I'm adding self tests to C++ code that ensures there are no NDEBUG and Posix assert dependencies (the back story below). The first test looks for inclusion of <assert.h> and <cassert>:

COUNT=$($EGREP -c '(assert.h|cassert)' *.h *.cpp)
if [[ "$COUNT" -ne "0" ]]; then
    echo "Found Posix assert headers" | tee -a "$TEST_RESULTS"

Its producing:

Testing: No Posix assert

./cryptest.sh: line 1130: [[: 3way: value too great for base (error token is "3way")

When I debug it I see:

bash -x ./cryptest.sh

++ egrep -c '(assert.h|cassert)' 3way.h adler32.h aes.h ...
+ COUNT='3way.h:0

So each file gets its own line and own count.

The grep man page states the following. It does not discuss multi-line output.

-c, --count
    Only a count of selected lines is written to standard output.

The behavior appears to have something to do with Output Control (form the man page) and -l, --files-with-matches. I also tried the -L, --files-without-match option. It produces a similar error.

My question is, how can I have grep fold the results into one count?

Or maybe I should ask, is grep and egrep the right tool for the job? If grep and egrep are not the right tool, then what should I use?

This is a Bash shell script that executes on every platform we support. Every platform includes BSDs, Linux, OS X, Solaris and Unix (and all the mobile variants, like Android and iOS). We have to work to get what we need in terms of tools like grep and egrep:


# Fixup
if [[ "$IS_SOLARIS" -ne "0" ]]; then
    IS_X64=$(isainfo 2>/dev/null | "$GREP" -i -c "amd64")
    if [[ "$IS_X64" -ne "0" ]]; then

    # Need something more powerful than the non-Posix versions
    if [[ (-e "/usr/gnu/bin/grep") ]]; then
    if [[ (-e "/usr/gnu/bin/egrep") ]]; then
    if [[ (-e "/usr/gnu/bin/sed") ]]; then
    if [[ (-e "/usr/gnu/bin/awk") ]]; then



Back story

Our project recently took CVE-2016-7420 due to users building the project with other tools, like Autotools and CMake. The CVE is a direct result of omitting -DNDEBUG for release/production builds. The other tools don't configure the way we do, and we did not tell users either (1) they can't use other build tools, or (2) users must define -DNDEBUG for release/production.

Our remediations are cutting much deeper than "simply define NDEBUG for release/production" in documentation. We are gutting all dependencies on NDEBUG and Posix assert so folks cannot accidentally get into the configuration. We are also requiring users ask for a debug configuration by defining DEBUG or _DEBUG; otherwise, they get the release configuration.

While an assert and the SIGART that follows is usually annoying in release builds, considered benign in debug build, and taken for granted, we observe:

  • We are a security library (we handle sensitive information)
  • A failed assert egresses sensitive information to the file system (core files and crash reports)
  • A failed assert egresses sensitive information to platform vendors like Apple (CrashReporter), Apport (Ubuntu), Microsoft (Windows Error Reporting)
  • Companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft cooperate with government to mine the sensitive information
  • 1
    I'm not sure I've understood what you're asking - do you need to do anything more complicated than replace egrep -c <whatever> *.h *.c by cat *.h *.c | egrep -c <whatever>? Sep 17, 2016 at 17:59
  • Look at the output that grep produces and figure out what extra processing it needs. One common approach for summing columns involves awk. Please show some effort of trying to solve the problem
    – Mikel
    Sep 17, 2016 at 18:02
  • @steeldriver - a long time ago, we were told to not use cat <files> | grep because grep <files> is the preferred way to do things on Unix and Linux. If that's the solution, then please post it as an answer so others can critique it.
    – user56041
    Sep 17, 2016 at 18:02
  • @jww Fair enough. Sorry
    – Mikel
    Sep 17, 2016 at 18:09

2 Answers 2


Note: the following is based on the GNU implementation of grep, however I think it should apply in your case as well

As noted in the GNU grep manual (emphasis mine)

grep searches the named input FILEs for lines containing a match to the
given PATTERN.  If no files are specified, or if the file “-” is given,
grep  searches  standard  input.   By default, grep prints the matching


-c, --count
       Suppress  normal output; instead print a count of matching lines
       **for each input file**.  With the -v,  --invert-match  option  (see
       below), count non-matching lines.

(and the default behavior is to prefix such output with the file name - although that can be suppressed using the -h option).

By concatenating your target files into a single input stream and piping that to grep, you should be able to override both these behaviors and get a single count without prefix:

COUNT=$(cat *.h *.cpp | $EGREP -c '(assert.h|cassert)')

IMHO this would qualify as a useful use of cat; probably what you have been advised against is Useless Use of Cat

  • Perfect; thank you very much. My apologies for asking for the answer. There's too much I don't know about bash, so I try to follow the rules others tell me.
    – user56041
    Sep 17, 2016 at 18:26
  • Having multiple file arguments is a good indicator that a cat is useful.  But you should say cat -- *.h *.cpp to prevent a filename that begins with - from being interpreted as an option string. Sep 23, 2016 at 1:20

steeldriver’s answer (do cat files | grep -c <token>) was my first thought when I read your question title.  But I see that, in your script snippet, you aren’t using the count, beyond comparing it to zero — i.e., you’re asking “how many are there?” when you want to know “are there any?”.  Consider using -q:

if "$EGREP" -q -- 'assert\.h|cassert' *.h *.cpp
    echo "Found Posix assert headers" …


  • You should always quote your shell variable references (e.g., "$EGREP") unless you have a good reason not to, and you’re sure you know what you’re doing.  If you have defined EGREP=grep -e, that would be a reasonably good reason to say $EGREP without quotes, but see this answer to Security implications of forgetting to quote a variable in bash/POSIX shells.
  • -q (or, equivalently, --quiet or --silent) means “Quiet; do not write anything to standard output.  Exit immediately with zero status if any match is found, even if an error was detected.”  This not only gives you the functional behavior that you want (i.e., the same functional behavior as steeldriver’s answer), but with the performance benefit that grep will exit as soon as it finds a match, and doesn’t need to read all the files. 
  • It’s advised to put -- between a command’s options and its arguments in order to prevent a filename that begins with - from being interpreted as an option string.
  • You don’t need to have parentheses around your entire regular expression.
  • grep 'assert.h' will match assert h, assert,h, assert3h, assertph, etc.  If you don’t care, that’s up to you.  If you want to match only assert.h, grep for assert\.h.

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