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I have a unix command in a variable, it looks like this:

cmd="find /path/to/webpage -type f | grep -v .svn | xargs grep $@"
find: paths must precede expression
Usage: find [-H] [-L] [-P] [path...] [expression]

When I try to execute the command $cmd in a bash script, it won't work, however, when I copy and paste the exact same command, it does work. Can you let me know what I am doing wrong?

I have tried putting quotes around the path, same error occurs

cmd="find \"/path/to/webpage\" -type f | grep -v .svn | xargs grep $@"
find: paths must precede expression
Usage: find [-H] [-L] [-P] [path...] [expression]

When I remove the -type f parameter, I get this error:

cmd="find /path/to/webpage | grep -v .svn | xargs grep $@"
find: invalid predicate `-v'

That makes me think that the pipe is not being recognized. What can I do to get this to work?

share|improve this question
Long command pipelines in shell variables should make anyone nervous. What are you trying to do? I recommend taking some time to read and digest BashFAQ 50 before taking this approach any further. –  jw013 Jul 26 '12 at 20:19
are you trying to execute the contents of a variable or assign the output of a command to a variable? Your question says the former, but your response to Tim's answer says the latter. –  cas Jul 26 '12 at 22:25

3 Answers 3

Others have already explained what to do. Let me explain what's happening here: the pipe character | doesn't make a pipeline as the variable is expanded, but acts like a literal character. Therefore, find is executed with the following arguments:

{"/path/to/webpage", "-type", "f", "|", "grep", "-v", ".svn", "|", ...}

and it interprets the | as a path and complains that it should have appeared before the expression (-type f).

Another big mistake is that you're using `$cmd` as the sole command line. If $cmd (i.e. find ...) succeeded and produced output like rm -rf /, it would be executed on your behalf. Always take caution when you take data as code!

Improvement 1. find ... | grep -v ... is a poor way to exclude something from the output: find will traverse whole subdirectories named .svn, produce the lines, only to be thrown away later. Why not tell find to do it directly?

find path -type f | grep -v .svn                # don't do this
find path -name .svn -prune -o -type f -print   # do this instead

Improvement 2. When combining find and xargs, always use -print0 in find and -0 in xargs:

find path ... -print0 | xargs -0 -r grep ...    # I'd also recommend -r

or you can do it entirely in grep:

grep --recursive --exclude-dir=.svn pattern path
share|improve this answer

If you really want to execute code in a variable, you can do it using eval.

cmd="find /path/to/webpage -type f | grep -v .svn | xargs grep something"
eval "$cmd"

But since you're trying to pass arguments in with $@, what you need here is a function

webgrep() {
    find /path/to/webpage -type f | grep -v .svn | xargs grep "$@"

Note that this will have problems with any paths that include a whitespace character. And it will have to scan all the contents of .svn directories before ignoring them. A better way is

webgrep() {
    find /path/to/webpage -name .svn -prune -o -type f -exec grep "$@" {} +

Then call it like this

webgrep PATTERN
share|improve this answer
+1 use a function. –  glenn jackman Jul 26 '12 at 23:08

Try building your variable like this:

cmd=$(find /path/to/webpage -type f | grep -v .svn | xargs grep $@)


cmd=`find /path/to/webpage -type f | grep -v .svn | xargs grep $@`

Or maybe an alias would be better suited:

alias cmd="find /path/to/webpage -type f | grep -v .svn | xargs grep $@"
share|improve this answer
Thank you, using the $(command) method is what did the trick! –  Roy Rico Jul 26 '12 at 19:38
No problem! You caught me mid-edit, but should be fixed now. –  Tim Jul 26 '12 at 19:40
That's not putting the code in a variable. It's putting the output of the command in a variable. –  Mikel Jul 26 '12 at 21:27

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