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About bash : Expansion-of-variables-inside-single-quotes-in-a-command-in-Bash

Question Detail

I want to run a command from a bash script which has single quotes and some other commands inside the single quotes and a variable.

e.g. repo forall -c '....$variable'

In this format, $ is escaped and the variable is not expanded.

I tried the following variations but they were rejected:

repo forall -c '...."$variable" '

repo forall -c " '....$variable' "

" repo forall -c '....$variable' "

repo forall -c "'" ....$variable "'"

If I substitute the value in place of the variable the command is executed just fine.

Please tell me where am I going wrong.

Question Answer

Inside single quotes everything is preserved literally, without exception.

That means you have to close the quotes, insert something, and then re-enter again.


Word concatenation is simply done by juxtaposition. As you can verify, each of the above lines is a single word to the shell. Quotes (single or double quotes, depending on the situation) don’t isolate words. They are only used to disable interpretation of various special characters, like whitespace, $, ;… For a good tutorial on quoting see Mark Reed’s answer. Also relevant: Which characters need to be escaped in bash?

Do not concatenate strings interpreted by a shell

You should absolutely avoid building shell commands by concatenating variables. This is a bad idea similar to concatenation of SQL fragments (SQL injection!).

Usually it is possible to have placeholders in the command, and to supply the command together with variables so that the callee can receive them from the invocation arguments list.

For example, the following is very unsafe. DON’T DO THIS

script="echo \"Argument 1 is: $myvar\""
/bin/sh -c "$script"

If the contents of $myvar is untrusted, here is an exploit:

myvar='foo"; echo "you were hacked'

Instead of the above invocation, use positional arguments. The following invocation is better — it’s not exploitable:

script='echo "arg 1 is: $1"'
/bin/sh -c "$script" -- "$myvar"

Note the use of single ticks in the assignment to script, which means that it’s taken literally, without variable expansion or any other form of interpretation.

The repo command can’t care what kind of quotes it gets. If you need parameter expansion, use double quotes. If that means you wind up having to backslash a lot of stuff, use single quotes for most of it, and then break out of them and go into doubles for the part where you need the expansion to happen.

repo forall -c 'literal stuff goes here; '"stuff with $parameters here"' more literal stuff'

Explanation follows, if you’re interested.

When you run a command from the shell, what that command receives as arguments is an array of null-terminated strings. Those strings may contain absolutely any non-null character.

But when the shell is building that array of strings from a command line, it interprets some characters specially; this is designed to make commands easier (indeed, possible) to type. For instance, spaces normally indicate the boundary between strings in the array; for that reason, the individual arguments are sometimes called “words”. But an argument may nonetheless have spaces in it; you just need some way to tell the shell that’s what you want.

You can use a backslash in front of any character (including space, or another backslash) to tell the shell to treat that character literally. But while you can do something like this:

reply=\”That\'ll\ be\ \$4.96,\ please,\"\ said\ the\ cashier

…it can get tiresome. So the shell offers an alternative: quotation marks. These come in two main varieties.

Double-quotation marks are called “grouping quotes”. They prevent wildcards and aliases from being expanded, but mostly they’re for including spaces in a word. Other things like parameter and command expansion (the sorts of thing signaled by a $) still happen. And of course if you want a literal double-quote inside double-quotes, you have to backslash it:

reply="\"That'll be \$4.96, please,\" said the cashier"

Single-quotation marks are more draconian. Everything between them is taken completely literally, including backslashes. There is absolutely no way to get a literal single quote inside single quotes.

Fortunately, quotation marks in the shell are not word delimiters; by themselves, they don’t terminate a word. You can go in and out of quotes, including between different types of quotes, within the same word to get the desired result:

reply='"That'\''ll be $4.96, please," said the cashier'

So that’s easier – a lot fewer backslashes, although the close-single-quote, backslashed-literal-single-quote, open-single-quote sequence takes some getting used to.

Modern shells have added another quoting style not specified by the POSIX standard, in which the leading single quotation mark is prefixed with a dollar sign. Strings so quoted follow similar conventions to string literals in the ANSI standard version of the C programming language, and are therefore sometimes called “ANSI strings” and the $'' pair “ANSI quotes”. Within such strings, the above advice about backslashes being taken literally no longer applies. Instead, they become special again – not only can you include a literal single quotation mark or backslash by prepending a backslash to it, but the shell also expands the ANSI C character escapes (like \n for a newline, \t for tab, and \xHH for the character with hexadecimal code HH). Otherwise, however, they behave as single-quoted strings: no parameter or command substitution takes place:

reply=$'"That\'ll be $4.96, please," said the cashier'

The important thing to note is that the single string that gets stored in the reply variable is exactly the same in all of these examples. Similarly, after the shell is done parsing a command line, there is no way for the command being run to tell exactly how each argument string was actually typed – or even if it was typed, rather than being created programmatically somehow.

Below is what worked for me –

hive -e "alter table TBL_NAME set location $QUOTE$TBL_HDFS_DIR_PATH$QUOTE"

EDIT: (As per the comments in question:)

I’ve been looking into this since then. I was lucky enough that I had repo laying around. Still it’s not clear to me whether you need to enclose your commands between single quotes by force. I looked into the repo syntax and I don’t think you need to. You could used double quotes around your command, and then use whatever single and double quotes you need inside provided you escape double ones.

just use printf

instead of

repo forall -c '....$variable'

use printf to replace the variable token with the expanded variable.

For example:

template='.... %s'

repo forall -c $(printf "${template}" "${variable}")

Variables can contain single quotes.


repo forall -c $myvar

Does this work for you?

eval repo forall -c '....$variable'

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