for loop

Bash Script – For Loop

In the world of Bash scripting, loops are like magical tools that help you automate repetitive tasks. They allow your script to perform a specific set of actions again and again until a certain condition is met. One of the most powerful and frequently used types of loops in Bash is the ‘for’ loop.

Table of Contents

In this article, we’ll take a journey through the world of ‘for’ loops in Bash scripting. We’ll start with the basics, explaining the syntax and usage of ‘for’ loops, and then dive into various types of ‘for’ loops, each with its own unique abilities.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid understanding of how ‘for’ loops work and how to use them in your Bash scripts to make your life as a scripter much easier. Whether you’re a beginner or someone looking to sharpen their Bash scripting skills, this article is here to guide you through the fantastic world of ‘for’ loops.

Loops in Programming

In programming, loops are like the “repeat” buttons on your music player. They allow you to do the same thing over and over again, which is super handy when you have tasks that are repetitive. Let’s say you want to count from 1 to 10, or you want to go through a list of names and do something with each one – that’s where loops come in.

Why Loops are Essential

Loops are crucial in programming because they help you save time and effort. Imagine you have to print “Hello” ten times. Instead of writing the same line of code ten times, you can use a loop to do it for you. This is especially handy in Bash scripting because you often need to repeat tasks like processing files or running commands on a list of items.

Introduction to the ‘for’ Loop

Among the various types of loops in Bash scripting, the ‘for’ loop is like your trusty tour guide. It takes you through a list of items, one at a time, and you get to decide what to do with each item. The ‘for’ loop is versatile and can be used in many situations.

Here’s a simple example to give you a taste of how it works:


# Let's use a 'for' loop to count from 1 to 5
for i in 1 2 3 4 5
  echo "Count: $i"

In this example, we use a ‘for’ loop to go through the numbers 1 to 5. For each number, it echoes “Count: X,” where X is the number in the sequence. This is just the beginning of what ‘for’ loops can do, and we’ll explore more in the following sections.

Syntax and Usage of For Loops in Bash

The ‘for’ loop is like a workhorse in Bash scripting. It allows you to go through a list of items, one by one, and perform actions with them. Let’s break down the key elements of a ‘for’ loop in simple terms:

The Syntax of a ‘for’ Loop

A ‘for’ loop in Bash typically follows this structure:

for variable in list
  # Commands to be executed for each item in the list
  • for: This is the keyword that starts the loop.
  • variable: This is a variable that you create to represent each item in the list.
  • in: This keyword separates the variable from the list.
  • list: This is the set of items that the loop will go through, separated by spaces.

The Role of Variables, Sequences, ‘do,’ and ‘done’

  • variable: You create this variable, and it takes on the value of each item in the list as the loop progresses. It’s like a temporary container for each item.
  • list: The list is the group of items you want to work with in your loop. It can be a set of numbers, words, or any data you need to process.
  • do and done: These are markers that define the beginning and end of the loop. Everything between do and done gets executed for each item in the list.

Common Use Cases for ‘for’ Loops in Scripting

Here are a few examples of how ‘for’ loops can be useful in your scripts:

Numbered Sequence:


for number in 1 2 3 4 5
  echo "Number: $number"

This loop counts from 1 to 5 and prints each number.

Word List:


fruits="apple banana cherry date"

for fruit in $fruits
  echo "Fruit: $fruit"

In this case, the loop goes through a list of fruits and prints each one.

File Processing


# Assume there are files named file1.txt, file2.txt, file3.txt
for file in file*.txt
  echo "Processing file: $file"
  # Add commands to process each file here

This loop processes a list of files that match the pattern file*.txt.

These examples illustrate the versatility of ‘for’ loops in Bash scripting. You can use them to iterate through a variety of lists and perform different actions on each item.

Simple For Loop in Bash Scripting

A simple ‘for’ loop is like a friendly guide that takes you through a list of items one by one. It’s great when you want to perform a task on each item in a predefined list. Let’s break it down:

Introduction to a Simple ‘for’ Loop

A simple ‘for’ loop is a loop that follows a basic structure. It starts with a set of predefined items and processes each item one at a time. It’s ideal for situations where you have a clear list of things to work on.

A Basic Example of a Simple ‘for’ Loop

Here’s a simple example of a ‘for’ loop that counts from 1 to 5:


# This is a simple 'for' loop that counts from 1 to 5
for number in 1 2 3 4 5
  echo "Count: $number"

In this script:

  • We start the loop with for number in 1 2 3 4 5. This sets up our list of numbers to count.
  • Inside the loop, echo "Count: $number" prints each number in the sequence.

