Master Bash Arrays: Boost Your Scripting Skills with These Tips

Bash Arrays

Bash Arrays are a fundamental feature of Bash Shell scripting in Linux. They provide a convenient way to store multiple values in a single variable. With Bash Arrays, we can easily manipulate and manage data in our Bash scripts and programs.

In Bash, Arrays are defined by simply assigning values to a variable. Arrays in Bash Shell can hold different types of data, including strings, integers, and even other arrays. They are accessed by their index number, starting from zero, and elements can be added, removed, or modified as required.

Arrays in Bash Scripts are particularly useful when we need to work with a collection of related data items. We can use loops, such as for loops, to iterate over all the elements in an array and perform operations on each item. By mastering Bash Arrays, we can greatly enhance our Bash Shell scripting skills and make our scripts more efficient and powerful.

Creating Bash Arrays

In Bash Shell programming, the use of arrays adds versatility and flexibility when writing scripts. An array is a collection of values of the same data type, which is stored under a single variable name. The Arrays in Bash Shell Linux are defined explicitly by the programmer and can store integers, strings, and even other arrays.

To create an array in Bash Shell, we define it by assigning values enclosed in brackets to a variable name. For example, the code snippet below declares and initializes a simple array:

my_array=("apple" "banana" "cherry" "date")

In this example, we declared an array named my_array that contains four elements of type string. The elements are initialized using a white space-separated list of values enclosed in parentheses.

We can also assign values to a Bash array using a compound assignment operator like the example below:


This assigns the value “apple” to element 0, “banana” to element 1, and so on.

It’s worth noting that Bash arrays are not typed, and they can store values of multiple data types. Also, Bash Shell scripts do not support multidimensional arrays.

Using these Bash Arrays in Shell scripts gives you more control on data handling and manipulation. You can use loops to iterate through the array, modify the elements, or check their values based on your script’s requirements.

Accessing array elements

Now that we have learned how to initialize arrays in Bash Scripting, we will proceed to see how to access elements within an array.

In Bash Arrays, elements can be accessed using indices. Arrays in Bash start at index 0, which is the first element of the array, followed by 1, 2, 3, and so on. To access an element within an array, we use the following syntax:


Let’s take a look at an example:

fruits=("Apple" "Banana" "Orange" "Plum")
echo ${fruits[2]}   # Output: Orange

In the above example, we initialized an array ‘fruits’ with 4 elements, and then accessed the third element “Orange” using the index ‘2’.

It is also possible to access multiple elements within an array by using shell expansion. The following syntax can be used to access a range of elements within an array:


Let’s see an example:

fruits=("Apple" "Banana" "Orange" "Plum")
echo ${fruits[@]:1:2}   # Output: Banana Orange

In the above example, we accessed the 2nd and 3rd elements of the ‘fruits’ array using shell expansion.

It’s important to note that the ‘@’ symbol in the syntax above refers to all the elements within an array. We could have also used ‘*’ to achieve the same result.

Adding elements to Bash Arrays

In the Bash shell, arrays can be used to store a collection of data under a common name. Bash Arrays come in handy in numerous cases, especially when working with large amounts of data. In this section, we’ll explore how to add elements to Bash Arrays.

To add a single element to an array, you can use the assignment operator = and the array name followed by the index number. Here’s an example:

myArray[0]= "apple"

In the above example, a new element “apple” is added to an array named myArray at the index 0. The index can be any positive integer, and it represents the position of the element in the array.

If you want to add multiple elements to the array at once, you can use the += operator followed by parentheses enclosing the new elements. Here’s an example:

myArray+=( "banana" "cherry" "dates")

In the above example, three elements – “banana”, “cherry”, and “dates” – are added to the myArray.

If you want to add multiple elements from another array, you can use the += operator followed by the array name. Here’s an example:

myArray+=( "${secondArray[@]}" )

In this case, all the elements from the secondArray are copied and added to the myArray.

It’s also possible to add elements to an array while reading from a file or standard input. Here’s an example:

while read line; do
done < file.txt

In the above example, the myArray is being populated by reading lines from file.txt.

In summary, adding elements to Bash Arrays can be done in several ways, such as using the assignment operator, += operator, and reading from files or standard input. Knowing these techniques can help you to populate Bash Arrays quickly and efficiently in your Bash scripts.

