Shell hacks

Shell Hacks

Shell Hacks

This page is for quick shell hacks. More complete bash-scripting documentation is available from the Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide.

In case it isn’t obvious, these are all only tested on bash. ksh might work but I only rarely use it and I don’t test in it.

Listing Non-System Users

awk is a word-splitter. /etc/passwd is a colon-delimited list of words. Ergo:

$ awk -F: '{if ($3 >= 500) { print $1 }}' /etc/passwd

Replace 500 with the beginning UID for non-system users for your system. Red Hat uses 500; Solaris uses 1000. If you’re using NIS, LDAP, or other NameServiceSwitch back-end, use the getent command (which, conveniently outputs the same format as /etc/passwd):

getent passwd | awk -F: '{if ($3 >= 500) {print $1}}'

Neither of these commands will work on AIX, but on AIX you’ve got lsusers already. Note that you can also list only the system users by reversing the comparison operator. You will likely have a user nfsnobody that is UID 65534 (which corresponds to -1 in signed 16-bit integers) which is also a system user.

Display Meat of Config File

This removes empty lines and lines that start with a ‘#’, usually used as a comment character.

grep -vE '^($|#)' <foo.conf>

This one is better; it strips comments and whitespace-only lines, whereas the previous only strips comments starting at the beginning of the line and blank lines:

alias nocomment="sed -e 's/\([^#]*\)#.*$/\1/; /^[[:space:]]*$/d; /^#/d;'"

Find Empty Directories

This is the magic for find that finds empty directories in the current working directory.

find . -empty -maxdepth 1 -type d

Hourly Statistics from Log Files

This extracts the hour from the syslog timestamps and shows how many log entries occured in each hour. This is most useful if you pre-process <logfile>, or you remove log file and feed it with a pipe.

awk '{print $3}' <logfile> |awk -F: '{print $1 ":00"}' |sort -n |uniq -c

Getting the Script Name

I used to use prog=$(basename $0) to get the script’s basename (which is good for help output, temp files, etc). However, I’ve picked up a tip from SUSE’s init scripts which uses the parameter expansion available in bash and ksh:


It’s a little more succinct (if perhaps obscure) and obviates an exec.

Function Template: usage

usage() {
    # Default to 0
    local exitval="${1:-0}"

    if [[ $exitval -eq 1 ]]; then
        # Redirect stdout to stderr
        exec 1>&2

    echo "Usage: ${0##*/} [-h] [-x]"
    echo "Do something or other."
    echo "  -x          - Set 'x' to true."
    echo "  -h          - show this help screen."

    exit "$exitval"

Generate Sequence of Integers without Using ‘seq’

Brace expansion can be use with a range:

$ echo {1..10}
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Also supports a non-1 increment:

$ echo {1..10..2}
1 3 5 7 9

Descending increment:

$ echo {10..1}
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


$ echo {01..10}
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10

Iterate Over $PATH

Use the pattern-substitution parameter expansion. Note that you must also not quote the variable (which I usually do as a good practice):

$ for p in ${PATH//:/ }; do echo $p; done

Improved pathmunge

Red Hat’s /etc/profile defines a shell function called pathmunge to conditionally add directories to $PATH The problem with this implementation is that it runs egrep, which involves forking a process and incurs a modicum of overhead. Generally that’s not a big deal–the overhead is minimal on modern processors. But if the host is in a state of distress due to swapping or a fork-bomb or such, these extra processes become a burdensome overhead.

Here’s my implementation, which also adds a force parameter (which unfortunately means it is not idempotent) and changes the after to before, since after is what I usually want.

pathmunge () {

    if [[ ! -d "$newpath" ]]; then return 1; fi
    if [[ "$2" = "force" || "$3" = "force" ]]; then force=1; else force=0; fi

    if [[ $force -ne 1 ]]; then
        for p in ${PATH//:/ }; do
            if [[ "$p" = "$newpath" ]]; then
                : $newpath exists - aborting early
                return 1

    : adding $newpath - $LINENO
    if [[ "$2" = "before" ]] ; then