Key Components of a Simple ‘for’ Loop

A simple ‘for’ loop has three key components:

Initialization: This is where you define your loop variable (in the example, number) and the list of items you want to work with (e.g., 1 2 3 4 5).

Condition: The loop runs as long as there are items left in the list. It automatically moves to the next item in the list after each iteration.

Increment: This happens automatically as the loop moves to the next item in the list.

That’s the essence of a simple ‘for’ loop – it’s like having a helper that guides you through a list of things to do.

Range-Based For Loop in Bash Scripting

A range-based ‘for’ loop is like a map that lets you explore a specific range of numbers or values in your Bash script. It’s a convenient way to work with sequences and numbers within a defined range. Let’s delve into this concept:

How to Use a Range-Based ‘for’ Loop

In a range-based ‘for’ loop, you define a starting point, an ending point, and a step value to iterate through a range of values. Here’s the basic syntax:

for (( variable = start; variable <= end; variable += step ))
  # Commands to execute for each value in the range

variable: This is the loop variable that takes on values within the specified range.

start: It’s the beginning value of the range.

end: The ending value of the range.

step: The value by which the variable increments with each iteration.

Examples of Range-Based ‘for’ Loops

Let’s look at some practical examples:

Counting in Sequence:


# Count from 1 to 10 in steps of 2
for (( i = 1; i <= 10; i += 2 ))
  echo "Number: $i"

In this script, the ‘for’ loop counts from 1 to 10 in steps of 2, resulting in an output of odd numbers.

Numbering Files:


# Number files from 1 to 5
for (( file_num = 1; file_num <= 5; file_num++ ))
  touch "file$file_num.txt"

This script creates five files named file1.txt, file2.txt, and so on, by iterating through the range.

Array Iteration for Loops in Bash Scripting

Using ‘for’ loops to iterate through arrays is like having a magic wand for handling lists of items. Arrays are like containers that can hold multiple values, and ‘for’ loops can help you process each of these values one at a time. Let’s dive into this concept:

Introducing ‘for’ Loops with Arrays

In Bash, an array is a variable that can hold multiple values. You can use a ‘for’ loop to go through each item in the array and perform actions with them. This is incredibly useful when you have a collection of data to work with.

Creating and Accessing Arrays

To create an array in Bash, you can do the following:

fruits=("apple" "banana" "cherry" "date")

To access elements in the array, you can use the ${array[index]} notation. For example:

echo "The first fruit is ${fruits[0]}"

Array Iteration Using ‘for’ Loops

Here’s an example of using a ‘for’ loop to iterate through an array of fruits:


# Create an array of fruits
fruits=("apple" "banana" "cherry" "date")

# Iterate through the array and print each fruit
for fruit in "${fruits[@]}"
  echo "Fruit: $fruit"

In this script:

  • We create an array called fruits containing four fruit names.
  • The ‘for’ loop then goes through each item in the fruits array.
  • It prints “Fruit: [fruit_name]” for each fruit, using the loop variable fruit to represent each item.

Using ‘for’ loops with arrays allows you to process collections of data efficiently. You can use this approach to search, modify, or perform various tasks with the elements in an array.

C-Styled For Loops in Bash Scripting

C-styled ‘for’ loops bring a different flavor to Bash scripting, resembling their counterparts in the C programming language. They offer a bit more control and flexibility compared to standard ‘for’ loops. Let’s delve into this topic:

Introduction to C-Styled ‘for’ Loops

In C-styled ‘for’ loops, you have more fine-grained control over loop initialization, conditions, and incrementing or decrementing variables. They are particularly useful when you need precise control over loop execution.

Comparing C-Styled ‘for’ Loops with Standard ‘for’ Loops

Here’s a basic comparison between C-styled and standard ‘for’ loops:

Standard ‘for’ Loop:

for item in list
  # Actions

C-Styled ‘for’ Loop:

for (( initialization; condition; increment/decrement ))
  # Actions

Use Cases for C-Styled ‘for’ Loops

C-styled ‘for’ loops can be more appropriate in situations that require fine-tuned control over loop variables, especially when working with numbers. Here are some examples:

Counting Down:


# Count down from 10 to 1 using a C-styled 'for' loop
for (( i = 10; i >= 1; i-- ))
  echo "Count: $i"

This script counts down from 10 to 1, which is more challenging with a standard ‘for’ loop.

Precise Ranges:


# Iterate through a range from 100 to 200 in steps of 10
for (( num = 100; num <= 200; num += 10 ))
  echo "Number: $num"

C-styled ‘for’ loops are handy when you need to work with specific numeric ranges and precise increments or decrements.

