Ops Scripting w. Bash: Frequency 3

Tracking Frequency in BASH (Bourne Again Shell): Part III

This article shows how to do a serial pipeline style with loop constructs and a a survey of popular command line tools often used with shell programming.

Previously, I detailed how to process a file using conditional loop or a collection loop in a procedural way. In each cycle of the loop, we went through these steps:

  1. slice off the shell string
  2. verify if shell string is valid
  3. create an entry in the associative array with the current count

For the serial pipeline style, we’ll run through the process in this fashion:

filter_valid_lines | slice_7th_column | increment_count_entry

Previous Articles

The Problem

Procedural Solutions Way

The Solutions for the Serial Pipeline Way

For these solutions, we will use a sub-shell to pre-process the lines, and then send valid list of shells directly to the while loop with <<< operator:

while read -r SHELL; do
process_shell_entry $SHELL
done <<< $( create_list_of_valid_shells )

For more information on this, see why subshell below.

Solution 3: Splitting with IFS and Read

In this solution, we use the internal input-field-separator IFS in conjunction with read to split each line into an array, where we slice off the shell column.

Bash read split with Grep Filter

A reverse grep (grep -v) is used to filter out invalid lines that do not have a shell specified. If we wanted to stay pure-shell, we could do the same thing in BASH:

Pure BASH Solution

Solution 4: Splitting with cut command

The cut command can remove sections form each line of a file (or files). We specify the 7th column; unlike an array, the count of columns starts at 1.

Cut with Grep Filter Solution

Solution 5: Splitting with sed

A popular tool in Linux and Unix is sed (stream editor), which has a substitute ability that we can use to only substitute the part we are interested in:

sed 's/pattern/replacement/' input_file

We can use a substitute operation to extract out the shell, which the part after the colon:

Sed Substitute with Grep Filter Solution

In our substitute, we are doing a group match with the (). We extract our group, which in this case is everything after the colon :, and then replace the whole string with only that group using \1.

Given that sed does more than substitute, being a full text editor driven by commands, we could also delete strings that are invalid, foregoing the need for grep:

Sed Substitute with Sed Delete Filter Solution

The above demonstrates both substitute and delete commands for sed.

Solution 6: Splittling with awk command

The awk tool is extremely popular for working with field separated files. With awk we can print out any column:

awk '{print $5}' input_file # print's 5th field

This is the awk solution below:

Awk with Grep Filter Solution

In this example, we use a special variable in awk called NF, which represents the number of fields. The awk tool will slice off whatever is the last field using NF in this way.

As awk is a rather robust tool, we can conditionally match for each line to verify we have a valid line, so there’s no need for grep in this case, as matching is built into awk:

Awk with Awk Match Filter Solution

Our negative match pattern with !/:$/ are all lines that do not end with a colon :. We can do a positive match with /[^:]$/, which would match lines ending in non-colon characters.

Solution 7: Splitting with grep only-match command

The grep match tool has the ability to only print out the matched content, instead of the whole string when we use the only-match option of -o. This will extract only the shell portion of the string.

Grep with Grep Filter Solution

Soluton 8: Splitting with perl command

The perl tool is a robust and fast tool to do kung-fu with strings. You can use Perl in command line mode with auto-splitting -a enabled, and then print out the column using the Perl’s built-in $F variable.

Perl with Grep Filter Solution

Like previous solutions, grep is pre-processing the lines to filter out invalid lines, but perl can do this by itself as well:

Perl with Perl Filter Solution

In addition to auto-splitting mode with -a, which is similar to awk, you can also simulate other tools like grep and sed to extract out the final shell column. Here’s a summary of alternatives that can be used in the sub-shell:

##################### awk-like #####################
# perl auto-split w/ grep filter
grep -v ':$' passwd | perl -naF':' -e 'print $F[6]'
# perl auto-split w perl match filter
-naF':' -e 'print $F[6] if $F[6] !~ /^$/' passwd
############## grep-like with group-match ##############
# perl group-match w/ grep filter
grep -v ':$' passwd | perl -ne 'print $1 if /([^:]*)$/'
# perl group-match w/ perl match filter
perl -ne 'print $1 if /([^:]*)$/ and $1 !~ /^$/' passwd
##################### sed-like #####################
# perl substitute + group-match w/ grep filter
grep -v ':$' passwd | perl -pne 's/.*:([^:].*)$/$1/;'
# perl substitute + group-match and substitute to filter
perl -pne 's/.*:([^:].*)$/$1/ and s/^\s*$//' passwd

Why SubShell?

This is an excellent question. The current pattern above is to do the following:

while read -r VAR; do process $VAR; done <<< $(cmd < file | cmd)

Would it not be simpler to just do something like:

cmd < file | cmd | while read -r VAR; do process $VAR; done

The second snippet is more intuitive, but unfortunately this will not work in our case. Specifically, when we leave the conditional loop, we lose any variables we were saving.

Pipe to a Loop

When you do a command | loop, you fork a sub-process with the loop, which does a fork/exec command and links the standard output of the command to the standard input of loop process. Unfortunately, variable changes in the loop are force scoped to just the loop, and thus will be lost outside of the loop.

Eval to a Loop

When you do a loop <<< $(command), all of the standard output from the command is gathered into a buffer, then the loop will use the buffer as loop input. The subshell with $(command) is run at eval and standard out is substituted in-place of the $(command), then the execution of the statement happens. Thus, your variables set inside the loop are preserved outside of the loop.

Solution Example with For Loop

Another way to use subshells if this format looks too funky, is to go back to a for loop and split the lines using this construct:

for VAR in $(cmd < file); do process $VAR; done

Below is an example solution for using the for loop:

We can use the default IFS, as this will split that buffer by spaces, tabs, and new lines, and so if we have an empty shell, it will be skipped. We therefore no longer need a filter with grep, as it is implicit with the default separator.

The Conclusion

So these solutions are essentially a survey of popular tools that can be used for processing strings as an alternative to the internal splitting mechanism with IFS.

Takeways for looping constructs:

  • pipe into a command from a string using <<< $(command)
  • limitations of command | while -r VAR construct
  • alternative loop construct with for VAR in $(command) construct
  • default IFS will filter empty lines as separator is space, tab, and newlines.

Takeaways on methods to extracting a sub-string from text:

  • using splitting from internal IFS variable in subshell.
  • using splitting with an external tool: cut, awk, perl
  • using substitute with group match with an external tool: sed, perl
  • using group match or only-match with an external tool: grep, perl

Tool Specific Takeaways:

  • grep can match lines or filter lines or a slice columns with regex
  • awk can match as well as slice columns as well as other features
  • sed can substitute and delete as well as other features
  • perl can match, group-match, substitute, and slice columns.