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How do I combine bash command grouping and pipe status?

This is an example command group:

{ tar -cf - my_folder 2>&1 1>&3 | grep -v "Removing leading" 1>&2; } 3>&1 | gzip --rsyncable > my_file.tar.gz

This is an example pipe status readout to go with the above:

[[ ${PIPESTATUS[*]} =~ [1-9] ]] && rm my_file.tar.gz

In this example, the command group keeps mail spool free of warnings about "Removing leading /" from tar, being delivered via cron because they land on stderr (Unices lack a stdwarn and tar lacks a quiet option), while letting real errors pass through.

The pipe status readout makes sure that corrupt backup files are immediately removed, to prevent a later cleanup using a standard FIFO algorithm from removing older valid files.

But this example does not work. In the above, the pipe status contains [1 0], that is, the exit code of grep and gzip, but not tar.

One attempt I tried was this:

{ tar -cf - my_folder 2>&1 1>&3 | grep -v "Removing leading" 1>&2; GROUPSTATUS=${PIPESTATUS[*]}; } 3>&1 | gzip --rsyncable > my_file.tar.gz
[[ $GROUPSTATUS =~ [1-9] ]] && rm my_file.tar.gz

But GROUPSTATUS is empty upon leaving the group.

(Note that by setting GROUPSTATUS to anything other than the pipe's status, eg. a literal of some sort, it can be verified that the variable does in fact escape the command grouping scope under normal circumstances.)

I've also tried if return from within the group can deliver the first pipe component's exit code to the outside, but return inside a command group just yields an error message from bash.

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clarification: "normal circumstances" being when the command group does not participate in any 'outer' pipeline. –  user3487 Jan 22 '11 at 20:51
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2 Answers 2

When you execute a pipeline, each pipe-separated element is executed in its own process. Variable assignments only take effect in their own process. Under ksh and zsh, the last element of the pipeline is executed in the original shell; under other shells such as bash, each pipeline element is executed in its own subshell and the original shell just waits for them all to end.


In your case, since you only care about all the commands succeeding, you can make the status code flow up.

{ tar -cf - my_folder 2>&1 1>&3 | grep -v "Removing leading" 1>&2;
  ! ((PIPESTATUS[0])); } 3>&1 |
gzip --rsyncable > my_file.tar.gz;
if ((PIPESTATUS[0] || PIPESTATUS[1])); then rm my_file.tar.gz; fi

If you want to get more than 8 bits of information out of the left side of a pipe, you can write to yet another file descriptor. Here's a proof-of-principle example:

{ { tar …; echo $? >&4; } | …; } | { gzip …; echo $? >&4; } \
  4>&1 | ! grep -vxc '0'

Once you get data on standard output, you can feed it into a shell variable using command substitution, i.e. $(…). Command substitution reads from the command's standard output, so if you also meant to print things to script's standard output, they need to temporarily go through another file descriptor. The following snippet uses fd 3 for things that eventually go to the script's stdout and fd 4 for things that are captured into $statuses.

statuses=$({ { tar -v … >&3; echo tar $? >&4; } | …; } |
           { gzip …; echo gzip $? >&4; } 4>&1) 3>&1

If you need to capture the output from different commands into different variables, I think there is no direct way even in “advanced” shells such as bash, ksh or zsh. Here are some workarounds:

  • Use temporary files.
  • Use a single output stream, with e.g. a prefix on each line to indicate its origin, and filter at the top level.
  • Use a more advanced language such as Perl or Python.
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a) great info (at top of answer), thanks! –  user3487 Jan 22 '11 at 20:20
b) [comment deleted] –  user3487 Jan 24 '11 at 0:50
c) amazing, seems you almost nailed it! theoretically anyway; all the examples involving fd 4 does not work, bash gives you '4: Bad file descriptor'. I think fd 4 does not exist because the first thing to happen is that a process is created to handle the pipe in the inner-most command group, and at that point the redirection of fd 4 into fd 1 has not yet taken place, because the redirection is part of the setup of the outer pipeline. maybe it can be fixed with exec redirection before the nested command groups starts? –  user3487 Jan 24 '11 at 0:50
d) don't need the exit codes in separate variables so that is OK. regarding workarounds: temporary files add complexity. single output stream sounds interesting, but I am not sure how to implement that. complete-cover error handling in perl is a horrible mess just as in bash etc. python sounds good (but of course that does not answer the question as such, just gives me a different set of problems) –  user3487 Jan 24 '11 at 1:12
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A simple way is to bypass the problem, is to put my_folder in a shell variable and remove the leading slash from it:

tar -cf - ${my_folder##/} | gzip --rsyncable > my_file.tar.gz

Otherwise, you can check ${PIPESTATUS[0]} inside the block and use false if it is not zero to signal the error to the outer process:

{ tar -cf - my_folder 2>&1 1>&3 | 
    grep -v "Removing leading" 1>&2; 
    [ ${PIPESTATUS[0]} -eq 0 ] && true || false; } 3>&1 | 
    gzip --rsyncable > my_file.tar.gz
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[ ${PIPESTATUS[0]} -eq 0 ] && true || false; simplifies to [ ${PIPESTATUS[0]} -eq 0 ] –  Gilles Jan 19 '11 at 0:39
a) not so simple at all, you add a lot of complexity by using relative paths instead of absolute paths –  user3487 Jan 22 '11 at 20:15
b) the true || false trick works nicely! but only for a single exit code, not the entire inner pipe –  user3487 Jan 22 '11 at 20:16
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