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Brace Expansion



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Everyone has done one of the following to make a quick backup of a file test:

cp test test.old 
cp test.old test 

But retyping or even copying name if it is long is a inconvenient and time consuming. As Unix came from world of teletypes with their slow speed people invented a better way -- factoring common part of the filename for such cases:

 cp test{, ".old"}
 cp test{".old",}  

These two commands are doing exactly the same thing as the first two, but with less typing.   The curly brace ({) in this context means  "brace expansion". The preamble (in our case test,) is prepended to each of the strings in the comma-separated list found within the curly braces, creating a new word for each string. Brace expansion can take place anywhere in your command string, can occur multiple times in a line and can be nested. Brace expansion expressions are evaluated left to right. Some examples:

touch a{1,2,3}_sample
ls /usr/{,local/}
mkdir -p /db/vendors/{dell,hp,cisco}

Brace expansion can be nested.

 touch a{1,2,3{,orig}}

The shell will expand it to:

 a1 a2 a3 a3orig
You can use ranges instead of sequence
echo {a..f}{1..9}.txt
According to bash man page

"A sequence expression takes the form {x..y}, where x and y are either integers or single characters. When integers are supplied, the expression expands to each number between x and y, inclusive. When characters are supplied, the expression expands to each character lexicographically between x and y, inclusive. Note that both x and y must be of the same type".

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Old News ;-)

Bash Brace Expansion By Mitch Frazier

May 30, 2008 | Linux Journal

Bash brace expansion is used to generate stings at the command line or in a shell script. The syntax for brace expansion consists of either a sequence specification or a comma separated list of items inside curly braces "{}". A sequence consists of a starting and ending item separated by two periods "..".

Some examples and what they expand to:

  {aa,bb,cc,dd}  => aa bb cc dd
  {0..12}        => 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
  {3..-2}        => 3 2 1 0 -1 -2
  {a..g}         => a b c d e f g
  {g..a}         => g f e d c b a
If the brace expansion has a prefix or suffix string then those strings are included in the expansion:
  a{0..3}b       => a0b a1b a2b a3b
Brace expansions can be nested:
  {a,b{1..3},c}  => a b1 b2 b3 c

Counted loops in bash can be implemented a number of ways without brace expansion:

# Three expression for loop:
for (( i = 0; i < 20; i++ ))
    echo $i
# While loop:
while [[ $i -lt 20 ]]
    echo $i
    let i++
# For loop using seq:
for i in $(seq 0 19)
    echo $i
A counted for loop using bash sequences requires the least amount of typing:
for i in {0..19}
    echo $i
But beyond counted for loops, brace expansion is the only way to create a loop with non-numeric "indexes":
for i in {a..z}
    echo $i

Brace expansion can also be useful when passing multiple long pathnames to a command. Instead of typing:

  # rm /a/long/path/foo /a/long/path/bar
You can simply type:
  # rm /a/long/path/{foo,bar}

Brace expansion is enabled via the "set -B" command and the "-B" command line option to the shell and disabled via "set +B" and "+B" on the command line.

Bash Brace Expansion Tutorial 6 Examples of Expanding Expressions within Braces

If you see the output of the following two for statement, you could identify the above pitfall.

$ cat
# Print 1 to 4 using sequences.
for i in {1..4}
        echo $i

# Print 1 to 4 using through variables
echo "Sequences expressed using variables"
for i in {$start..$end}
        echo $i

$ ./
Sequences expressed using variables
Fun with bash shell brace expansion « the semi-crazy blog
Brace expansion only happens once, right after the command line is tokenized. So this works:
$ echo foo{1,2,3}
foo1 foo2 foo3

That’s great, but this does not work:

$ myline=foo{1,2,3}
$ echo $myline

This does not work since the brace expansion (foo{1,2,3} -> foo1 foo2 foo3) happens prior to the shell parameter expansion ($myline -> foo{1,2,3}). To examplify the order, try the reverse experiment. It should work out the same way:

$ one=1
$ two=2
$ echo values_{$one,$two}
values_1 values_2

So it makes sense, but if we still want to force our $myline variable value through brace expansion, we’ll need to have bash evaluate it twice. for this, we’ll need the bash builtin ‘eval’ command. eval evaluates a command line for you, and using it with echo and backtics you can get it to double evaluate our variable, like this:

$ myline=foo{1,2,3}
$ evaluatedline=`eval echo $myline`
$ echo $evaluatedline
foo1 foo2 foo3

And there you go. Now, using a similar mechanism, we can iterate through our file based list of brace expressions, expand each one and copy the files I want to a new location and sequenced name. The full script to do this is here:


# make the output directory if it doesn't exist
if [ ! -e $OUTPUT_DIR ]
 mkdir -p $OUTPUT_DIR

# clear out previous run's output
# use this construct since passing such a huge amount (12,000) of
#   files to rm (via rm *.jpg)
#    will fail otherwise (due to 'too many args' error)
ls -tr $OUTPUT_DIR | xargs -t -I{} rm -f ${OUTPUT_DIR}/{}

# $FILE_OF_PATTERNS is the path to a file that contains path specifiers,
#   one per line, like this:
# 2004-10-26/cam_2004-10-26_{08,09_00}*.jpg
# each line specifies some files we want to include in the animation
# do this for each pattern spec I want to grab
for i in `egrep -o '^[^#]*'  $FILE_OF_PATTERNS`
 echo =========== PROCESSING: $i ================
 # force the brace expression through another evaluation, like so:
 foo=`eval echo $i`
 # for every file that matches this sub pattern, copy that image
 #   to a file named with a more simple sequence (p1.jpg, p2.jpg, ...)
 for file in `ls $foo 2> /dev/null`
   let COUNT=$COUNT+1

Shell scripting and brace expansion

Now try it in a shell script:

for i in $HOSTS
ping $i
# rest of logic

And then executed script by typing command:

$ ./myscript host{1..5} 

It will not expand to, :/? It took me more than two hours, finally while chatting with my friend he told me to replace HOSTS="$1" with HOSTS="$@". Bingo it worked!

According to bash man page,"A sequence expression takes the form {x..y}, where x and y are either integers or single characters. When integers are supplied, the expression expands to each number between x and y, inclusive. When characters are supplied, the expression expands to each character lexicographically between x and y, inclusive. Note that both x and y must be of the same type". $@ is a special shell variable which. expands to the positional parameters, starting from one. When the expansion occurs within double quotes, each parameter expands to a separate word. I must admit I need to master shell shell scripting skills ;)

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