In my opinion, Bash “oneliners” are the most attractive feature of Bash. There are few other languages which have such expressive power. A Bash oneliner is just a normal Bash command, usually involving pipes, with an emphasis on finding the right tool for the job.
Bash oneliners are just lines of Bash, so all the programs and tools we’ve
learned up to now can make up a oneliner. In particular, tools like
echo come up a lot when writing and implementing oneliners.
In addition, there are a few new tools that are found in a large number of Bash oneliners:
find has a ton of options, but for the most part the syntax that’s used is
$ find <directory> -name "<pattern>"
<pattern> is a Bash glob, or
$ find <directory> -regex "<regex>"
When invoked like this, find simply starts in
<directory> and recursively lists
all files which match the pattern provided.
Xargs is kind of magic. Unfortunately, this means that most people don’t quite understand how it works. In fact, it’s really quite straightforward. From the man page:
The xargs utility reads space, tab, newline and end-of-file delimited strings from the standard input and executes utility with the strings as arguments.
So basically, it reads in lines on stdin, converts the whitespaces separating those lines to single spaces, and then runs the specified command. It’s syntax normally looks like
<some command with output on stdout> | xargs [command [arguments]]
You only have to specify arguments if you want the command to be run with
arguments. If you don’t specify a command, the default is to just use
thus printing what command line was eventually built.
Creating useful oneliners is a fine art. It takes a little bit of experience, patience, and a lot of Googling. There is one nice trick that works well when crafting oneliners: construct them iteratively. Let’s see what this means with an example.
Let’s say my the folder for my class 15-210 has the following directory structure:
abridgedlab ├── abridgedlab.pdf ├── abridgedlab.sml └── written.pdf babblelab ├── babblelab.pdf ├── babblelab.sml └── written.pdf bignumlab ├── bignumlab.pdf ├── bignumlab.sml └── written.pdf cilklab ├── cilklab.pdf ├── cilklab.sml └── written.pdf dplab ├── dplab.pdf ├── dplab.sml └── written.pdf minilab ├── minilab.pdf ├── minilab.sml └── written.pdf parenlab ├── parenlab.pdf ├── parenlab.sml └── written.pdf rangelab ├── rangelab.pdf ├── rangelab.sml └── written.pdf segmentlab ├── segmentlab.pdf ├── segmentlab.sml └── written.pdf skylinelab ├── skylinelab.pdf ├── skylinelab.sml └── written.pdf thesauruslab ├── thesauruslab.pdf ├── thesauruslab.sml └── written.pdf
I want to study for the test by reviewing all the lab handouts (all the PDF
files with the same name as their parent folder), but not my written solutions
(all the files named “written.pdf”). If I can figure out which files to open, I
know that I can use the program
open to open them on my Mac (on Linux we could
I mentioned before that we should construct our oneliner iteratively. Most of the tools we use are really handy in that if we don’t specify where our output should go, it just prints it to the console, so we can try something first by printing it to the console, then build on top of it by sending the output somewhere else.
Let’s first get rid of all the non-PDF files using find, and print output to the console:
Now we just need to figure out how to get rid of all the “written.pdf” files.
Nothing we’ve seen so far does what we need: “get rid of lines matching a
pattern.” Luckily Google is our friend, and this search query leads us to
grep -v, which only prints line that don’t match a regex.
Checking out the man page for more info just in case, we’re ready to go:
Look at how we piped output from one command to the next. This is an extremely
common pattern when constructing oneliners. Semantically, we’ve filtered and
refined our input data, distilling it down to the exact form needed by the last
command we call, which usually does the heavy lifting. That’s certainly the case
here, as we can now use
xargs to open our PDFs:
Summarized here are some of the useful tips scattered throughout that example.
tr, etc. make good candidates here