I want to catch if a variable is multiline in a case statement in POSIX shell (dash).

I tried this:

case "$q" in
    *$'\n'*) echo nl;;
    *) echo NO nl;;

It returns nl in zsh but NO nl in dash.



The dash shell does not have C-strings ($'...'). C-strings is an extension to the POSIX standard. You would have to use a literal newline. This is easier (and looks nicer) if you store the newline in a variable:



for string; do

    case $string in
            printf '"%s" contains newline\n' "$string"
            printf '"%s" does not contain newline\n' "$string"


For each command line argument given to the script, this detects whether it contains a newline or not. The variable used in the case statement ($string) does not need quoting, and the ;; after the last case label is not needed.

Testing (from an interactive zsh shell, which is where the dquote> secondary prompt comes from):

$ dash script.sh "hello world" "hello
dquote> world"
"hello world" does not contain newline
world" contains newline
  • 4
    $nl doesn't need quoting in the case statement, but it would if it contained wildcards. While ;; is optional immediately before esac, omitting it makes maintenance harder because you have to remember to add it if you add another case, so I recommend always including it. Oct 31 '19 at 14:46
  • 3
    @Gilles'SO-stopbeingevil' Yes, the $nl should be quoted (now fixed), but using or not using ;; before esac is clearly a matter of taste.
    – Kusalananda
    Oct 31 '19 at 15:40
  • Another idea for the initializing the $nl constant: nl=$(printf "\nx") && nl=${nl%x}. That makes it a bit more obvious what's actually in $nl (does it include tabs, spaces, etc.?).
    – jrw32982
    Nov 6 '19 at 22:26

You can include a literal newline (in quotes) as the pattern, just as you did in assigning to the variable:

case "$q" in
'*) echo nl;;
    *) echo NO nl;;

This makes the formatting ugly (you cannot indent the end quote), but should be fully portable. I tested in bash, zsh, ksh, and dash.

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