I want an associative array in my bashrc file and I want to add to or delete from it whenever needed, but if I put the array declaration in the bashrc file it will get redeclared every time bash is run and so the previous values will be lost. What should I do?

  • You can set the array conditionally... Check if the variable is already set! Use [ -z ${var+x} ]. Commented May 12, 2019 at 5:32

1 Answer 1


I don't think there's any nice way to do that. You'll have to do the de/serialization, saving and restoring by hand. Example code:

        declare -n a=$1
        for i in "${!a[@]}"; do printf '%s\0%s\0' "$i" "${a[$i]}"; done
        unset $1; declare -gA $1
        declare -n a=$1; local k v
        while read -d '' k && read -d '' v; do a[$k]=$v; done

Or a simpler variant, which takes advantage of the format of declare -p[1]:

save_array(){ declare -p $1; }
restore_array(){ local l; read -r l; eval "${l/-A*=(/-gA $1=(}"; }


$ declare -A a1; a1[foo]=bar; a1[baz]=qux

$ save_array a1 >/tmp/save
$ restore_array a2 </tmp/save

$ echo "${!a2[@]} // ${a2[@]}"
baz foo // qux bar

The readarray/mapfile built-in doesn't seem to support associative arrays, nor using NUL bytes as delimiters. Also, bash doesn't seem able to tie an array to a database, as perl can with tie %hash, 'DB_File', $filename, ....

[1] depending on your usage, you can make it even simpler:

#! /bin/bash
trap 'declare -p a1 a2 > ./path/to/saved_arrays' EXIT
. ./path/to/saved_arrays 2>/dev/null || declare -A a1 a2

  • this is a really cool way, thanks.
    – aderchox
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 5:50
  • I've hit on a much better idea, see the updated answer.
    – user313992
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 6:53
  • I'm just learning these commands, but it's strange "EXIT" was not in the "man 7 signal" and was in the "man trap" instead. The second way sounds amazing. "delcare -p array" is interesting. BTW, what's this doing 2>/dev/null in the second solution?
    – aderchox
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 8:31
  • Oh Google found that easily and I read what it does. thanks again.
    – aderchox
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 8:40

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