I have ZSH as my primary shell, and I'm trying to randomise access to an array. I keep seeing feh called, but I don't have that command. I have _feh, but I don't know if it's the same thing. What is that command.

Here's the reference:

FILES=( .../files/* )

Here is my testing:

test=(a b c); feh ${test[$RANDOM]}

I'm on OSX 10.10.x for reference. Ultimately I'll use this to randomise SSH access to some hosts that I have.


2 Answers 2


feh is an image viewer, just ignore that part... you want just the second part.

Basically, to access a random array element you want something like ${arr[${ri}]} where ri is $(( $RANDOM % ${#arr[@]} + 1)) that is, ri is a random index of the array arr

Now, $RANDOM % N resolves to a random number from 0 to N-1. In this case N is the array length ${#arr[@]} (number of elements) but since array indexing starts from 1 in zsh you have to add one ( + 1) so that $(( $RANDOM % ${#arr[@]} + 1 )) returns a value from 1 to N.

So e.g. to print a random element of the array:

print -r -- ${arr[$(( $RANDOM % ${#arr[@]} + 1 ))]}

Or simply, as array indices are parsed as arithmetic expressions:

print -r -- "$arr[RANDOM % $#arr + 1]"

When using that csh-style syntax (when the expansion is not in braces), the quotes are necessary in order for zsh to parse the subscript; alternatively, this could be written $arr[RANDOM%$#arr+1] or ${arr[RANDOM % $#arr + 1]} (ksh-style).

  • Is that last part still correct, about array indices parsed as arithmetic expressions? I get a "invalid subscript" error.
    – Michaël
    Oct 20, 2020 at 5:10
  • 1
    @Michaël, see edit. Dec 23, 2020 at 10:25

Another approach is to shuffle the array. Here, for an array that is the result of a glob expansion that can be done with:

files=( .../files/*(noe['REPLY=$RANDOM']) )
feh $files # or $files[1]


shuffle() REPLY=$RANDOME
files=( .../files/*(no+suffle) )

To shuffle an arbitrary array, one technique is to still use the oe or o+ glob qualifier, with something like:

shuffled_array=( /(e['reply=("$array[@]")']no+shuffle) )

That is use the e qualifier to make up the glob expansion (here applied to /) by setting $reply there, and then sort it with o+.

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