Variables in Bash Shell: Mastering the Basics to Turbocharge Your Productivity

Variables in Bash Shell

Variables in Bash are at the core of any Linux administration task since they play a crucial role in defining and managing custom and system environment parameters. Bash Shell, the default shell used by most Linux distributions, is particularly adept at handling variables, which makes it a highly useful tool for scripting, automation, and system configuration.

In Bash Shell, a variable is a container for data, characterized by a name-value pair. Variables can store various types of data, including strings, integers, and arrays. The name of a variable in Bash can consist of letters, numbers, and underscores, but it cannot start with a number.

Linux administrators use variables in Bash Shell for a wide range of tasks, including defining system paths, manipulating system parameters, setting up environment variables, and working with user input data. Understanding the basics of how to work with variables in Bash Shell can significantly improve your productivity and efficiency when carrying out Linux administration tasks.

Defining Variables in Bash Shell

Variables are an essential aspect of any computer programming or scripting language, and Bash Shell in Linux is no exception. Variables in Bash Shell are used to store information temporarily and to pass data between various parts of a script. In this section, we’ll discuss how to define and use variables in Bash Shell.

Types of Variables in Bash Shell

Bash Shell supports three types of variables:

  • Local Variables: These variables are defined within a shell and are only available to the current shell session and its child processes.
  • Environment Variables: These are variables that are available to all processes running on the system.
  • Shell Variables: Shell variables are predefined variables that are set or created by the Bash Shell.

Defining a Variable

To define a variable in Bash Shell, you need to follow the syntax below:


For example, to define a variable named name with the value Marshall, you can use the following command:


If you want to check whether the variable is set or not, you can use the echo command:

echo $name

The output should be:


Variable Names

When defining variable names in Bash Shell, certain rules must be followed. Variable names must begin with a letter or an underscore, and they can be followed by any combination of letters, digits, or underscores. Variable names are case-sensitive, and you should avoid using shell keywords as variable names.

Assigning Values to Variables

In Bash Shell, Variables are used to store data and values. Whenever we assign a variable, we are simply reserving a memory location to store that value. It’s important to assign values to variables before using them in operations or commands.

To assign a value to a variable in Bash, we use the equal sign (=) without any spaces. When we assign strings containing spaces to a variable, we use quotation marks to enclose the string, or else only the first word will be assigned to the variable.

string_variable="This is a string"

To access the value of a variable, we simply prepend a dollar sign ($) before the variable name when using it in operations like arithmetic or commands.

echo The value of string_variable is $string_variable

However, it’s important to note that variables in Bash Shell are case-sensitive, and letters should be in upper case. There are also reserved words that should not be used as a variable name.

We can verify that a variable has been assigned a value by using the ‘echo’ command followed by the name of the variable. We can also use the ‘printf‘ command to format and display the value of the variable.

echo $variable_name

printf "The value of variable_name is %s" $variable_name

In Bash Shell Linux, we can use multiple variables in a single command by separating them using spaces.

echo "Variable 1: $variable_name" "Variable 2: $string_variable"

In conclusion, understanding the basics of assigning values to variables in Bash Shell is crucial for Linux programmers and administrators. With Bash’s flexible syntax, assigning and using variables is a breeze – making it easier to create scripts and automate your work.

Using Variables in Bash Shell

Working with variables is an essential part of Bash Shell scripting. In Bash, we can define variables, assign values to them, and reference them later in our script. In this section, we will explore how to use variables in Bash Shell and cover some best practices.

Declaring Variables

To declare a variable, we use the following syntax:


For example, to create a variable named my_variable and assign it the value "Hello, World!", we use the following command:

my_variable="Hello, World!"

Referencing Variables

We can reference a variable in our script by prefixing the variable name with the $ character. For example, to print the value of my_variable, we use the following command:

echo $my_variable

Best Practices

It is a good practice to use uppercase characters when naming variables in Bash Shell. Additionally, we should always initialize variables with a value to avoid errors.

Another best practice is to enclose variable names in curly braces ${} when they are part of a larger string. This helps Bash to distinguish the variable from other characters that might be present in the string. For example, consider the following command:

echo "The value of my_variable is $my_variable. "

This will print “The value of my_variable is Hello, World!. ” to the console. However, if we want to include a character immediately after the variable, Bash might interpret it as part of the variable name. To avoid this, we use curly braces as follows:

echo "The value of my_variable is ${my_variable}."

