I ran across some bash code during a review that reassigns a variable to itself using echo. The variable is an array. The code basically assigns the variable to itself with `echo $a`.

a=(one two three)
a=`echo $a`

What purpose does this serve?

  • 2
    Ten demerits for whoever wrote that. – chepner Nov 24 '15 at 20:25

It trims the first element of the array:

a=( ' one ' two three )
a=$(echo $a)
echo "<$a>"



You can play with various combinations of quoting:

#! /bin/bash
for i in {1..4} ; do 
    a=( $' one \n * two ' three four )
    case $i in
        (1) a=$(echo $a)     ;;
        (2) a=$(echo "$a")   ;;
        (3) a="$(echo $a)"   ;;
        (4) a="$(echo "$a")" ;;
    echo "<$a>"

But basically, you should use


if you want to assign the the first element of an array, and

echo "${a[0]}"

if you want to output its first element.

  • 1
    That said, you might as well just use ${a[0]}, which is not only easier to read, but doesn't suffer from some of the problems present in this method (word splitting, globbing, etc). – Chris Down Nov 24 '15 at 17:43

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