You know that the printf function written in C allows to do:

printf('%2$s %2$s %1%s %1%s', 'World', 'Hello');

Hello Hello World World

But in GNU Bash:

printf '%2$s %2$s %1%s %1%s' 'World' 'Hello'

bash: printf: $': invalid format character

Also for /usr/bin/printf:

/usr/bin/printf '%2$s %2$s %1%s %1%s' 'World' 'Hello'

/usr/bin/printf: %2$: invalid conversion specification

How to obtain the C behavior in Bash? Thanks.


I was curious about this behaviour, I don't want a workaround.


E.g. think about GNU Bash source code internationalization. Very improbable without this feature.

  • 2
    I don't know why your suggested answer started with my question and finishes with something related to directories creation. – Valerio Bozz Nov 21 '16 at 15:01
  • 1
    Hmm. Looks like that user originally posted a use of printf for creating a mkdir command, the edited their post. I retracted my close vote. – muru Nov 21 '16 at 15:05

You can't with bash. the POSIX specification of the printf utility doesn't support it either. You'd have to re-order the arguments by hand.

The printf (or print -f) builtins of ksh93 and zsh support them though:

$ printf '%2$s%1$s\n' a b

GNU awk or perl also support it, so if you have any of those installed, in bash, you could redefine printf as a function like:

printf() { zsh -c 'printf "$@"' printf "$@"; }
  • Good to know that it's not a POSIX standard. Good workaround. – Valerio Bozz Dec 4 '16 at 18:07

This works for me:

set -- 'World' 'Hello'
printf '%s %s %s %s' "$2" "$2" "$1" "$1"
  • I don't think that this is more than an hardcoded workaround. The solution have to provide a way to choose how to display hardcoded arguments... without changing the order of the arguments, or repeating the arguments. – Valerio Bozz Dec 4 '16 at 18:59
  • @ValerioBozz You have the right to have an opinion. Even if incorrect. – sorontar Dec 4 '16 at 22:59
  • I don't know if you are serious. In any case I've added the question context just now. – Valerio Bozz Dec 6 '16 at 7:33

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