Variable Scope in Bash Shell

In Bash Shell, variables are used to store data that may be modified as the script runs. Understanding how Bash Shell handles variable scope is crucial for writing effective scripts. Simply put, variable scope determines which parts of the script can access and modify a particular variable.

When a variable is first declared in the Bash Shell script, it has a global scope by default, meaning that it can be accessed and modified by any part of the script. However, Bash Shell also allows us to define variables with a local scope within a specific section of the script.

When a variable is declared as local, it is only accessible within the section of the script where it is defined. This allows us to reuse variable names without worrying about modifying the wrong one accidentally. To define a variable as local, we use the ‘local’ keyword before the variable name.

It’s important to note that variables declared as local in subshells, such as functions, are not available outside of the subshell. This can be useful when we need to define a temporary variable that will only be used in a specific function.

When writing Bash scripts, it’s important to carefully consider the scope of our variables. Overuse of global variables can lead to code that is difficult to maintain and debug while using too many local variables can make our code harder to read and understand. By understanding variable scope in Bash Shell, we can write more effective and efficient scripts.

In conclusion, understanding variable scope is crucial when working with variables in Bash Shell. By taking the time to define our variables as global or local when appropriate, we can write more maintainable and understandable code.

Exporting Variables in Bash Shell

In Bash Shell, variables play a crucial role in storing and retrieving data. We often need to pass these variables from one program to another, or from one shell session to the next. This is where exporting variables in Bash Shell becomes essential.

Exporting a variable makes it available to all child processes initiated from the current shell. It essentially sets the variable in the environment, allowing other programs to access its value. This is particularly useful when working with scripts that need to access environment variables.

To export a variable in Bash Shell, we use the export command followed by the variable name. Here’s an example:

export MY_VARIABLE="Hello World"

This sets the value of MY_VARIABLE to “Hello World” and exports it. Now any program run from the current shell can access the variable by calling $MY_VARIABLE.

It’s important to note that exporting a variable does not make it available in the parent shell. It only makes it available in child processes launched from the current shell. If we want to make the variable available in the parent shell, we need to source the script that exports the variable:


Now, any variable exported in will be available in the parent shell as well.

Exporting variables in Bash Shell on Linux has become a staple for developers. It provides a simple and effective way to store and pass data between programs in a secure manner. Remember to always use descriptive variable names to make your code more readable and maintainable.

Special Variables in Bash Shell

When working with variables in Bash Shell, it’s important to note that there are certain special variables that hold various pieces of information. These variables are automatically populated by the system and can be incredibly useful in shell scripting.

Here are some of the most commonly used special variables in Bash Shell:

  1. $0 – This variable contains the current script name or shell function name.
  2. $1, $2, $3, … – These variables contain the positional parameters passed to the script or function. $1 refers to the first parameter, $2 refers to the second parameter, and so on.
  3. $# – This variable contains the number of positional parameters passed to the script or function.
  4. $@ – This variable contains all the positional parameters passed to the script or function as individual quoted strings.
  5. $? – This variable contains the exit status of the last executed command.
  6. $$ – This variable contains the process ID (PID) of the current shell.
  7. $! – This variable contains the PID of the last background process.
  8. $IFS – This variable contains the Internal Field Separator, which is used for word splitting.
  9. $OLDPWD – This variable contains the previous working directory.

Using these special variables in your Bash Shell scripts can make them more efficient and easier to work with. By leveraging these built-in tools, you can automate complex tasks and create powerful scripts that can be used across a variety of Linux systems.

Remember, when working with variables in Bash Shell Linux, it’s important to use clear and concise variable names and to properly declare them in your code. This will help to avoid any confusion or unexpected behavior that may arise from improperly defined variables.

Parameter Expansion in Bash Shell

In Bash Shell, parameter expansion is a feature that expands variables and command substitutions. With parameter expansion, you can modify and manipulate variables to extract the desired information or transform it to a different format.

