Tutorial :Working with conditions based on command output


I have the following code:

#!/bin/bash    for f in `find . ! -type d`;  do          line=`grep -i 'todo' $f | sed 's/^[ \t]*//'`          if [ $line ]; then                  echo "$f:"                  echo "$line"          fi  done  

but the condition is not working as I would expect it, I need it to only work if something other than an empty string (or nothing) is returned by the command.


Some ideas:

  • You need to quote your $f in the grep line to deal with files with spaces in their names.
  • Perhaps you should use -f rather than ! -d, otherwise your find may hang on fifos.
  • For me the \t escape didn't work as a tab match, it consumed a leading t in a test case file line, so I just inserted a raw tab character in the script instead.
  • Use the double square bracket test otherwise you need an operator in there, or at least some quotes.

A slight variation on your script would then be:

find . -type f | while read f  do          # raw tab in here ------------------- v          line=`grep -i 'todo' "$f" | sed 's/^[  ]*//'`          if [[ $line ]]; then                  echo "$f:"                  echo "$line"          fi  done  


As Alberto pointed out, it's common to use -n to check to see if a string has a non-zero length, but in the case where the string may be empty or contain only whitespace, you'll want to quote the variable:

if [ -n "$line" ] # ...  

Similarly, you can check to see if it has a zero length with -z:

if [ -z "$line" ] # ...  

Negation is also supported when it makes more sense:

if [ ! -z "$line" ] # ...  

Edit: And since you're using bash, you can actually use some other nice features such as:

  1. Double brackets (e.g. [[ expr ]]), and
  2. Regular expressions (e.g. [[ cat =~ ca[bat] ]])

See the conditional constructs section in man bash for more information.


The old school notation (usable with archaic things like Bourne Shell, and not so archaic things such as Korn shell) is:

for f in `find . ! -type d`  do      line=`grep -i 'todo' $f | sed 's/^[ \t]*//'`      if [ -n "$line" ]      then              echo "$f:"              echo "$line"      fi  done  

You could speed up the overall processing, though, by using:

find . ! -type d -print0 | xargs -0 grep -i 'todo' /dev/null |  perl -p -e '($name) = split /:/;              if ($saved ne $name) { $saved = $name; print "$name:\n"; }              s/^$name:\s*//;'  

The find is modified to handle spaces in names; the xargs also handles spaces in names, and runs the grep command on /dev/null plus some files - which ensures that matching lines are preceded by the file name. The perl script splits the line at the first colon - so file names containing colons are not good news. It compares that name with what it had saved before; if they are different, then it prints out the new name, colon and newline to give you the file heading. Then it removes the file name and trailing spaces before (automatically) printing the line. (Don't use '-w' with Perl; it complains about $saved being uninitialized. If you must (it is good practice), add BEGIN { $saved = ""; }.)

This is likely to perform better than the shell loop because it invokes grep just a few times rather than once per file, and doesn't invoke the sed at all (instead of once per file).


if [ -n $line ]  

Checks if $line is empty string.


This is one I like:

if [ ${PIPESTATUS[0]} -eq 0 ]; then echo lines found; fi  

it takes the exit status of the grep. man page tells:

EXIT STATUS     Normally,  the  exit  status  is  0  if  selected lines are found and 1 otherwise.  


Use POSIX character classes if you can:

# cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regular_expression#POSIX_character_classes    sed 's/[[:blank:]]/-wasTabOrSpace-/g' <<< $'abc\t def'  


Since we have a subshell because of the `...` or $(...) construct respectively, we can exit the subshell like any other (parent) shell with a specified PIPESTATUS-based exit code! :-)

# simple test  var="$(echooo hello 2>/dev/null | cat)"  echo ${PIPESTATUS[0]}  # 0    var="$(echooo hello 2>/dev/null | cat; exit ${PIPESTATUS[0]})"  echo ${PIPESTATUS[0]}  # 127  

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