Working with Stdin and Stdout
Previously, I erroneously titled my column as "SIGALRM Timers and Stdin Analysis". It turned out that by the time I'd finished writing it, I had spent a lot of time talking about SIGALRM and how to set up timers to avoid scripts that hang forever, but I never actually got to the topic of stdin analysis. Oops.
So this time, let's start with that topic. The behavior to
emulate here is something a lot of utilities do without you paying much
attention: they behave differently if their input or output is a pipe or
file than they do when it's stdin (the keyboard) or stdout (the
ls|cat to see what I mean.
test command has a helpful flag in this regard:
-t. From the
True if the file whose file descriptor number is file_descriptor is open and is associated with a terminal.
Worth knowing is that file descriptor #0 is stdin; #1 is stdout, and #2 is
stderr (pronounced "standard in", "standard out" and
"standard error", respectively). That's why using
to redirect by file descriptors works with
2>&1 to cause error
messages to go to stdout just like regular output messages.
Back to the topic though—in practice, the
can be used like this:
#!/bin/sh if [ -t 0 ]; then echo script running interactively else echo stdin coming from a pipe or file fi
It's easy to test:
$ sh inter.sh script running interactively $ sh inter.sh < inter.sh stdin coming from a pipe or file $ cat inter.sh | sh inter.sh stdin coming from a pipe or file
Perfect. Now, what about identifying if the output is an interactive terminal, file or pipe? It turns out that you can use the same basic test, just replace the file ID 0 with #1:
if [ -t 1 ] ; then echo output going to the screen else echo output redirected to a file or pipe fi
$ sh inter.sh script running interactively output going to the screen $ sh inter.sh | cat script running interactively output redirected to a file or pipe $ sh inter.sh > output.txt $ cat output.txt script running interactively output redirected to a file or pipe
Pretty cool, actually.
Let's back up a bit and have another look at file redirection before leaving this topic, however.
I already talked about the common trick of
2>&1 to redirect stderr to
stdout—something that's very helpful on the command line. You also
can redirect specific lines of output in a shell script to stderr, so your error
messages are sent to the screen even if stdout is being sent to a pipe or
echo Error: this is an error message >&2
But, what if you want to have your script force stdout to a specific target
regardless of what someone does on the command line? It can be done—of
course—although it involves a very different approach: the use of the
At its most basic, the
exec call is like a subshell invocation
(which is really what happens each time you invoke any system command like
fmt), but it's the
existing shell that's
replaced with the specified command, effectively killing the current
process. If you have a shell script that sets up specific parameters for an
external call, for example, you could end it with:
exec $cmd $args
and anything you might have after that point in the original script is
jettisoned because the script is no longer running, it's replaced by
exec actually is more nuanced than that, and in
quirk of its behavior gives the solution we seek:
replaces all the current assignments for stdin, stdout and stderr with
those specified as part of the invocation.
So here's the solution, redirecting stdout to a file:
exec > output.txt
In practice, you can see how it works with this snippet:
echo This is stdout exec > output.txt echo This is still stdout but goes elsewhere
Let's actually put a few different things together in this script, so you can see how this all works together:
echo this goes to stdout echo and this goes to stderr >&2 exec > output.txt echo This is still stdout but goes elsewhere echo but where does this go\? >&2 exec date echo this script is kaput
Here's what happens when you run the program:
$ sh test.sh this goes to stdout and this goes to stderr but where does this go?
But, what's actually in output.txt?
$ cat output.txt
This is still stdout, but it goes elsewhere:
Sun Oct 7 10:29:56 MDT 2012
Interesting. Notice that, as expected, "this script is kaput"
never shows up because once the
exec invokes an external program
(in this case,
date), the script itself is done, because its process
has been replaced with the
Notice that the
exec redirected only stdout, so that the error
message at the very end still goes to the screen. Want to have both stdout
and stderr redirected to the file? It's literally a one-character
change! Instead of the above
exec redirect, use this:
exec &> output.txt
That's easy enough, isn't it?
Now, what about the opposite situation where the user has redirected stdout
to a file, but you still want it to go to the screen anyway? That's done
with yet another sequence on the
which redirects stdout to stderr.
Let's look at the same script as above, with
1>&2. Here's what
$ sh test2.sh > /dev/null and this goes to stderr This is still stdout but goes elsewhere but where does this go? Sun Oct 7 10:47:44 MDT 2012
Pretty cool, eh?
That's it for this month. As always, if you have any interesting scripting projects, challenges or ideas, drop me a note via http://www.linuxjournal.com/contact, and I'll have a look. Input always is welcome!
Also, if you have an extraordinary memory, you might recall that Mitch Frazier wrote about similar topics in Linux Journal's Upfront section, during 2010, but his approach was considerably more complicated than mine. Sorry Mitch!
Dave Taylor has been hacking shell scripts for over thirty years. Really. He's the author of the popular "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts" and can be found on Twitter as @DaveTaylor and more generally at www.DaveTaylorOnline.com.
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