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Case statement in shell



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Shell case statement is similar to those in Pascal and switch statement in C. It  can be used to test a variable against set of patterns.  Often case statement lets you express a series of if-then-else statements that check single variable for various conditions or ranges in a more concise way.

The syntax of case is as follows:

case expression in
    pattern1 )
        statements ;;
    pattern2 )
        statements ;;

Any of the patterns can actually be several patterns separated by pipe character "|". If expression matches one of the patterns, its corresponding statements of a case branch are executed. If there are several patterns separated by pipe characters, the expression can match any of them in order for the associated statements to be run. The patterns are checked in order until a match is found; if none is found, nothing happens.

For example:

for filename in $*; do
    case $filename in
        *.c )
            ccom $filename $objname
        *.s )
            as $filename $objname 
        *.o ) ;;
        *   )
            print "error: $filename is not a source or object file."
            return 1 ;;

The final case is *, which is a catchall for whatever didn't match the other cases. (In fact, a * case is analogous to a default case in C and an otherwise case in some Pascal-derived languages.)

Another example:

case $extension in
     "gz" )
           gunzip $file
     "bz2" )
           bz2unpack $file
     * )
           echo "Archive format for extention '$extension' is not recognized."

Above, bash first expands "${file##*.}". In the code, "$file" is the name of a file, and "${file##.*}" has the effect of stripping all text except that following the last period in the filename. Then, bash compares the resultant string against the values listed cases of case statement. In this case, file extension will be  compared against "gz" and "bz2" If one of those matches, then appropriate command will be executed for the value of $file .

Please note that  $file can contain fully qualified filename . For example:


Extension will still be extracted correctly. Of course you can split fully qualified name into directory and path and operate with them separately, for example:

file=$(basename $fully_qualified_name)
dir=$(dirname $fully_qualified_name)

So far selectors in case statement were simple strings. They can be pretty complex patterns. For example here is how you can implement the functions that trims spaces both from left and right of its argument:

function trim
   while : # this is an infinite loop
   case $target in
      ' '*) target=${target#?} ;; ## if $target begins with a space remove it
      *' ') target=${target%?} ;; ## if $target ends with a space remove it
      *) break ;; # no more leading or trailing spaces, so exit the loop
   return target

You can use "Or" operation in case to tie several cases to one branch of case statement. Here is an example from Wikipedia:

case $n in
    0)      echo 'You typed 0.';;
    1|9)    echo "$n is a perfect square.";;
    3|5|7)  echo "$n is a prime number.";;
    4)    echo "$n is a perfect square.
$n is an even number";;
    2|6|8)    echo "$n is an even number.";;
    *)      echo 'Only single-digit numbers are allowed.';;
As patterns can have character classes that sometimes simplify logic or options processing and similar cases (Using case statements):

# This script does a very simple test for checking disk space.

space=`df -h | awk '{print $5}' | grep % | grep -v Use | sort -n | tail -1 | cut -d "%" -f1 -`

case $space in
  Message="All is quiet."
  Message="Start thinking about cleaning out some stuff.  There's a partition that is $space % full."
  Message="Better hurry with that new disk...  One partition is $space % full."
  Message="I'm drowning here!  There's a partition at $space %!"
  Message="I seem to be running with an nonexistent amount of disk space..."

Additional examples from Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide

Here are few additional examples from Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide: Chapter 11. Loops and Branches

Example 11-24. Using case
# Testing ranges of characters.

echo; echo "Hit a key, then hit return."
read Keypress

case "$Keypress" in
  [[:lower:]]   ) echo "Lowercase letter";;
  [[:upper:]]   ) echo "Uppercase letter";;
  [0-9]         ) echo "Digit";;
  *             ) echo "Punctuation, whitespace, or other";;
esac      #  Allows ranges of characters in [square brackets],
          #+ or POSIX ranges in [[double square brackets.

#  In the first version of this example,
#+ the tests for lowercase and uppercase characters were
#+ [a-z] and [A-Z].
#  This no longer works in certain locales and/or Linux distros.
#  POSIX is more portable.
#  Thanks to Frank Wang for pointing this out.

