February 27, 2013

A bashism a week: appending

The very well known appending operator += is a bashism commonly found in the wild. Even though it can be used for things such as adding to integers (when the variable is declared as such) or appending to arrays, it is usually used for appending to a string variable.

As I previously blogged about it, the appending operator bashism is only useful when programming for the bash shell.

Whenever you want to append a string to a variable, repeating the name of the variable is the portable way. I.e.
foo="${foo} bar"
# Instead of foo+=" bar", which is a bashism

See? Replacing the += operator is not rocket science.

Note: One should be aware that makefiles do have a += operator which is safe to use when appending to a make variable. But don't let this "exception" fool you: code in configure.ac and similar files is executed by the shell interpreter. So don't use the appending operator there.

February 25, 2013

A tale of a bug report

Part 1:
A bug report is filed.
Part 2:
A patch is later provided by the submitter.
Part 3:
The patch is added to the package, the bug gets fixed.

[some time later]

Part 4:
A new upstream version is released, the patch is dropped.
Part 5:
The bug report is filed, again.

February 20, 2013

A bashism a week: pushing and pop'ing directories

Want to switch back-and-forth between directories in your shell script?
The bashism of this week can be of some help, but for most needs, the cd utility is more than enough.

pushd, popd, and the extra built-in dirs are bashisms that allow one to create and manipulate a stack of directory entries. For a simple, temporary, switch of directories the following code is portable as far as POSIX:2001 is concerned:

cd /some/directory
  touch some files
  unlink others
  # etc
cd - >/dev/null
# We are now back at where we were before the first 'cd'

Which is equivalent to the following, also portable, code:

cd /some/directory
  touch some files
  unlink others
  # etc
cd "$OLDPWD"
# We are now back at where we were before the first 'cd'

Multiple switches can also be implemented portably without storing the name of the directories in variables at the expense of using subshells (and their side-effects).

However, if you think you can solve your problem more conveniently by using "pushd" and "popd" don't forget to document the need of those built-ins and to adjust the shebang of your script to that of a shell that implements them, such as bash.

February 13, 2013

A bashism a week: negative matches

Probably due to the popular way of expressing the negation of a character class in regular expressions, it is common to see negative patterns such as [^b] in shell scripts.

However, using an expression such as [^b] where the shell is the one processing the pattern will cause trouble with shells that don't support that extension. The right way to express the negation is using an exclamation mark, as in: [!b]

Big fat note: this only applies to patterns that the shell is responsible for processing. Some of such cases are:

case foo in
        echo bar
# everything but backups:
for file in documents/*[!~]; do
    echo doing something with "$file" ...

If the pattern is processed by another program, beware that most won't interpret the exclamation the way the shell does. E.g.

$ printf "foo\nbar\nbaz\n" | grep '^[^b]'
$ printf "foo\nbar\nbaz\n" | grep '^[!b]'

February 06, 2013

A bashism a week: short-circuiting tests

The test/[ command is home to several bashisms, but as I believe I have demonstrated: incompatible behaviour is to be expected.

The "-a" and "-o" binary logical operators are no exception, even if documented by the Debian Policy Manual.

One feature of writing something like the following code, is that upon success of the first command, the second won't be executed: it will be short-circuited.
[ -e /dev/urandom ] || [ -e /dev/random ]

Now, using the "-a" or "-o" bashisms even in shell interpreters that support them can result in unexpected behaviour: some interpreters will short-circuit the second test, others won't.

For example, bash doesn't short-circuit:
$ strace bash -c '[ -e /dev/urandom -o -e /dev/random ]' 2>&1|grep /dev
stat64("/dev/urandom", ...) = 0
stat64("/dev/random", ...) = 0
Neither does dash:
$ strace dash -c '[ -e /dev/urandom -o -e /dev/random ]' 2>&1|grep /dev
stat64("/dev/urandom", ...) = 0
stat64("/dev/random", ...) = 0
But posh does:
$ strace posh -c '[ -e /dev/urandom -o -e /dev/random ]' 2>&1|grep /dev
stat64("/dev/urandom", ...) = 0
And so does pdksh:
$ strace pdksh -c '[ -e /dev/urandom -o -e /dev/random ]' 2>&1|grep /dev
stat64("/dev/urandom", ...) = 0

output of strace redacted for brevity

So even in Debian, where the feature can be expected to be implemented, its semantics are not very well defined. So much for using this bashism... better avoid it.

Remember, if you rely on any non-standard behaviour or feature make sure you document it and, if feasible, check for it at run-time.