I have a shell script that uses the following to print a green checkmark in its output:


echo -e "Done ${col_green}✓${col_reset}"

After reading about Bash's ANSI-C Quoting, I realized I could use it when setting my color variables and remove the -e flag from my echo.


echo "Done ${col_green}✓${col_reset}"

This seems appealing, since it means the message prints correctly whether it's passed to Bash's builtin echo or the external util /bin/echo (I'm on macOS).

But does this make the script less portable? I know Bash and Zsh support this style of quoting, but I'm not sure about others.

  • Yes, since when only ksh and its variations support it for now. But IIRC, ANSI-C quoting is going to be in next POSIX spec. – cuonglm Jun 18 '17 at 17:41

$'…' is a ksh93 feature that is also present in zsh, bash, mksh, FreeBSD sh and in some builds of BusyBox sh (BusyBox ash built with ENABLE_ASH_BASH_COMPAT). It isn't present in the POSIX sh language yet. Common Bourne-like shells that don't have it include dash (which is /bin/sh by default on Ubuntu among others), ksh88, the Bourne shell, NetBSD sh, yash, derivatives of pdksh other than mksh and some builds of BusyBox.

A portable way to get backslash-letter and backslash-octal parsed as control characters is to use printf. It's present on all POSIX-compliant systems.

esc=$(printf '\033') # assuming an ASCII (as opposed to EBCDIC) system

Note that \e is not portable. It's supported by many implementations of printf but not by the one in dash¹. Use the octal code instead.

¹ It is supported in Debian and derivatives that ship at least 0.5.8-2.4, e.g. since Debian stretch and Ubuntu 17.04.

  • are you sure about \e not being supported in dash? dash -c 'printf "\e[1;31m"; type printf; printf "\e[m"' will print printf is a shell builtin in bold red here (dash-0.5.8). A shell that doesn't support \e is yash. – mosvy Feb 19 at 17:35
  • @mosvy Prints \e[1;31mprintf is a shell builtin \e[m here. Ubuntu 16.04, dash 0.5.8-2.1ubuntu2. Prints in red on Ubuntu 18.04 with dash 0.5.8-2.10. Looks like Ubuntu made a patch to support it. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 19 at 17:46
  • Yeah, sorry, it looks that's a debian (9.7 stretch) patch. here's the original. – mosvy Feb 19 at 17:54

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