07. Functions (Part 1)


  • Just like other programming languages, the shell supports the use of functions, which leads to more structured and easier to maintain scripts
  • The here document is used to output multiple lines of text from the script. The here document is not a function, but it is used to group lines of text into a mini text file within a script, making it easier to work with multiple lines of text.


    • Functions
    • Here Document

Function Introduction

  • Often in programming, a particular logical block of code needs to run at several places in the script
  • For example, a logical block of code keeps looping to get a filename and until it gets a valid file
    • This block of code could need to run at several places in the script, whenever a file is needed from the user
  • Rather than copy and paste the block of code over and over again in the script, we create a function from the block of code and put it at the beginning of the script
  • Then, every time a file name is needed, we only need to call the function, we don’t need to repeat the block of code in the script
  • Functions are useful because they:
    • Reduce the size of the script (less typing by the programmer)
    • Can be re-used by many scripts (no need to reinvent the wheel)
    • Produce logically structured (organized) scripts that are easy to read, debug, and maintain

Functions in a Script

  • The shell is an interpreter, not a compiler, so it interprets the script line by line from top to bottom of the file
  • This means that the shell needs to “see” the function block before the function is called. Otherwise, the shell will give a syntax error if it sees the function call and has not seen the function block
  • In a script, all function blocks are put at the beginning of the script, then the main block of code appears last in the script
  • The order in the script file will be:
    • 1. all function blocks
    • 2. the main script commands

Syntax for a Function

  • The function block is made of 2 parts: function header and function body
        functionA ()
            optional return value
  • The header has the function name, followed by empty parentheses
  • It is recommended that the function name be descriptive so it’s easy to recognize what task the function does
  • The empty parentheses are required, and they are always empty. Without the parentheses the shell will interpret the function name as a variable name
  • The function body starts and ends with { } , and in between are commands and programming constructs for the function to do its task
  • It is recommended that the commands in a function body be indented from the function header so it’s easy to read
  • The commands and programming constructs should be left justified (line up on the left) and further indented if necessary
  • If a function is short, the entire function can be coded on the same line. In this case, every command in the function body must end with semicolon
    • Example: goHome ( ) { cd; echo At `pwd`; }

Input to a Function

  • When a function is called, we can give input arguments to the function the same way that we give input arguments on the command line:

functionA file1 file2

    • functionA is called and gets 2 filenames as input
  • The function accesses its input through the positional parameters $1, $2, $3, etc.
  • Example of input arguments, given the function call above

functionA ( )


if [[ -e $1 && -e $2 ]]


echo both files exist


echo at least one filename is not valid



Output from a Function

  • A function can return one and only one integer value, through the return statement:

return $size

    • The value in variable size is returned to the caller
  • The integer return value is in the range of 0 - 255
  • The return value is stored in the ? variable and is accessed by the caller with $?
  • Example

functionB ( )


size=‘ls –l $1 | awk {print $5}` # get file size

return $size


  • call functionB and pass in fileA, then access return value to print:

functionB fileA

echo fileA has $? bytes