Removing elements from Bash Arrays

In Bash Arrays Shell, it’s a common requirement to remove elements from Arrays Bash Shell Linux. It’s a straightforward task, and there are several ways to accomplish it.

Here are some methods to remove elements from Bash Arrays:

  1. Unset command: You can use the unset command to delete a specific element from the array. For example, to remove the second element from the array, you can use the following command:
unset array[1]

This command will remove the second element from the array and shift the remaining elements one position to the left.

  1. Splicing with slicing: Another way to remove elements from an array is to use splicing with slicing. The #${start_index}:${delete_count} syntax can be used to specify a range of elements that need to be removed. For example, if we want to remove two elements from the array starting from the second index, we can use the following command:
array=("${array[@]:0:1}" "${array[@]:3}")

This command will create a new array that contains all the elements except the second and third elements.

  1. Filtering with grep: You can also use grep to filter out the elements that you want to remove. For example, if we want to remove all the elements that contain the letter ‘a’, we can use the following command:
array=($(echo "${array[@]}" | grep -v "a"))

This command will use grep to filter out all the elements that contain the letter ‘a’ and create a new array.

In Bash Scripts, removing elements from an array is an important task that you will often encounter. The above methods provide different ways to remove elements from an array based on your requirements.

Looping through Bash Arrays

Now that we have covered the basic syntax and structure of Bash Arrays, let’s discuss one of the most essential features of these Arrays: Looping. Bash Arrays allow users to store and manipulate multiple values in a single variable, but the real magic happens when we can iterate through these values and perform operations on them.

Looping through Bash Arrays can be accomplished using a variety of methods, including for loops, while loops, and until loops. Here, we will focus on the for loop, as it is the most commonly used.

The syntax for a for loop in Bash Arrays Shell is as follows:

for variable_name in "${array_name[@]}"
   # Code to be executed

In this syntax, the loop will iterate over each element in the array, storing the current element in the “variable_name” variable. The code within the “do” and “done” statements will be executed once per iteration.

For example, suppose we have created an array called “fruits” that contains the names of various fruits. We can use a for loop to print out each fruit in the array, as shown below:

fruits=('Apple' 'Banana' 'Cherry' 'Durian')

for fruit in "${fruits[@]}"
   echo "I like to eat $fruit"

This script will output:

I like to eat Apple
I like to eat Banana
I like to eat Cherry
I like to eat Durian

As you can see, the loop iterated over each element in the array and printed a message for each one.

In Bash Scripts, it is also possible to use the “for (( expr1; expr2; expr3 ))” syntax. This method is useful for iterating through a range of values or performing more complex loop operations.

Copying Bash Arrays

Copying Bash arrays in a shell script is a straightforward process, but it requires bash version 4.3 or higher. Bash arrays can prove useful in Bash shell scripting, especially in processes where data is involved. In this section, we’ll outline the steps involved in copying Bash arrays in Linux:

  1. Declare an array and initialize it with data
fruit=("apple" "banana" "cherry" "date")
  1. Copy the entire array or a specific element to a new array.

The simplest way to copy an array is to assign one equal to the other:

fruit_copy=( "${fruit[@]}" )

Or you can copy a specific element within the array using its index value:

  1. Verify that the new array has the same content as the source array using a for loop
for item in "${fruit_copy[@]}"
    echo "$item"

This will print out the data from the fruit_copy array with each element on a new line.

Keep in mind that arrays might contain complex data types, including other arrays, which can make copying more intricate. If you want to deep copy the nested array, you will have to loop through each nested array.

Overall, Bash arrays are incredibly versatile, and copying arrays can seem daunting at first but is comfortable with the right understanding. With the steps outlined in this section, you can quickly copy Bash arrays in Bash shell scripting to your heart’s content.

Merging Bash Arrays

In Bash scripting, merging or combining arrays is an essential operation, and often goes hand-in-hand with searching and sorting. Fortunately, the bash shell provides us with several ways to merge arrays based on our needs. In this section, we’ll explore different techniques to merge bash arrays.

