I am trying to add following command to crontab:

I=1; for X in $(/bin/ls -r /var/tmp/*); do [ $((I++)) -le 28 ] && echo "lower" || echo "higher"; done

When executed on the command line (in bash), the command works fine. But when I add the line into crontab and when executed, cron complains:

/bin/sh: 1: arithmetic expression: expecting primary: "I++"

Do I need to use different syntax in cron ?

EDIT1: I have replaced sh with bash in my /etc/crontab:


I have restarted cron, but following cron line still does not execute:

(I=1; for X in $(/bin/ls -r /var/tmp/*); do [ $((I++)) -le 28 ] && echo "lower" || echo "higher"; done)

the error suggests, that it is still being interpreted with /bin/sh instead of /bin/bash:

/bin/sh: 1: arithmetic expression: expecting primary: "I++"

Cron, if I'm not mistaken, defaults to /bin/sh. Check /etc/crontab/ for the line SHELL=. It is likely set to /bin/sh (dash). I believe you can set SHELL=/bin/bash in your own user crontab file (the one edited by crontab -e). Or you can script it.

  • I have SHELL=/bin/sh in my /etc/crontab. Is there any reason, why I should want to use /bin/sh, instead of /bin/bash ? I am on Debian, and the system shell is bash. So why would they keep sh for cron. AFAIK, bash is compatible with sh, but not the other way around. – Martin Vegter Sep 30 '13 at 7:38
  • Nope, there is no reason to keep it set to /bin/sh AFAIK. I think it is just a default setting. – AGHz Sep 30 '13 at 11:35

Yes, you need to use sh syntax. You can find the specification for the portable standard sh syntax there.

In this case, you want [ "$((i+=1))" -le 29 ], or if your sh is based on an older version of ash that did not support the full set of standard arithmetic operators yet, use [ "$i" -le 28 ] ...; i=$(($i + 1)).

A note of warning: processing a world writeable directory like /var/tmp under cron is like opening a can of worm wrt security.

You've got to treat filenames and their type in there as untrusted and extremely dirty.

Your $(/bin/ls -r /var/tmp/*) in particular is bogus as it makes a lot of assumptions on what characters the filenames may contain and assumes none of them are directories or symlinks to directories.

  • when I use [ "$((I+=1))" -le 28 ], cron complains: /bin/sh: 1: Bad substitution – Martin Vegter Sep 29 '13 at 19:41

To make this completely portable you can replace the $() syntax with:

I=1; for X in `/bin/ls -r /var/tmp/*`; do [ $I -le 28 ] && echo "lower" || echo "higher"; I=`expr $I + 1`; done

But beware of cron jobs and world writable directories.

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