func() {
    echo 'hello'
    echo 'This is an error' >&2


I'd like to redirect the stderr to b variable without creating a temporary file.

 echo $b
 # output should be: "This is an error"

The solution that works but with a temporary file:

touch temp.txt
exec 3< temp.txt
a=$(func 2> temp.txt);
cat <&3
rm temp.txt

So the question is, how do I redirect the stderr of the function func to the variable b without the need of a temporary file?

  • Related SO question that may be useful: stackoverflow.com/q/962255/1640661 – Anthony Geoghegan Mar 14 '18 at 12:40
  • @AnthonyGeoghegan I'd like to store both stderr and stdout in two variables, not only the stderr – smarber Mar 14 '18 at 12:54
  • 1
    From their comments, it seems the SO questioner also wanted to preserve the stdout (pass it on a pipe). I don't think they got a completely satisfactory answer but I thought the link still might be of interest to you. – Anthony Geoghegan Mar 14 '18 at 13:01

On Linux and with shells that implement here-documents with writable temporary files (like bash does), you can do:

    chmod u+w /dev/fd/3 && # needed for bash5+
      ls /dev/null /x 2> /dev/fd/3
} 3<<EOF

printf '%s=<%s>\n' out "$out" err "$err" status "$status"

(where ls /dev/null /x is an example command that outputs something on both stdout and stderr).

With zsh, you can also do:

(){ out=$(ls /dev/null /x 2> $1) status=$? err=$(<$1);} =(:)

(where =(cmd) is a form of process substitution that uses temporary files, and (){ code; } args anonymous functions).

In any case, you'd want to use temporary files. Any solution that would use pipes would be prone to deadlocks in case of large outputs. You could read stdout and stderr through two separate pipes and use select()/poll() and some reads in a loop to read data as it comes from the two pipes without causing lock-ups, but that would be quite involved and AFAIK, only zsh has select() support built-in and only yash a raw interface to pipe() (more on that at Read / write to the same file descriptor with shell redirection).

Another approach could be to store one of the streams in temporary memory instead of a temporary file. Like (zsh or bash syntax):

  IFS= read -rd '' err
  IFS= read -rd '' out
  IFS= read -rd '' status
} < <({ out=$(ls /dev/null /x); } 2>&1; printf '\0%s' "$out" "$?")

(assuming the command doesn't output any NUL)

Note that $err will include the trailing newline character.

Other approaches could be to decorate the stdout and stderr differently and remove the decoration upon reading:

out= err= status=
while IFS= read -r line; do
  case $line in
    (out:*)    out=$out${line#out:}$'\n';;
    (err:*)    err=$err${line#err:}$'\n';;
    (status:*) status=${line#status:};;
done < <(
      ls /dev/null /x |
        grep --label=out --line-buffered -H '^' >&3
      echo >&3 "status:${PIPESTATUS[0]}" # $pipestatus[1] in zsh
    } 2>&1 |
      grep --label=err --line-buffered -H '^'
  } 3>&1


That assumes GNU grep and that the lines are short enough. With lines bigger than PIPEBUF (4K on Linux), lines of the output of the two greps could end up being mangled together in chunks.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1) Are here-documents documented anywhere as being writable (or only by reading the bash source code)? 2) Are here-documents kept nowadays in memory instead of using temp files (and is that documented)? 3) The process substitution solutions look hard to modify to capture the exit status. Ideas? – jrw32982 supports Monica Oct 29 '19 at 21:59
  • 1) probably not, it's a bit of a hack. POSIX leaves it now unspecified (on my request) 2) no, it has to be open on a file descriptor so it can't just be in memory (other than files in tmpfs or the like), in pratice, shells either use a temp file or a pipe, bash uses temp files and always has. 3) not simple, but probably doable. – Stéphane Chazelas Oct 30 '19 at 7:13
  • @jrw32982, see edit for status (untested) – Stéphane Chazelas Oct 30 '19 at 7:35
  • no longer works in bash 5.0, and I think that you were inolved in its demise ;-) – mosvy Oct 30 '19 at 9:14
  • @mosvy thanks, I hadn't realised they had fixed it that way. I've edited in a work around. There are dozen more answers I'll have to edit in the same way here (sigh). – Stéphane Chazelas Oct 30 '19 at 10:09

Well, capturing the stderr in one variable and stdout in another variable without temporary file is not easy at all.

Here is an example that works

func() {
    echo 'hello'
    echo 'This is an error' >&2

    { stdout=$(func) ; } 2>&1
    echo -e "mysuperuniqueseparator\n"
    echo -e "${stdout}\n"

I'm not happy with it because it's a dirty way, redirect the stderr to stdout and put both in one variable with a separator between them and then break it down into two pieces.

Plus :

Obviously, this is not robust, because either the standard output or the standard error of the command could contain whatever separator string you employ.

Taken from here http://mywiki.wooledge.org/BashFAQ/002

| improve this answer | |

No temporary files/fifos and no funny evals/file descriptors, etc:

x=$((echo 'this is stdout'; echo 'this is stderr' 1>&2; exit 123) 2> >(sed -r 's/^/2/g') 1> >(sed -r 's/^/1/g'))

echo $? ### exit code is preserved
# 123

echo "$x" | sed '/^2/d;s/^1//g'  ### stdout
# this is stdout

echo "$x" | sed '/^1/d;s/^2//g'  ### stderr
# this is stderr

Note: may not be efficient for large outputs.

| improve this answer | |

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