5.2. Escaping

Escaping is a method of quoting single characters. The escape (\) preceding a character tells the shell to interpret that character literally.

Caution

With certain commands and utilities, such as echo and sed, escaping a character may have the opposite effect - it can toggle on a special meaning for that character.

Special meanings of certain escaped characters

used with echo and sed

\n

means newline

\r

means return

\t

means tab

\v

means vertical tab

\b

means backspace

\a

means alert (beep or flash)

\0xx

translates to the octal ASCII equivalent of 0nn, where nn is a string of digits

Example 5-2. Escaped Characters

#!/bin/bash # escaped.sh: escaped characters echo; echo # Escaping a newline. # ------------------ echo "" echo "This will print as two lines." # This will print # as two lines. echo "This will print \ as one line." # This will print as one line. echo; echo echo "=============" echo "\v\v\v\v" # Prints \v\v\v\v literally. # Use the -e option with 'echo' to print escaped characters. echo "=============" echo "VERTICAL TABS" echo -e "\v\v\v\v" # Prints 4 vertical tabs. echo "==============" echo "QUOTATION MARK" echo -e "\042" # Prints " (quote, octal ASCII character 42). echo "==============" # The $'\X' construct makes the -e option unnecessary. echo; echo "NEWLINE AND BEEP" echo $'\n' # Newline. echo $'\a' # Alert (beep). echo "===============" echo "QUOTATION MARKS" # Version 2 and later of Bash permits using the $'\nnn' construct. # Note that in this case, '\nnn' is an octal value. echo $'\t \042 \t' # Quote (") framed by tabs. # It also works with hexadecimal values, in an $'\xhhh' construct. echo $'\t \x22 \t' # Quote (") framed by tabs. # Thank you, Greg Keraunen, for pointing this out. # Earlier Bash versions allowed '\x022'. echo "===============" echo # Assigning ASCII characters to a variable. # ---------------------------------------- quote=$'\042' # " assigned to a variable. echo "$quote This is a quoted string, $quote and this lies outside the quotes." echo # Concatenating ASCII chars in a variable. triple_underline=$'\137\137\137' # 137 is octal ASCII code for '_'. echo "$triple_underline UNDERLINE $triple_underline" echo ABC=$'\101\102\103\010' # 101, 102, 103 are octal A, B, C. echo $ABC echo; echo escape=$'\033' # 033 is octal for escape. echo "\"escape\" echoes as $escape" # no visible output. echo; echo exit 0

See Example 34-1 for another example of the $' ... ' string-expansion construct.

\"

gives the quote its literal meaning

echo "Hello" # Hello echo "\"Hello\" ... he said." # "Hello" ... he said.

\$

gives the dollar sign its literal meaning (variable name following \$ will not be referenced)

echo "\$variable01" # $variable01 echo "The book cost \$7.98." # The book cost $7.98.

\\

gives the backslash its literal meaning

echo "\\" # Results in \ # Whereas . . . echo "\" # Invokes secondary prompt from the command line. # In a script, gives an error message. # However . . . echo '\' # Results in \

Note

The behavior of \ depends on whether it is escaped, strong-quoted, weak-quoted, or appearing within command substitution or a here document.
 # Simple escaping and quoting echo \z # z echo \\z # \z echo '\z' # \z echo '\\z' # \\z echo "\z" # \z echo "\\z" # \z # Command substitution echo `echo \z` # z echo `echo \\z` # z echo `echo \\\z` # \z echo `echo \\\\z` # \z echo `echo \\\\\\z` # \z echo `echo \\\\\\\z` # \\z echo `echo "\z"` # \z echo `echo "\\z"` # \z # Here document cat <<EOF \z EOF # \z cat <<EOF \\z EOF # \z # These examples supplied by Stéphane Chazelas.

Elements of a string assigned to a variable may be escaped, but the escape character alone may not be assigned to a variable.
variable=\ echo "$variable" # Will not work - gives an error message: # test.sh: : command not found # A "naked" escape cannot safely be assigned to a variable. # # What actually happens here is that the "\" escapes the newline and #+ the effect is variable=echo "$variable" #+ invalid variable assignment variable=\ 23skidoo echo "$variable" # 23skidoo # This works, since the second line #+ is a valid variable assignment. variable=\ # \^ escape followed by space echo "$variable" # space variable=\\ echo "$variable" # \ variable=\\\ echo "$variable" # Will not work - gives an error message: # test.sh: \: command not found # # First escape escapes second one, but the third one is left "naked", #+ with same result as first instance, above. variable=\\\\ echo "$variable" # \\ # Second and fourth escapes escaped. # This is o.k.

Escaping a space can prevent word splitting in a command's argument list.
file_list="/bin/cat /bin/gzip /bin/more /usr/bin/less /usr/bin/emacs-20.7" # List of files as argument(s) to a command. # Add two files to the list, and list all. ls -l /usr/X11R6/bin/xsetroot /sbin/dump $file_list echo "-------------------------------------------------------------------------" # What happens if we escape a couple of spaces? ls -l /usr/X11R6/bin/xsetroot\ /sbin/dump\ $file_list # Error: the first three files concatenated into a single argument to 'ls -l' # because the two escaped spaces prevent argument (word) splitting.

The escape also provides a means of writing a multi-line command. Normally, each separate line constitutes a different command, but an escape at the end of a line escapes the newline character, and the command sequence continues on to the next line.

(cd /source/directory && tar cf - . ) | \ (cd /dest/directory && tar xpvf -) # Repeating Alan Cox's directory tree copy command, # but split into two lines for increased legibility. # As an alternative: tar cf - -C /source/directory . | tar xpvf - -C /dest/directory # See note below. # (Thanks, Stéphane Chazelas.)

Note

If a script line ends with a |, a pipe character, then a \, an escape, is not strictly necessary. It is, however, good programming practice to always escape the end of a line of code that continues to the following line.

echo "foo bar" #foo #bar echo echo 'foo bar' # No difference yet. #foo #bar echo echo foo\ bar # Newline escaped. #foobar echo echo "foo\ bar" # Same here, as \ still interpreted as escape within weak quotes. #foobar echo echo 'foo\ bar' # Escape character \ taken literally because of strong quoting. #foo\ #bar # Examples suggested by Stéphane Chazelas.