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What is the definition of a string in Bash?

Bash use the term "string" several places in its documentation, e.g. to document the =~ operator used for regular expression matching:

An additional binary operator, =~, is available, with the same precedence as == and !=. When it is used, the string to the right of the operator is considered a POSIX extended regular expression and matched accordingly (as in regex(3)).

In the section DEFINITIONS, I don't see any definition of strings:

DEFINITIONS
       The following definitions are used throughout the rest of this document.
       blank  A space or tab.
       word   A sequence of characters considered as a single unit by the shell.  Also known as a token.
       name   A word consisting only of alphanumeric characters and underscores, and beginning with an alphabetic character or an underscore.  Also referred to as an identifier.
       metacharacter
              A character that, when unquoted, separates words.  One of the following:
              |  & ; ( ) < > space tab newline
       control operator
              A token that performs a control function.  It is one of the following symbols:
              || & && ; ;; ;& ;;& ( ) | |& <newline>

So, what exactly are strings in Bash? May they contain whitespace or characters in the IFS environment variable?

NB: I know strings are normally defined as a series of symbols in an alphabet.

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The Bash manual doesn’t define strings, but it does say that

It is intended to be a conformant implementation of the IEEE POSIX Shell and Tools portion of the IEEE POSIX specification (IEEE Standard 1003.1).

so one can assume that the POSIX definition of strings applies:

A contiguous sequence of bytes terminated by and including the first null byte.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks you. So, strings like those provided for =~ may by definition contain any character except zero-byte. But I can’t quote the entire string to preserve spaces, otherwise Bash do word splitting, since quoting the string means to interprete it as a fixed string (not a regex). Can I get around it by writing something like: a(“ “|b)c” “d+? Will Bash do word splitting here or read it as a one contiguous string, with the ” “ being interpreted as fixed spaces? Why? – Shuzheng Jan 31 at 5:41
  • You can escape spaces with backslashes: a(\ |b)c\ d+. Quoting spaces works too, Bash won’t split words; I don’t have a reference off-hand. – Stephen Kitt Jan 31 at 5:47
  • But wouldn’t my example work too? Sorry, I can’t test it right now, since I’m in transport, but will do so later. – Shuzheng Jan 31 at 5:49
  • Yes, like I said, quoting spaces works too, so your example works. – Stephen Kitt Jan 31 at 5:56

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