#  Exercise:
#  --------
#  As the script stands, it accepts a single keystroke, then terminates.
#  Change the script so it accepts repeated input,
#+ reports on each keystroke, and terminates only when "X" is hit.
#  Hint: enclose everything in a "while" loop.

exit 0
Example 11-25. Creating menus using case

# Crude address database

clear # Clear the screen.

echo "          Contact List"
echo "          ------- ----"
echo "Choose one of the following persons:" 
echo "[E]vans, Roland"
echo "[J]ones, Mildred"
echo "[S]mith, Julie"
echo "[Z]ane, Morris"

read person

case "$person" in
# Note variable is quoted.

  "E" | "e" )
  # Accept upper or lowercase input.
  echo "Roland Evans"
  echo "4321 Flash Dr."
  echo "Hardscrabble, CO 80753"
  echo "(303) 734-9874"
  echo "(303) 734-9892 fax"
  echo ""
  echo "Business partner & old friend"
# Note double semicolon to terminate each option.

  "J" | "j" )
  echo "Mildred Jones"
  echo "249 E. 7th St., Apt. 19"
  echo "New York, NY 10009"
  echo "(212) 533-2814"
  echo "(212) 533-9972 fax"
  echo ""
  echo "Ex-girlfriend"
  echo "Birthday: Feb. 11"

# Add info for Smith & Zane later.

          * )
   # Default option.	  
   # Empty input (hitting RETURN) fits here, too.
   echo "Not yet in database."



#  Exercise:
#  --------
#  Change the script so it accepts multiple inputs,
#+ instead of terminating after displaying just one address.

exit 0

An  clever use of case involves testing for command-line parameters.

#! /bin/bash

case "$1" in
  "") echo "Usage: ${0##*/} <filename>"; exit $E_PARAM;;
                      # No command-line parameters,
                      # or first parameter empty.
# Note that ${0##*/} is ${var##pattern} param substitution.
                      # Net result is $0.

  -*) FILENAME=./$1;;   #  If filename passed as argument ($1)
                      #+ starts with a dash,
                      #+ replace it with ./$1
                      #+ so further commands don't interpret it
                      #+ as an option.

  * ) FILENAME=$1;;     # Otherwise, $1.

Here is an more straightforward example of command-line parameter handling:

#! /bin/bash

while [ $# -gt 0 ]; do    # Until you run out of parameters . . .
  case "$1" in
              # "-d" or "--debug" parameter?
              if [ ! -f $CONFFILE ]; then
                echo "Error: Supplied file doesn't exist!"
                exit $E_CONFFILE     # File not found error.
  shift       # Check next set of parameters.

#  From Stefano Falsetto's "Log2Rot" script,
#+ part of his "rottlog" package.
#  Used with permission.
Example 11-26. Using command substitution to generate the case variable
# Using command substitution to generate a "case" variable.

case $( arch ) in   # "arch" returns machine architecture.
                    # Equivalent to 'uname -m' ...
  i386 ) echo "80386-based machine";;
  i486 ) echo "80486-based machine";;
  i586 ) echo "Pentium-based machine";;
  i686 ) echo "Pentium2+-based machine";;
  *    ) echo "Other type of machine";;

exit 0

A case construct can filter strings for globbing patterns.

Example 11-27. Simple string matching
# Simple string matching.

match_string ()
{ # Exact string match.
  PARAMS=2     # Function requires 2 arguments.