One of the most common ways to use parameter expansion is to substitute variable values within a string. To do this, you can use the $ symbol followed by the variable name enclosed in curly braces {} like this:

$ fruit="apple"
$ echo "I like to eat ${fruit}s"
I like to eat apples

Another useful feature of parameter expansion is substring extraction. This allows you to extract a portion of a string based on its position or length. Here are a few examples:

$ word="Linux is awesome"
$ echo ${word:0:5}
$ echo ${word:6}
is awesome

In the first example, we used variable expansion to extract the first 5 characters of the string. In the second example, we extracted the rest of the string starting from the 7th character.

Additionally, you can use parameter expansion to perform filename expansion. This means that you can expand a pattern into a list of filenames that match the pattern. Here’s an example:

$ touch file_{1..5}.txt
$ echo file_*.txt
file_1.txt file_2.txt file_3.txt file_4.txt file_5.txt

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that parameter expansion is not limited to simple substitutions. You can perform complex string transformations using various operators and modifiers. To learn more about parameter expansion in Bash Shell, consult the Bash man page or online documentation.

Overall, understanding variables in Bash Shell and how to manipulate them with parameter expansion is a fundamental skill for any Linux user or system administrator.

Arithmetic Operations with Variables

In Bash Shell, variables are widely used to store values that can change throughout the course of a script. When it comes to working with variables in Bash, arithmetic operations play a crucial role in manipulating and updating values. Here, we will explore how we can perform arithmetic operations using variables in Bash Shell.

Performing Arithmetic Operations

To perform arithmetic operations, we can use the expr command, which evaluates expressions. The syntax is as follows:

result=`expr $var1 operator $var2`

Where $var1 and $var2 are the variables to be operated upon and operator is the arithmetic operator we want to use.

For example, let’s say we have two variables, x and y, that have the values 10 and 5 respectively. We can add these variables and store the result in a third variable sum using the + operator as follows:

sum=`expr $x + $y`

We can also perform other arithmetic operations such as subtraction (-), multiplication (*), and division (/) in a similar manner.

Updating Variables

We can also update the value of a variable using arithmetic operations. For example, let’s say we want to increment the value of the variable count by 1 each time a loop executes. We can use the following syntax:

while [ $count -le 10 ]
  count=`expr $count + 1`

Here, we use the while loop and increment the value of count by 1 using the + operator with each iteration.

Conditional Statements with Variables

In Bash Shell, conditional statements refer to the decision-making processes that occur in a program. Conditional statements with variables are significant as they allow for flexible scripts that only execute certain commands if specific conditions are met.

One way of implementing conditional statements is by using “if” statements. An “if” statement is used to execute a block of code if a specified condition is true. For instance, if we have a variable $num representing an integer, we could use the following code:

if [ $num -gt 50 ]
   echo "The number is greater than 50"

The above code checks if the variable $num is greater than 50. If so, the command “echo” is executed to display the message “The number is greater than 50”.

Another conditional statement used in Bash is the “elif” statement. This statement allows for multiple conditions to be tested. For example:

if [ $num -lt 0 ]
   echo "The number is negative"
elif [ $num -gt 0 ]
   echo "The number is positive"
   echo "The number is zero"

In this code, if the variable $num is negative, the output will be “The number is negative”. Similarly, if $num is positive, the output will be “The number is positive”. If neither condition is true, then the output will be “The number is zero”.

Lastly, it is important to note that when using variables in Bash Shell, syntax is essential. One common mistake that programmers make is not using spaces when comparing variables. For instance, using the command [ $var1=$var2 ] instead of [ $var1 = $var2 ] may result in an error.

In conclusion, Bash Shell’s conditional statements with variables facilitate the creation of flexible scripts, executed only when specific conditions are met. Proper syntax usage is critical when implementing these statements, ensuring proper functioning of a program.


In conclusion, understanding variables in Bash Shell is critical for anyone wanting to run and develop scripts in Linux. Bash Shell allows you to create local and global variables, which are essential in programming. These variables can be used to store data or values that can be used throughout the script.

Moreover, in Linux, being familiar with variables can make your scripts more efficient, as they allow you to reuse code while maintaining clear and consistent values for your variables. This can greatly reduce redundancy and simplify your code.

Therefore, we recommend that anyone looking to become proficient in scripting for Linux to take the time to learn about variables in Bash Shell. This knowledge can help you tailor your scripts to fit your needs and make your workflows more streamlined and efficient. Overall, understanding and utilizing variables in Bash Shell can make your life as a developer much easier.

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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