How to Read User Input in Bash

Reading user input is a fundamental aspect of interactive Bash scripting. It allows your script to gather information from the user and adapt its behavior accordingly. Here's a detailed explanation of how to read user input in Bash:

Basic Syntax:

The primary command for reading user input is read. It takes one or more variable names as arguments and stores the user's input into those variables. Here's the basic syntax:

read variable1 variable2 ...

Read Single User Input Using Bash Script

The read command is used to read a line of input from the user and assign it to a variable. The basic syntax is as follows:

read variable_name
For example:
#!/bin/bash echo "Enter your name:" read name echo "Hello, $name! Welcome to the Bash script."

Reading Multiple Values

You can use read to read multiple values into different variables by providing multiple variable names:

read -p "Enter your first name: " first_name read -p "Enter your last name: " last_name

Read Command arguments

The read command in Bash is versatile and comes with various options that allow you to customize how user input is obtained. Here's an explanation of some of the commonly used read command arguments:

Prompt String (-p)

The -p option is used to specify a custom prompt string. This allows you to display a message or a prompt before waiting for user input.

#!/bin/bash read -p "Enter your age: " age echo "You entered: $age years old."

In this script, the -p option is used to display the prompt "Enter your age: " before waiting for user input.

Password Input (-s)

The -s option is used to make the read command silent, meaning it won't display the user's input on the screen. This is often used when reading sensitive information like passwords:

#!/bin/bash read -s -p "Enter your password: " password echo # Move to the next line after password input echo "Password entered: $password"

In this script, the -s option ensures that the password entered by the user is not visible on the screen.

Changing the Delimiter (IFS)

The Internal Field Separator (IFS) is a special variable in Bash that determines how the shell recognizes word boundaries. By default, read uses spaces and tabs as delimiters. You can change the delimiter using the IFS variable:

#!/bin/bash IFS=',' read -p "Enter two values separated by commas: " value1 value2 echo "You entered: Value1=$value1, Value2=$value2"

In this example, the IFS is set to ',' before using the read command, allowing the user to enter two values separated by commas.

Parsing to the Array (-a)

The -a option allows you to read input into an array. Each word in the input is assigned to consecutive elements of the array:

#!/bin/bash read -a fruits -p "Enter three favorite fruits: " echo "Your favorite fruits are: ${fruits[0]}, ${fruits[1]}, ${fruits[2]}"

Here, the -a option is used to read three words (fruits) into an array named fruits.

Limiting Length of the Input (-n)

The -n option allows you to limit the number of characters read. It specifies the maximum number of characters to read:

#!/bin/bash read -n 3 -p "Enter a three-character code: " code echo "You entered: $code"

In this example, the -n 3 option ensures that only three characters are read from the user input.

Timed Input (-t)

The -t option allows you to set a timeout for the read command. If no input is received within the specified time, the command exits:

#!/bin/bash read -t 5 -p "Enter something within 5 seconds: " input if [ -z "$input" ]; then echo "No input received within 5 seconds." else echo "You entered: $input" fi

In this script, the -t 5 option sets a 5-second timeout. If the user doesn't enter anything within that time, a message is displayed.

Other Bash read Options

The read command in Bash comes with various options that provide flexibility and control over how user input is processed. Below are some of the commonly used options:


The -r option is used to prevent backslashes (\) from acting as escape characters. It is often used to read input that may contain backslashes without interpreting them.

#!/bin/bash echo "Enter a string with backslashes:" read -r user_input echo "You entered: $user_input"

In this example, the -r option ensures that backslashes are treated literally and not used as escape characters.


The -e option enables the use of the GNU Readline library, allowing for enhanced line editing capabilities. This allows the user to use arrow keys, backspace, and other editing features while entering input.

#!/bin/bash read -e -p "Enter a command: " user_command echo "You entered: $user_command"

The -e option is useful for improving the user experience when entering complex input.


User input is obtained using the read command, which allows for interactive communication with the script. Options such as -p enable custom prompts, -s allows for secure password entry, and -a facilitates input into arrays, enhancing flexibility in handling diverse user inputs.