Tips for Writing Awesome Bash Scripts

Tips for Writing Awesome Bash Scripts


Bash scripting is a worthwhile skill for the data professional to possess, as it enables the automation of everyday tasks and allows for the management of data pipelines and preprocessing steps in a flexible and effective manner. Once you have some practice with and understanding of bash scripts, you can speed up your workflow, save time, and reduce human error where possible.

What follows are five practical suggestions for writing better bash scripts. These are geared toward those new to bash or those looking for a refresher of the basics. As you move from understanding basic syntax to enacting best practices, these tips should provide some foundational strategies that you can use to increase clarity, speed, and maintainability in your own bash scripts.

1. Understand Basic Bash Syntax

Bash syntax is a great addition to the skills repertoire if you want to write effective scripts. Several basic commands such as echo, cd, and ls are not only some of the first that a new bash coder learns, but also form part of the foundation of many scripts. For example, echo provides a method for writing text to the terminal, cd changes the current directory, and ls displays a list of directories and files.

That said, knowledge of file permissions and paths is just as crucial. Being able to locate files easily, and knowing how to make use of commands like chmod — change mode — and chown — change owner — for managing files, will help you steer clear of common errors in your scripts.

To become more skilled and confident, try your hand at exercises and tutorials. Write some simple scripts using provided documentation and examples. Over time, you will pick up these skills. Experiment with more complex structures for your scripts as you progress.

2. Use Comments and Clear Naming Conventions

Effective documentation within your scripts is key to long term readability and script manageability. Comments help you and others understand the purpose and functionality of specific sections of your script. For example:

# This script backs up the /home directory to /backup
tar -czf /backup/home.tar.gz /home

There is little mystery as to what the line of code which follows the comment does.

Clear naming conventions for variables and functions also contribute to script readability. Descriptive names make it easier to follow the logic of your script. Compare these examples:

# Poor naming
c=$((a + b))

# Good naming
total_fruit=$((num_apples + num_oranges))

Both sections of code accomplish the same goal, but one does it with the added benefit of allowing the code to be understood. By using clear names and comments, you create scripts that are easier to read and maintain.

3. Error Handling

Testing your scripts with various inputs ensures they handle different scenarios gracefully; however, error handling is what makes scripts robust. Too often, the use of the term “scripting” makes programmers think of “lightweight coding”, and forego programming best practices and concepts. Not a great idea.

Use if statements to check the success of commands and trap to handle unexpected errors:

# Check if the directory exists
if [ -d "/example_directory" ]; then
  echo "Directory exists"
  echo "Directory does not exist"

# Trap errors
trap 'echo "An error occurred"; exit 1' ERR

The use of error handling techniques will result in more reliable and resilient scripts.

4. Modularize Your Code

Just like with any programming language, breaking your bash scripts into functions improves readability and reusability. Modular code allows you to organize your script into logical sections, making it easier to understand and maintain.


# Function to create a directory
create_directory() {
  mkdir -p $1
  echo "Directory $1 created"

# Main script
create_directory "/example_directory"

You can also source external files to include commonly used functions, enhancing code reuse.

# Source external functions
source /path/to/

# Main script
create_directory "/example_directory"

Modularizing your code, and favoring code reuse, makes your scripts more manageable and scalable, especially as they grow in complexity.

5. Optimize for Performance

Optimizing your scripts for performance is a no-brainer, which can save time and resources. An efficient script runs faster and uses fewer system resources. Tools like time and top can help to analyze and monitor script performance.

# Measure execution time
time ./

To optimize performance, prefer built-in bash features over external commands when possible. For example, use bash’s built-in arithmetic operations instead of calling external tools like expr. Additionally, follow best practices for loops and conditionals to enhance efficiency.

# Use efficient loop constructs
for file in *.txt; do
  echo "Processing $file"

By not forgetting to optimize for performance, you can make your scripts next level, ensuring that they are both efficient and effective.

Final Thoughts

Five tips for writing bash scripts have been presented in this article: having a working understanding of basic syntax and syntax structure, writing comments, using sensible variable and function names, handling errors, modularizing and organizing your code, and optimizing for performance. Each tip aims to help you craft your scripts to be more effective, more maintainable, and more efficient.

We encourage you to apply these tips in your own scripting practice. Experiment with different techniques, refine your skills, and continue learning. By doing so, you’ll become more proficient in bash scripting and improve your overall productivity as a data pro.

Happy bashing!

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