Shell Expansion | Bash

Bash shell expansion is a powerful feature that allows you to modify and manipulate words before the shell executes a command. It is essentially a series of operations that are performed on the words after they are parsed from the command line. These expansions make writing efficient and concise scripts while providing flexibility for various tasks.

Here's a breakdown of the different types of shell expansions:

Brace expansion

Brace expansion in Bash enables the creation of sequences, lists, or combinations. It simplifies command-line input by providing a concise way to generate repetitive patterns. For example, echo {1..5} generates the sequence "1 2 3 4 5." This feature enhances the efficiency and readability of commands in the Bash shell.

echo {1..5} # Output: 1 2 3 4 5

Tilde expansion

Tilde expansion in Bash involves replacing the tilde (~) with the home directory path of the current user. For instance, echo ~ yields the home directory path, such as "/home/username." This simplifies referencing the home directory in commands, enhancing ease of use in the Bash shell.

echo ~ # Output: /home/username

Parameter Expansion

Parameter expansion in Bash facilitates variable manipulation, offering a versatile tool for modifying variable values or incorporating them into strings. For instance, using ${variable} allows dynamic referencing and manipulation, enhancing the flexibility and functionality of scripts and commands in the Bash shell.

name="John" echo "Hello, ${name}" # Output: Hello, John

Command Substitution

Command substitution in Bash involves replacing a command with its output, allowing the use of that output as part of another command or assignment to a variable. For example, current_date=$(date) captures the current date's output, enabling its utilization in subsequent commands or scripts.

current_date=$(date) echo "Current date: ${current_date}"

Arithmetic Expansion

Arithmetic expansion in Bash facilitates the execution of mathematical operations within double parentheses, providing a concise method for numerical calculations. For instance, result=$((2 + 3)) computes the sum and stores it in the variable, enabling efficient arithmetic operations in Bash scripts and commands.

result=$((2 + 3)) echo "Result: ${result}"

Pathname Expansion (Globbing)

Pathname expansion, also known as globbing, in Bash involves matching filenames and directories using wildcard characters like * and ?. For instance, ls *.txt lists all files with the .txt extension. This powerful feature simplifies working with multiple files and directories in the Bash shell.

ls *.txt # Lists all files with the .txt extension in the current directory

Word Splitting

Word splitting in Bash involves dividing a string into words based on the Internal Field Separator (IFS), usually whitespace. For example, with sentence="This is a sentence", using $sentence within an array splits the string into individual words, aiding in processing and manipulating text data effectively.

sentence="This is a sentence" words=($sentence) echo ${words[2]} # Output: a

Filename Expansion

Filename expansion, a form of globbing in Bash, involves matching filenames using wildcard characters such as * and ?. For instance, ls *.txt lists all files with the .txt extension. This feature simplifies working with specific sets of files and directories in the Bash shell.

mv *.txt backup/ moves all files with the .txt extension to the backup directory. cat file_[1-3].txt concatenates the contents of file_1.txt, file_2.txt, and file_3.txt.
Important Note:

The order of these expansions is crucial. Brace expansion and tilde expansion occur first, followed by parameter and variable expansion, arithmetic expansion, and command substitution, then word splitting, and finally filename expansion. Understanding this order helps predict the outcome of complex expansions.


Bash shell expansion encompasses various mechanisms for simplifying and manipulating command-line input. Examples include brace expansion for generating sequences, parameter expansion for variable manipulation, and filename expansion (globbing) for matching files based on wildcards, collectively enhancing the efficiency and expressiveness of Bash commands.