  [ $# -eq $PARAMS ] || return $E_BAD_PARAMS

  case "$1" in
  "$2") return $MATCH;;
  *   ) return $E_NOMATCH;;



match_string $a     # wrong number of parameters
echo $?             # 91

match_string $a $b  # no match
echo $?             # 90

match_string $b $d  # match
echo $?             # 0

exit 0		    
Example 11-28. Checking for alphabetic input
# Using a "case" structure to filter a string.


isalpha ()  # Tests whether *first character* of input string is alphabetic.
if [ -z "$1" ]                # No argument passed?
  return $FAILURE

case "$1" in
  [a-zA-Z]*) return $SUCCESS;;  # Begins with a letter?
  *        ) return $FAILURE;;
}             # Compare this with "isalpha ()" function in C.

isalpha2 ()   # Tests whether *entire string* is alphabetic.
  [ $# -eq 1 ] || return $FAILURE

  case $1 in
  *[!a-zA-Z]*|"") return $FAILURE;;
               *) return $SUCCESS;;

isdigit ()    # Tests whether *entire string* is numerical.
{             # In other words, tests for integer variable.
  [ $# -eq 1 ] || return $FAILURE

  case $1 in
    *[!0-9]*|"") return $FAILURE;;
              *) return $SUCCESS;;

check_var ()  # Front-end to isalpha ().
if isalpha "$@"
  echo "\"$*\" begins with an alpha character."
  if isalpha2 "$@"
  then        # No point in testing if first char is non-alpha.
    echo "\"$*\" contains only alpha characters."
    echo "\"$*\" contains at least one non-alpha character."
  echo "\"$*\" begins with a non-alpha character."
              # Also "non-alpha" if no argument passed.



digit_check ()  # Front-end to isdigit ().
if isdigit "$@"
  echo "\"$*\" contains only digits [0 - 9]."
  echo "\"$*\" has at least one non-digit character."



e=`echo $b`   # Command substitution.

check_var $a
check_var $b
check_var $c
check_var $d
check_var $e
check_var $f
check_var     # No argument passed, so what happens?
digit_check $g
digit_check $h
digit_check $i

exit 0        # Script improved by S.C.

# Exercise:
# --------
#  Write an 'isfloat ()' function that tests for floating point numbers.
#  Hint: The function duplicates 'isdigit ()',
#+ but adds a test for a mandatory decimal point.

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Old News ;-)

[Feb 10, 2011] Regex in if-then-else statement to match strings

Sept 18, 2007  | The UNIX and Linux Forums

Using a case/esac statement makes regular expressions simple and obvious.


case $name in
    [ab]{2,3} )
         echo do stuff
    * ) 



Perhaps I am using a too-old version of bash. Version 3.00.16(1) recognizes the [ab] but not the {2,3} part, apparently because the case selectors are expanded in the same fashion as pathnames, not regular expressions:



# @(#) s4       Demonstrate case selectors.

set -o nounset

echo "GNU bash $BASH_VERSION" >&2
# See:


# if [ $name = [ab]{2,3} ]; then
echo " Original string = \"$name\""

case $name in
[ab]{2,3} )
    echo Success
* )
    echo Failure

echo " Original string = \"$name\""

case $name in
[ab]{2,3} )
    echo Success
* )
    echo Failure

exit 0



% ./s4

GNU bash 3.00.16(1)-release

 Original string = "bb"

 Original string = "b{2,3}"

cheers, drl


Yes, it's globbing, not re's. For {2,3} with globbing:


bash 3.2.25(1)$ v=b
bash 3.2.25(1)$ case $v in ([ab][ab]|[ab][ab][ab]) echo OK;;(?) echo KO;;esac
bash 3.2.25(1)$ v=bbb
bash 3.2.25(1)$ case $v in ([ab][ab]|[ab][ab][ab]) echo OK;;(?) echo KO;;esac
bash 3.2.25(1)$ # or:
bash 3.2.25(1)$ shopt -s extglob
bash 3.2.25(1)$ v=b
bash 3.2.25(1)$ case $v in ([ab][ab]?([ab])) echo OK;;(?) echo KO;;esac
bash 3.2.25(1)$ v=bb
bash 3.2.25(1)$ case $v in ([ab][ab]?([ab])) echo OK;;(?) echo KO;;esac

[Feb 10, 2011] Idiosyncratic behavior-case-statement-bash

08-20-2008  | The UNIX and Linux Forums


Hello all, I'm a new poster with a problem that I'm not finding in the archives.

