Echo Command

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To display the value of a variable, either use echo or printf command as follows:

echo $varName  # not advisable unless you know what the variable contains

OR (see quoting):

echo "$varName"


printf "%s\n" "$varName"

Generating Output With echo command

Use echo command to display a line of text or a variable value. It offers no formatting option. It is a good command to display a simple output when you know that the variable's contents will not cause problems. For most uses, printf is preferable.

echo Command Examples

# Display welcome message, computer name and date
echo "*** Backup Shell Script ***"
echo "*** Run time: $(date) @ $(hostname)"

# Define variables
NOW=$(date +"%d-%m-%Y")
# Let us start backup
echo "*** Dumping MySQL Database to $BACKUP/$NOW..."

# Just sleep for 3 secs
sleep 3

# And we are done...
echo "*** Backup wrote to $BACKUP/$NOW/latest.tar.gz"

Printing file names with echo

You can also print the file names using wildcards and echo command:

cd /etc 
echo *.conf

Sample outputs:

aatv.conf adduser.conf apg.conf argus.conf atool.conf brltty.conf ca-certificates.conf 
chkrootkit.conf cowpoke.conf cvs-cron.conf cvs-pserver.conf dconf.conf dconf-custom.conf 
debconf.conf deluser.conf 
wodim.conf wpa_supplicant.conf wvdial.conf xorg.conf

Generating Output With printf command

printf command format and display data on screen. However, printf does not provide a new line. You need to provide format string using % directives and escapes to format numeric and string arguments in a way that is mostly similar to the C printf() function. Use printf to generate formatted output.

printf Format Directives

From the printf man page:

  FORMAT controls the output as in C printf.  Interpreted sequences are:

       \"     double quote

       \NNN   character with octal value NNN (1 to 3 digits)

       \\     backslash

       \a     alert (BEL)

       \b     backspace

       \c     produce no further output

       \f     form feed

       \n     new line

       \r     carriage return

       \t     horizontal tab

       \v     vertical tab

       \xHH   byte with hexadecimal value HH (1 to 2 digits)

       \uHHHH Unicode (ISO/IEC 10646) character with hex value HHHH (4 digits)

              Unicode character with hex value HHHHHHHH (8 digits)

       %%     a single %

       %b     ARGUMENT as a string with '\' escapes interpreted, except that octal escapes are of the form 
              \0 or \0NNN and all C format specifications ending with one of diouxXfeEgGcs, 
              with ARGUMENTs converted to proper type first. Variable widths are handled.

Format control string syntax is as follows:

printf "%w.pL\n" $varName


  • w - Minimum field width.
  • p - Display number of digits after the decimal point (precision).
  • L - a conversion character. It can be:
    • s - String
    • d - Integer
    • e - Exponential
    • f - Floating point

printf Command Examples

Type the following at a shell prompt:

printf "%s\n" $vech
printf "%1s\n" $vech
printf "%1.1s\n" $vech
printf "%1.2s\n" $vech
printf "%1.3s\n" $vech
printf "%10.3s\n" $vech
printf "%10.1s\n" $vech
printf "%d\n" $no
printf "%e\n" $big
printf "%5.2e\n" $big
printf "%f\n" $sales
printf "%.2f\n" $sales

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