I would like to store a command to use at a later time in a variable (not the output of the command, but the command itself).

I have a simple script as follows:

echo "Command: $command"; #Output is: Command: ls

echo $b; #Output is: public_html REV test... (command worked successfully)

However, when I try something a bit more complicated, it fails. For example, if I make

command="ls | grep -c '^'";

The output is:

Command: ls | grep -c '^'
ls: cannot access |: No such file or directory
ls: cannot access grep: No such file or directory
ls: cannot access '^': No such file or directory

How could I store such a command (with pipes/multiple commands) in a variable for later use?

Solution 1

Use eval:

x="ls | wc"
eval "$x"
y=$(eval "$x")
echo "$y"

Solution 2

Do not use eval! It has a major risk of introducing arbitrary code execution.

BashFAQ-50 - I'm trying to put a command in a variable, but the complex cases always fail.

Put it in an array and expand all the words with double-quotes "${arr[@]}" to not let the IFS split the words due to Word Splitting.

cmdArgs=('date' '+%H:%M:%S')

and see the contents of the array inside. The declare -p allows you see the contents of the array inside with each command parameter in separate indices. If one such argument contains spaces, quoting inside while adding to the array will prevent it from getting split due to Word-Splitting.

declare -p cmdArgs
declare -a cmdArgs='([0]="date" [1]="+%H:%M:%S")'

and execute the commands as


(or) altogether use a bash function to run the command,

cmd() {
   date '+%H:%M:%S'

and call the function as just


POSIX sh has no arrays, so the closest you can come is to build up a list of elements in the positional parameters. Here's a POSIX sh way to run a mail program

# POSIX sh
# Usage: sendto subject address [address ...]
sendto() {
    for addr; do
        if [ "$first" = 1 ]; then set --; first=0; fi
        set -- "[email protected]" --recipient="$addr"
    if [ "$first" = 1 ]; then
        echo "usage: sendto subject address [address ...]"
        return 1
    MailTool --subject="$subject" "[email protected]"

Note that this approach can only handle simple commands with no redirections. It can't handle redirections, pipelines, for/while loops, if statements, etc

Another common use case is when running curl with multiple header fields and payload. You can always define args like below and invoke curl on the expanded array content

curlArgs=('-H' "keyheader: value" '-H' "2ndkeyheader: 2ndvalue")
curl "${curlArgs[@]}"

Another example,

authHeader='Authorization:Bearer "'"$authToken"'"'

now that variables are defined, use an array to store your command args

curlCMD=(-X POST "$hostURL" --data "$payload" -H "Content-Type:application/json" -H "$authHeader")

and now do a proper quoted expansion

curl "${curlCMD[@]}"

Solution 3

var=$(echo "asdf")
echo $var
# => asdf

Using this method, the command is immediately evaluated and its return value is stored.

echo $stored_date
# => Thu Jan 15 10:57:16 EST 2015
# (wait a few seconds)
echo $stored_date
# => Thu Jan 15 10:57:16 EST 2015

The same with backtick

echo $stored_date
# => Thu Jan 15 11:02:19 EST 2015
# (wait a few seconds)
echo $stored_date
# => Thu Jan 15 11:02:19 EST 2015

Using eval in the $(...) will not make it evaluated later:

stored_date=$(eval "date")
echo $stored_date
# => Thu Jan 15 11:05:30 EST 2015
# (wait a few seconds)
echo $stored_date
# => Thu Jan 15 11:05:30 EST 2015

Using eval, it is evaluated when eval is used:

stored_date="date" # < storing the command itself
echo $(eval "$stored_date")
# => Thu Jan 15 11:07:05 EST 2015
# (wait a few seconds)
echo $(eval "$stored_date")
# => Thu Jan 15 11:07:16 EST 2015
#                     ^^ Time changed

In the above example, if you need to run a command with arguments, put them in the string you are storing:

stored_date="date -u"
# ...

For Bash scripts this is rarely relevant, but one last note. Be careful with eval. Eval only strings you control, never strings coming from an untrusted user or built from untrusted user input.

Solution 4

For bash, store your command like this:

command="ls | grep -c '^'"

Run your command like this:

echo $command | bash

Solution 5

Not sure why so many answers make it complicated! use alias [command] 'string to execute' example:

alias dir='ls -l'

[pretty list of files]

Solution 6

I tried various different methods:

printexec() {
  printf -- "\033[1;37m$\033[0m"
  printf -- " %q" "[email protected]"
  printf -- "\n"
  eval -- "[email protected]"
  eval -- "$*"
  "[email protected]"


$ printexec echo  -e "foo\n" bar
$ echo -e foo\\n bar
foon bar
foon bar
bash: echo -e foo\n bar: command not found

As you can see, only the third one, "[email protected]" gave the correct result.

Solution 7

First of all, there are functions for this. But if you prefer variables then your task can be done like this:

$ cmd=ls

$ $cmd # works
file  file2  test

$ cmd='ls | grep file'

$ $cmd # not works
ls: cannot access '|': No such file or directory
ls: cannot access 'grep': No such file or directory

$ bash -c $cmd # works
file  file2  test

$ bash -c "$cmd" # also works

$ bash <<< $cmd

$ bash <<< "$cmd"

Or via a temporary file

$ tmp=$(mktemp)
$ echo "$cmd" > "$tmp"
$ chmod +x "$tmp"
$ "$tmp"

$ rm "$tmp"

Solution 8

I faced this problem with the following command:

awk '{printf "%s[%s]\n", $1, $3}' "input.txt"

I need to build this command dynamically:

The target file name input.txt is dynamic and may contain space.

The awk script inside {} braces printf "%s[%s]\n", $1, $3 is dynamic.


  1. Avoid extensive quote escaping logic if there are many " inside the awk script.
  2. Avoid parameter expansion for every $ field variable.

The solutions bellow with eval command and associative arrays do not work. Due to bash variable expansions and quoting.


Build bash variable dynamically, avoid bash expansions, use printf template.

 # dynamic variables, values change at runtime.
 input="input file 1.txt"
 awk_script='printf "%s[%s]\n" ,$1 ,$3'

 # static command template, preventing double-quote escapes and avoid variable  expansions.
 awk_command=$(printf "awk '{%s}' \"%s\"\n" "$awk_script" "$input")
 echo "awk_command=$awk_command"

 awk_command=awk '{printf "%s[%s]\n" ,$1 ,$3}' "input file 1.txt"

Executing variable command:

bash -c "$awk_command"

Alternative that also works

bash << $awk_command

Solution 9

#Note: this script works only when u use Bash. So, don't remove the first line.

TUNECOUNT=$(ifconfig |grep -c -o tune0) #Some command with "Grep".
echo $TUNECOUNT                         #This will return 0 
                                    #if you don't have tune0 interface.
                                    #Or count of installed tune0 interfaces.

Solution 10

Be careful registering an order with the: X=$(Command)

This one is still executed. Even before being called. To check and confirm this, you can do:

echo test;
X=$(for ((c=0; c<=5; c++)); do
sleep 2;
echo note the 5 seconds elapsed

Solution 11

It is not necessary to store commands in variables even as you need to use it later. Just execute it as per normal. If you store in variables, you would need some kind of eval statement or invoke some unnecessary shell process to "execute your variable".