I'm trying to better my understanding of the behavior of case statements, in particular the word to pattern matching aspects. According to the GNU bash reference (Bash Reference Manual) the syntax is:
case word in [ [(] pattern [| pattern]...) command-list ;;]... esac

Also, "Each pattern undergoes tilde expansion, parameter expansion, command substitution, and arithmetic expansion."

Based on this I would expect both of these expressions to behave identically:


#! /bin/bash
# test program attempting to understand case statements
# predominantly used/tested by author in bash --version
#    GNU bash, version 3.2.39(1)-release (i686-pc-linux-gnu)
#    Copyright (C) 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
# please note that above version is as installed by gentoo
# also tested using completely unmodified/unpatched bash --version 
#    GNU bash, version 3.2.0(1)-release (i686-pc-linux-gnu)
#    Copyright (C) 2005 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

# Usage: $0 [ {1..10} ]


if [ $# -gt 0 ]

echo VAR=$VAR

case $VAR in
   [1..5] ) echo "one to five" ;;
  $(seq -s'|' 6 10) ) echo "six to ten" ;;
#  6|7|8|8|10 ) echo "six to ten" ;;
  *       ) echo "fall through" ;;

exit 0


Interesting. I replaced seq with echo "6|7|8|9|10" just to take seq out of the equation. The script works as expected with ksh93 but fails on bash (version 3.2.29) 


It seems to interpret the expanded string literally.


bash$ case '6|7|8|9|10' in $(seq -s '|' 6 10) ) echo yes;; esac

It would surprise me if the spec is unambiguous on this point ...



It seems to interpret the expanded string literally.


bash$ case '6|7|8|9|10' in $(seq -s '|' 6 10) ) echo yes;; esac

It would surprise me if the spec is unambiguous on this point ...

You nailed it. Sifting through the source was revealing:

case 3 in 2|3|4 )

The above produces a linked list of strings 2->3->4, which are in turn compared as strings against the 3 in the case. When a variable or command substitution is used the substitution happens but is never parsed for comparison of individual components.

This appears to be a bug and has been submitted as such.



shopt -s extglob
case $var in
    @($(seq -s'|' 6 10)) )   echo "six to ten" ;;
    6|7|8|8|10 ) echo "dfs six to ten" ;;
shopt -u extglob

See here under for explanation



My interpretation of this is different from the previous ones. The bash manual does indeed have the words cited. And it is clear that substitution takes place. However, the result is simply a string. The manual does not say that the case statement is then re-scanned to cause the strings to be treated as patterns.

We know how to cause a re-scan: the eval built-in:

Code: #!/bin/bash3 -

# @(#) s2 Demonstrate eval of case to get active selectors.

echo echo "(Versions displayed with local utility \"version\")" version >/dev/null 2>&1 && version "=o" $(_eat $0 $1) set -o nounset

echo VAR=6

if [ $# -gt 0 ] then VAR=$1 fi

echo VAR=$VAR six=$(seq -s'|' 6 10) echo " Generated selector in variable: $six"

echo echo " Results of eval case:" eval " case $VAR in $(seq -s'|' 1 5) ) echo ' 1 - 5 (seq)' ;; $six) echo 'six to ten (variable)' ;; * ) echo 'fall through' ;; esac "

exit 0 Producing:

Code: $ ./s2 5

(Versions displayed with local utility "version") Linux 2.6.11-x1 GNU bash 3.00.16(1)-release

VAR=5 Generated selector in variable: 6|7|8|9|10

Results of eval case: 1 - 5 (seq) $ $ ./s2 7

(Versions displayed with local utility "version") Linux 2.6.11-x1 GNU bash 3.00.16(1)-release

VAR=7 Generated selector in variable: 6|7|8|9|10

Results of eval case: six to ten (variable) This may not be what we want or expect, and the interpretation may not even be correct. We might consider this a method to get around a limitation. In any case (pun intended), it works ... cheers, drl

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