also print the number of found pdfs to stdout while running.

A=$(list_certain_pdfs /var/run/bkm/)
/var/run/bkm/tmp/00/: 3
/var/run/bkm/tmp/08/: 120
/var/run/bkm/tmp/ext/: 1

This should not be difficult to do, but with bash it is.

Second, it is not clear how pass an array as output of a function. As we already know, structured data types do not belong to bashs assets. One reason arrays are rarely used might be that you cannot simply return them from a functions body.

A way to deal with the situation is pointed out here. It is a valid solution but it is also a kludge.

As a shell-pro you do not need support wheels. That is why you cannot give names to input arguments in bash. If you are soft you may give names to arguments inside the functions body.

logarithm () {
	RESULT=$(echo "l($X)/l($BASE)" | bc -l )
 	echo $RESULT

The defined function logarithm outputs the logarithm of the first input with respect to the base given as second input. The latter is optional: its value is assigned to the variable BASE if the second input ($2) is provided, otherwise the default value 10 is used.

Many peoble tend to use the same fitting variable names inside and outside the function. A common way to solve resulting name conflicts is that, inside the functions body, you have to explicitly state it if want to refer to a variable that lives outside. Not so with bash.

A=$(logarithm 1000)
B=$(logarithm 8 $BASE)

We expect both the values of A and B to be 3. But the value of B is something else. The first call of logarithm changed the value of BASE. For protecting the outside BASE from being set within a function call we have to declare the variable BASE in the functions body as local. And you better do so if your function happens to use variable names like USER or PATH.

A crucial trick in writing scripts is to identify well-rounded subtasks and to enclose the needed commands into a function with a speaking name.

If you aim to use functions you need to know

  • syntax of function definition
  • ways to pass inputs
  • how to return outputs

We have a look at bashs function syntax. Which is a valid first line for a function definition?

foo ( ) {
foo( ) {
foo ( ){

Surprise: here, bash is as benign as most scripting languages, all four are valid. Apparently, the parser looks for the round brackets first and thereby can detect function definitions. So why cant it do similarly in case of assignments by looking for “=”?

Another direction is ipython,, a pimped python shell. python does not use polish notation nor knows the system commands like find or touch. Within ipython, however, you can change that by calling the magic functions %autocall and %rehashx.

In [1]: %autocall
In [2]: type 2
Out[2]: int
In [3]: %rehashx
In [4]: find /var -maxdepth 1 -name log
In [5]: l_dirs = !find /var -maxdepth 1 -path "*/l*"
In [6]: l_dirs
Out[6]: ['/var/log', '/var/lib', '/var/local', '/var/lock']

The autocall-mode is possible because the python syntax is ‘non-polish’ in sense that any valid statement of the form a b can also be written as a(b) (besides compound statement that control the execution).

Unfortunately, the autocall mode does not integrate bash completion. When it finds out that the command is going to be a system command it could give the completion list as provided by bash. Instead it comes up with a proper completion list which is rarely usefull.