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I'm writing a shell script that contains a command that takes multiple directories as space-separated input arguments (like ls). I would like to fill in those arguments from a variable but don't know how to ensure words like "for" aren't interpreted as arguments. Here's an example that expresses my idea:



ls \
for dir in $dirs
    "$dir "
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up vote 4 down vote accepted



You're assigning a string (containing spaces and newline characters and whatever characters $HOME may contain) to a scalar variable ($dirs).

Then, you want to pass a list of directories to ls, that is several arguments. So you need somehow to split that string into a list of arguments to pass to ls. How are you going to split it? On spaces and newlines? What if $HOME contains spaces or newlines?

POSIX shells do have a splitting operator, actually they have a split+glob operator which you invoke by leaving a variable unquoted. Luckily enough, by default, the splitting is done on space and newline (and tab). So you could do:

IFS=' ''
' # space and newline
set -f # disable globbing as we want only the
       # splitting part of the split+glob operator
ls -- $dirs

But here, since we want a list, best would be to store the elements into a list-type variable instead of joining them into a string only to split it later.

POSIX shells have the array of positional parameters ($1, $2...) for that:

#! /bin/sh -
set -- ~/Documents ~/Music
ls -- "$@"

Or if you don't mind making your script slower and less portable, use a shell with array variables like bash:

#! /bin/bash -
ls -- "${files[@]}"

Or zsh:

#! /bin/zsh -
ls -- $files
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May have misunderstood OP, but: given $dirs as set by OP, why not just ls -- $dirs (variable not quoted)? – grebneke Mar 2 '14 at 20:46
@grebneke, because that stops working when the filenames contain blanks or wildcard characters or start with -. If you want to store several things, you want arrays. If you use a scalar variable, then you need to start making assumptions. – Stéphane Chazelas Mar 2 '14 at 20:48
Right. I was assuming the example given in the question which seems straight forward. Thanks. – grebneke Mar 2 '14 at 20:49
@grebneke, even in this case, we don't know what $HOME contains. My HOME directory is /All Volumes/v*/Stephane Chazelas – Stéphane Chazelas Mar 2 '14 at 20:58
@Cerran - and note the double quotes: "${array[@]}"! – grebneke Mar 3 '14 at 20:32

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