Can anyone tell me the meaning of ${p:2:1} in shell scripting as in:

for p in [1,2,3,4]
    var1="${var1} ${p:2:1}"
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    It doesn't seem to be what you're asking about, so I'll just comment here: using [1,2,3,4] in the for loop means that p gets assigned a single value: [1,2,3,4] instead of what you might have meant: the list 1 2 3 4, which you would do with for p in 1 2 3 4 ... – Jeff Schaller May 9 '18 at 13:20
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    @JeffSchaller, even worse if you have a file called 1 in the current directory – ilkkachu May 9 '18 at 13:25
  • Thanks for the edit, @ilkkachu, and good point! (Or even a file named ,!) – Jeff Schaller May 9 '18 at 13:35
  • Related to the above discussion: unix.stackexchange.com/q/347950/117549 – Jeff Schaller May 9 '18 at 13:35
  • @JeffSchaller Iterating over the list 1 2 3 4 would make the substitution ${p:2:1} a bit pointless as it would be empty... But then again, iterating over a single string is also a bit pointless. – Kusalananda May 9 '18 at 13:44

That is a (nonstandard) parameter expansion (Bash manual), in particular of the form:


which is described as "substring expansion". It extracts characters from the variable starting at offset (starting at zero) and going for length characters. In your case, ${p:2:1} extracts the third character.


$ p=abcd
$ echo "${p:2:1}"
  • 2
    Happy to hear, Siddhartha! Welcome to the site. Don't forget to take our tour to earn a badge, then take a moment to absorb the answers to your question and accept the one that you feel is the best solution. That helps the U&L system separate "answered" from "unanswered" questions. Thanks! – Jeff Schaller May 9 '18 at 13:48

That's a substring. It's taking from the second character (counting from 0) of the string p a substring of length 1.

  • I'm new to this can you please explain in detail – Siddhartha Dasari May 9 '18 at 13:17
  • the 2 is misleading; it's worth pointing out that it's not the second character in human terms, but in computer "count from zero" terms. – Jeff Schaller May 9 '18 at 13:25
  • @JeffSchaller thanks for pointing that out. Fixed – Federico klez Culloca May 9 '18 at 13:30

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