Getting User Input Via Keyboard

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You can accept input from the keyboard and assign an input value to a user defined shell variable using read command.

read Command Syntax

read -p "Prompt" variable1 variable2 variableN


  • -p "Prompt" : Display prompt to user without a newline.
  • variable1 : The first input (word) is assigned to the variable1.
  • variable2 : The second input (word) is assigned to the variable2.

Handling Input

Create a script called as follows:

read -p "Enter your name : " name
echo "Hi, $name. Let us be friends!"

Save and close the file. Run it as follows:

chmod +x

Sample Outputs:

Enter your name : Vivek Gite
Hi, Vivek Gite. Let us be friends!


Try the following examples.

Multiple Input (

# read three numbers and assigned them to 3 vars
read -p "Enter number one : " n1
read -p "Enter number two : " n2
read -p "Enter number three : " n3
# display back 3 numbers - punched by user. 
echo "Number1 - $n1"
echo "Number2 - $n2"
echo "Number3 - $n3"

Display Domain Owner Information

A shell script to display the Internet domain name owner information (

read -p "Enter the Internet domain name (e.g. : " domain_name
whois $domain_name

Timeout Input

You can time out read command using the -t option. It causes read to time out and return failure if a complete line of input is not read within TIMEOUT seconds. For example, if no input provided within 10 second, program will be aborted (

read -t 10 -p "Enter the Internet domain name (e.g. : " domain_name
whois $domain_name

Handling Passwords

The -s option causes input coming from a terminal do not be displayed on the screen. This is useful for password handling (

read -s -p "Enter Password  : " my_password
echo "Your password - $my_password"

Handling multiple values

Consider the following example:

read -p "Enter directory to delete : " dirname
echo "$dirname"

Sample outputs:

Enter directory to delete : foo bar /tmp/data
foo bar /tmp/data

The user supplied three values instead of one. The string is now made of three different fields. All three words are assigned to dirname using $IFS internal field separator. The $IFS determines how shell recognizes fields.


To display default value of $IFS, enter:

echo "$IFS"

You will see a whitespace which is nothing but a space, a tab, and a newline (default). You can print actual values of IFS using the following command (see Here strings):

cat -etv <<<"$IFS"

Sample outputs:



  • $ - end of line i.e. newline
  • ^I$ - tab and newline

But how do I use $IFS and read command together?

Create a variable called nameservers and give it total 3 values as follows (note all values are separated by a whitespace):


Display the value of a variable nameservers with echo command or printf command:

echo "$nameservers"


printf "%s" $nameservers

Now, you can simply split $nameservers using the read command as follows (see Here strings):

read -r ns1 ns2 ns3 <<< "$nameservers"


  • The read command reads input from $nameservers variable.
  • The default value of $IFS is used to assign values to three separate variables. Your input is broken into tokens using $IFS and assigned to three variables.
  • In other words, the IFS variable worked as token delimiter or separator.
  • The first token ( is saved as the value of the first variable ($ns1)
  • The second token ( is saved as the value of the second variable ($ns2).
  • The third token ( is saved as the value of the third variable ($ns3).
  • To display the value of each variable use echo command or printf command as follows:
echo "DNS Server #1 $ns1"
echo " #2 $ns2"
echo " #3 $ns2"

OR use the printf command

printf "DNS Server #1 %s\n #2 %s\n #3 %s\n" $ns1 $ns2 $ns3

Sample outputs:

DNS Server #1

How do I change the IFS separator value?

Consider the following /etc/passwd line:


Assign the above line to a variable called pwd:


Save the Internal Field Separator to a variable called old:


Set the Internal Field Separator to a colon (i.e. change the Internal Field Separator):


Read $pwd and generate tokens using $IFS and store them into respective fields:

read -r login password uid gid info home shell <<< "$pwd"
printf "Your login name is %s, uid %d, gid %d, home dir set to %s with %s as login shell\n" $login $uid $gid $home $shell

Sample outputs:

Your login name is gitevivek, uid 1002, gid 1002, home dir set to /home/gitevivek with /bin/sh as login shell

Finally, restore the Internal Field Separator value using $old:



  • : - act as token separator on $pwd i.e. the contents of the IFS variable are used as token delimiters.
  • login - Field # 1 is generated using the first token and is saved as the value of the first variable ($login)
  • password - Field # 2 is generated using the second token and is saved as the value of the second variable ($password)
  • uid - Field # 3 and so on...
  • gid - Field # 4
  • info - Field # 5
  • home - Field # 6
  • shell - Field # 7

See also

← UnsetHomePerform arithmetic operations →