Concatenating Bash Arrays

One of the most straightforward methods to merge two bash arrays is by concatenation. We concatenate arrays by simply assigning them to a variable and using ‘+=’ operator. Suppose we have two arrays ‘array1’ and ‘array2’, we can concatenate them into a new array ‘merged_array’ through the following command.

merged_array=("${array1[@]}" "${array2[@]}")

Merging Bash Arrays using Loop

We can also merge arrays by using loops. This technique is particularly useful if we have a large number of arrays to merge. We can use a for loop in the bash shell to iterate through the arrays and append the values to a new array. The following script demonstrates how to merge multiple bash arrays using loop.

for array in "${array1[@]}" "${array2[@]}" "${array3[@]}"
    for value in "${array[@]}"

Merging Two Associative Arrays

Merging two associative arrays is slightly different from merging indexed arrays. We can merge two associative arrays based on their keys or values. To merge two associative arrays based on their keys, we can use the following code.

declare -A merged_array
for i in "${!array1[@]}" "${!array2[@]}"; do 

Extracting subsets of Bash Arrays

In Bash Shell scripting, working with arrays can be immensely useful when managing large amounts of data. Bash Arrays enable users to store a list of values under a single variable, which can be helpful in organizing data and performing certain operations on it. Here, we’ll take a look at how to extract subsets of Bash Arrays using various techniques.

Extracting a Single Element of an Array

To extract a single element of an array, you simply call the element by its index number. For example, if you have an array with five elements, and you want to extract the second element of the array, you would use the following command:

echo ${array[1]}

The index starts at 0, so the second element is actually indexed at 1.

Extracting a Range of Elements

To extract a range of elements within an array, you can use the range operator (:). For example, if you want to extract elements 2 through 4 of an array, you would use the following command:

echo ${array[@]:1:3}

In this example, the @ symbol represents all the elements of the array, and the 1 and 3 represents the range of elements we wish to extract.

Extracting Specific Patterns

You can also extract specific patterns using Bash script. For example, if you want to extract all elements of an array that begin with the letter “A”, you can use the following command:

echo ${array[@]#A*}

In this example, the # symbol removes the shortest match of the pattern “A*”, which means any element starting with “A”.

Sorting Bash Arrays

Sorting is a common operation when working with arrays in Bash Shell scripts. Sorting arrays in Bash can be done in several ways depending on the requirements. In this section, we’ll explore the most common methods of sorting Bash Arrays.

Sorting an array in ascending order

The simplest and most commonly used method to sort arrays in Bash is to use the sort command. The sort command sorts the contents of text files, so we need to convert the array into a file and then sort it using the sort command. Here’s an example:

$ declare -a arr=(3 2 1 5 4)
$ printf '%s\n' "${arr[@]}" | sort -n

In the above example, we declared an array arr with five unsorted elements. We then used the printf command to format the output of the array and used the pipe (|) operator to redirect the output to the sort command. The -n option sorts the array in ascending order based on numerical values.

Sorting an array in descending order

If you need to sort the array in reverse order, you can use the tac command along with the sort command. Here’s an example:

$ declare -a arr=(3 2 1 5 4)
$ printf '%s\n' "${arr[@]}" | sort -n | tac

The tac command is used to reverse the output of the sort command. This will sort the array in descending order.

Sorting an array with custom-defined rules

Sometimes, we may need to sort arrays based on custom-defined rules or patterns. Fortunately, the sort command provides a -k option to sort the array based on a specific field or column. Here’s an example:

$ declare -a arr=("Apple" "Cat" "Ball" "Dog" "Catamaran")
$ printf '%s\n' "${arr[@]}" | sort -k1,1

The above example sorts the array in alphabetical order. We used -k1,1 an option to specify the first field as the sorting field.


In summary, Bash Arrays are a very valuable tool to have in your Bash scripting toolkit. Not only do they allow for efficient storage and retrieval of data, but they also simplify code and can greatly improve script performance. There’s no doubt that mastering Bash Arrays requires consistent practice and patience; however, once you’ve got them down, the possibilities for your Bash scripts are endless.

In addition to the benefits of Bash Arrays, they are also widely used across the Bash Shell and Linux platforms. By understanding Arrays Bash Shell Linux system administrators and developers can harness its power to manipulate data and generate meaningful reports.

Along with the many advantages that come with Bash Arrays, it’s important to note that there are a few caveats to using them. One common issue is accessing elements outside of the defined range, which can lead to unexpected behavior or errors in your script. Therefore, it’s essential to properly test and validate your Bash array scripts before putting them into production.

Marshall Anthony is a professional Linux DevOps writer with a passion for technology and innovation. With over 8 years of experience in the industry, he has become a go-to expert for anyone looking to learn more about Linux.

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