73

In order to understand another answer (by glenn jackman):

find / -type d -print0 | while read -r -d '' dir; do ls -ltr "$dir" | sed '$!d'; done

the first step is to understand the usage of the option -r of the read command.

First, I thought, it would be sufficient to simply execute

man read

to look up the meaning of the -r option, but I realized the man page does not contain any explanation for options at all, so I Googled for it.  I got some read -t, read -p examples, but no read -r.

4
  • 11
    It's a shell built in (at least in bash) - try help read or man bash Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 0:52
  • Regarding your title question, read unix.stackexchange.com/questions/18886/… Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 1:02
  • READ(1P) exists for me...
    – jasonwryan
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 1:06
  • 2
    This is highly confusing for beginners, since there is also a command line tool read as well and man read will show the info for that.
    – feeela
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 16:56

3 Answers 3

78

There is no stand-alone read command: instead, it is a shell built-in, and as such is documented in the man page for bash:

read [-ers] [-a aname] [-d delim] [-i text] [-n nchars] [-N nchars] [-p prompt] [-t timeout] [-u fd] [name ...]

        ︙
    -r
      Backslash does not act as an escape character.  The backslash is considered to be part of the line.  In particular, a backslash-newline pair may not be used as a line continuation.

So, to summarize, read normally allows long lines to be broken using a trailing backslash character, and normally reconstructs such lines. This slightly surprising behavior can be deactivated using -r.

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  • 23
    A demo: str="a\bc"; read x <<< "$str"; read -r y <<< "$str"; echo "$x"; echo "$y" Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 12:47
  • @glennjackman That's great, it's even more striking if you type str="a` and then hit Enter before pasting in the rest of the command starting with b`.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 16:52
  • 1
    Why do you consider line continuation by backslash+newline to be the least bit surprising? It’s standard shell behavior, and is documented in the “QUOTING” section of the man page: “ \ <newline> is treated as a line continuation”. Try typing da\ (Enter) te (Enter). Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 0:59
  • 1
    @G-ManSays'ReinstateMonica': That's an excellent question, and, thinking about it, while it is true that read is consistent with Bash's input-parsing behavior for its own commands, I would say it is rather unusual for a programming language's equivalent read function to do line splicing; for example, C source code also supports backslash line continuations, but fread and friends do not do any such magic. I also can't immediately think of another language with a standard input-reading function that does this.
    – dhag
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 15:34
  • @G-ManSays'ReinstateMonica' I think the the surprise of backslash+newline is more about how source code editors/viewers may not always be configured with enough visual cues to help readers check if a line ends in whitespace.
    – Moh
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 0:40
20

The -r option prevents backslash escapes from being interpreted. Here's an example:

Assume there's a file with this content:

ngRTM6hNqgziZcqCcEJN7bHAP9a1GeMs\
Ni3EAX1qvogWpRIPE3oagJL6nwl\QQW9y
bjJHyaVBrUcyZOY5U4h9QHnpEPqg\\\\\\\\\Q9Fk
iNOvAyBTAcN5n1uwR4GvRfAGUbPWiXax\n
cqGPPStH3gaWolrfVAlMtoWiSuLa7GzQ\n\n\n
EnO04N1nEkpWbfXRxrtYNqCZDpF\trQIXS
$ while read line; do echo $line; done < tempfile
ngRTM6hNqgziZcqCcEJN7bHAP9a1GeMsNi3EAX1qvogWpRIPE3oagJL6nwlQQW9y
bjJHyaVBrUcyZOY5U4h9QHnpEPqg\\\\Q9Fk
iNOvAyBTAcN5n1uwR4GvRfAGUbPWiXaxn
cqGPPStH3gaWolrfVAlMtoWiSuLa7GzQnnn
EnO04N1nEkpWbfXRxrtYNqCZDpFtrQIXS
$ while read -r line; do echo $line; done < tempfile
ngRTM6hNqgziZcqCcEJN7bHAP9a1GeMs\
Ni3EAX1qvogWpRIPE3oagJL6nwl\QQW9y
bjJHyaVBrUcyZOY5U4h9QHnpEPqg\\\\\\\\\Q9Fk
iNOvAyBTAcN5n1uwR4GvRfAGUbPWiXax\n
cqGPPStH3gaWolrfVAlMtoWiSuLa7GzQ\n\n\n
EnO04N1nEkpWbfXRxrtYNqCZDpF\trQIXS
6

The Bash man page's section about read states that, by default...

The backslash character (\) may be used to remove any special meaning for the next character read and for line continuation.

but, if you pass -r, then

Backslash does not act as an escape character.  The backslash is considered to be part of the line.  In particular, a backslash-newline pair may not then be used as a line continuation.

A little thought suggests that the only possible "special meaning" they could be talking about is the character serving as a delimiter. And sure enough, without -r, you can backslash-escape a delimiter or a newline, but with -r, you can't, and backslashes just get interpreted as literal backslashes:

$ read -d 'x'    var1 <<< 'There was once \
a curious Uni\x user.xHe did a little test.'
$ echo "$var1"
There was once a curious Unix user.
$ read -d 'x' -r var2 <<< 'There was once \
a curious Uni\x user.xHe did a little test.'
$ echo "$var2"
There was once \
a curious Uni\

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