Lecture 4 – Feb 10th, 2020

This exercise is designed to give you hands-on experience with Bash’s expansion.


  1. Log on to clyde: ssh user@clyde.cs.oberlin.edu.
  2. Create a directory with whatever name you like and cd into it.
  3. Run $ cp ~steve/ex/args . (note the trailing dot!) to copy the args program to your directory.


  1. Either run $ cat args to print the contents of args or open args in an editor (e.g., $ nvim args or $ emacs args). args is a Bash script that will print out the command line arguments that you pass it.

    The # character starts a comment, just like Python. Later in this course, we’ll learn what all of this is, but for now, you can probably see the structure of the program. There’s a num variable that is incremented each time through the for loop. The echo line produces the output and you can see ${num} and ${arg} which will expand to the command line argument number (its position in the list) and the command line argument itself.

    The most mysterious part is the "$@" which tells the for loop to loop over the command line arguments, setting arg to each one in turn.

  2. Splitting input into words. Run the args program several times with different command line arguments such as
    $ ./args
    $ ./args aa bb    cc
    $ ./args -a --version foo bar

    Try adding more or less space characters between each argument. Does it have any impact on what arguments the args script receives?

  3. Try to construct a command line argument that contains spaces. (Hint: the args program itself shows how to do that.) Test that you’re correct by running args with the appropriate command line argument.
  4. There are 3 different ways we can get spaces in the command line arguments: single quotes, double quotes, and a backslash before each space. Run the following and examine the output (you’ll probably want to copy and paste rather than type this in).
    $ ./args '  foo  bar  ' "aaa bbb" this\ is\ one\ arg

    There should be exactly three command line arguments printed out.

  5. Now try putting backslashes inside single or double quotes.
    $ ./args 'foo\\bar' "foo\\bar" "foo\bar" foo\\bar foo\bar

    If you look carefully at that, you’ll see that inside single quotes a backslash is treated literally (indeed everything inside single quotes is treated literally). Inside double quotes (or outside quotes), the backslash acts as an escape so "\\" produces just a single slash. Since \b doesn’t mean anything to Bash, the backslash doesn’t act as an escape.

    As a final step of input processing, Bash removes unquoted (and unescaped) quotation marks and backslashes. This explains why we don’t see any quotation marks in the arguments and why the backslash disappeared from foo\bar.

  6. Brace expansion. Try the following examples.
    $ ./args {foo,bar,baz}.mp3
    $ ./args before{X,Y,,Z}after # the ,, isn't a typo
    $ ./args {a,b{c,d},e}{f,g}

    Notice how Bash (recursively) expands each comma-separated string inside the braces into its own argument, prepending the stuff before it and appending the stuff after it.

  7. Try adding quotes (single and double) outside some of the braces. Try inside some of the braces. Try adding a space to one of the comma-separated items

    These are instructive.

    $ ./args before{X,Y, ,Z}after
    $ ./args before{X,Y,' ',Z}after
  8. Tilde expansion. ~ expands to your home directory, ~foo expands to user foo’s home directory. Try it out using ~steve to get my home directory. (Notice how we used this in the setup to copy args from my home directory.)

    Try adding quotes or a backslash in front of the ~. Try putting the ~ in the middle of the word like foo~bar. What happens?

  9. Parameter (variable) expansion. This is the most useful one of all! Define a new Bash variable class by entering the following.
    $ class='CS 241'

    Note carefully that the = must not have spaces on either side of it.

    First, let’s echo (i.e., print out) the value of the class variable.

    $ echo ${class}

    That should print out CS 241.

  10. Now try passing the class variable to the args program.
    $ ./args ${class}
    $ ./args '${class}'
    $ ./args "${class}"

    Note carefully the difference between these: "${class}" expanded to a single argument whereas ${class} expanded to multiple arguments. What happens is after doing parameter expansion (and several other expansions), Bash splits the result into multiple words by splitting (by default) at whitespace.

    You will never want this behavior. You can avoid it by putting double quotes around any use of variables.

  11. Read the slides discussing Bash expansion, in particular command substitution and quote removal. Play around with some of the examples on the slides. For example, compare
    $ ./args $(echo hi there)
    $ ./args "$(echo hi there)"