Using functions in bash to selectively run a group of Linux commands


Using a function in bash allows you to create something in Linux that works as if it were a script within a script. Whenever the data being processed matches a set of conditions, your script can call a function that does further processing.

The format of a function is very straightforward. The syntax looks like this:

<function_name> () {

You can also use the following format that uses the word "function" if you prefer:

function <function_name> {

In fact, you can also create a function on a single line if the commands to be run are limited, but note the required “;” that follows the command(s):

<function_name> () { <commands>; }

Replace the elements inside the < and > signs (along with the signs as well) with the name you want to use and the commands you want to run. Functions can include any variety and any number of commands.

In the simple example below, one function (replspaces) is defined that will replace the spaces in text with underscores using a sed command. A second (dropspaces) was added that removes the spaces.


replspaces () {
  echo $@ | sed 's/ /_/g'
dropspaces () { echo $@ | sed 's/ //g'; }

replspaces "Hello World"
replspaces `date`
dropspaces "Hello World"
dropspaces `date`

When you run the script, you should see something like this:

$ nospaces

In the somewhat more complex example below, the script creates a list of UIDs from the /etc/passwd file and then sends any that are in the UID range for user accounts (1000 and higher) to the function to gather the group memberships for each of these accounts. It uses the continue command to avoid processing the nobody account. Notice that the function needs to be defined before it is called.


# obtain additional group memberships from the /etc/group file
listgroups () {
    echo -n "$uid: "
    uname=`grep ":$uid:" /etc/passwd | awk -F: '{print $1}'`
    echo $uname
    for group in `grep $uname /etc/group | awk -F: '{print $1}'`
      if [ $group != $uname ]; then
        echo "      $group"

# gather list of UIDs from the /etc/passwd file
while read -r line
  uids=`awk -F: '{print $3}'`
done < /etc/passwd

for uid in `echo $uids`
  if [ $uid -eq 65534 ]		# nobody
  if [ $uid -ge 1000 ]		# user account
    listgroups $uid

When the script is run, it generates output like this:

$ list_users_and_groups
1000: shs
1002: bugfarm
1003: dbell
1004: dumbo
1005: eel

As you can see, users such as “dbell” have only one account. Group names from the /etc/group file will only be added if they are different than the account’s username.


Functions can be used for selective processing any time the need arises. They generally make scripts easier to read by separating a group of commands that focus on a single task, but can also contain code that would otherwise need to be included numerous times in a script.


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