While standard ‘for’ loops are versatile and sufficient for many tasks, C-styled ‘for’ loops provide extra control when dealing with more intricate numerical sequences or when you need to count down.

Infinite For Loop in Bash Scripting

An infinite ‘for’ loop is like a never-ending story in your script. It keeps going on and on, which might sound strange, but there are times when you need this kind of loop. Let’s explore this topic:

The Concept of an Infinite ‘for’ Loop

An infinite ‘for’ loop is a loop that doesn’t have a natural end condition. It’s as if you want your script to keep doing something forever until you decide to stop it. This might seem unusual, but there are situations where it can be quite handy.

When and Why an Infinite Loop May Be Needed

Infinite loops are useful when you want your script to continuously perform a task until you manually intervene. Some common scenarios include running a script as a background process or developing interactive programs that wait for user input indefinitely.

Managing Infinite Loops with Control Statements

To prevent your script from running indefinitely, you can use control statements like ‘break’ and ‘continue.’

break is used to exit the loop. For example, you can include a condition that, when met, triggers a ‘break’ statement to exit the loop.

continue is used to skip the current iteration and move to the next one. You might use it when certain conditions don’t allow a particular iteration to continue processing, but you don’t want to exit the loop entirely.

Here’s an example that demonstrates an infinite ‘for’ loop with a ‘break’ statement:


# An infinite loop that waits for user input
while true
  read -p "Enter 'q' to quit: " user_input
  if [ "$user_input" == "q" ]
    break  # Break the loop when the user enters 'q'

echo "Loop terminated."

In this script:

  • We use a ‘while true’ loop, which is essentially an infinite loop.
  • It waits for user input and checks if the input is ‘q.’
  • If the user enters ‘q,’ the ‘break’ statement is executed, and the loop is terminated.

This example showcases the concept of an infinite ‘for’ loop and how control statements like ‘break’ can help manage it, ensuring that it doesn’t run indefinitely.

Practical Examples and Use Cases of ‘for’ Loops in Bash Scripting

‘For’ loops are essential tools in Bash scripting, used for a wide range of tasks. Let’s explore some real-world examples of how ‘for’ loops can be applied in different scripting scenarios:

File Processing:

In this example, we use a ‘for’ loop to process a batch of files in a directory, such as renaming or converting them.


# Iterate through all .txt files in the current directory
for file in *.txt
  # Perform an action on each file, e.g., renaming or processing the content
  echo "Processing file: $file"

Directory Traversal:

You can use ‘for’ loops to traverse directories and access files or subdirectories within them.


# List all subdirectories in the current directory
for dir in */
  # Perform actions related to each subdirectory
  echo "Entering directory: $dir"
  cd "$dir"
  # Additional actions within the subdirectory
  cd ..

Text Manipulation:

In this example, we use a ‘for’ loop to process lines in a text file.


# Process each line in a text file
while IFS= read -r line
  # Perform actions on each line, such as parsing or searching
  echo "Processing line: $line"
done < input.txt

Database Record Processing:

When working with databases, ‘for’ loops can be used to fetch and process records.


# Connect to a database and fetch records
for record in $(mysql -u username -p -e "SELECT * FROM table")
  # Process each record, e.g., data manipulation or analysis
  echo "Processing record: $record"

Batch Image Processing:

‘For’ loops are handy for batch processing images or other files.


# Process a batch of image files
for image in *.jpg
  # Resize or modify each image
  convert "$image" -resize 800x600 "resized_$image"

These practical examples demonstrate the versatility of ‘for’ loops in various real-world scripting scenarios, from managing files and directories to processing text, database records, or batches of images.

Best Practices and Tips for ‘for’ Loops in Bash Scripting

While ‘for’ loops are valuable tools, using them effectively and efficiently requires some best practices. Here are some tips and advice for working with ‘for’ loops in your Bash scripts:

Keep It Simple:

Avoid overly complex loops. If you find your ‘for’ loop is becoming too complicated, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable loops or functions.

Use Descriptive Variable Names:

Choose variable names that are meaningful and help others understand your code. For example, use file instead of f, and counter instead of c.

Indent and Comment:

Indent your ‘for’ loop and provide comments to make the code more readable. This helps both you and others who might review or modify your script.


# Iterate through a list of files and print their names
for file in file1.txt file2.txt file3.txt
  echo "Processing file: $file"

Validate Input:

When working with user input or external data, validate it to prevent unexpected behavior. Make sure your loop can handle different scenarios gracefully.

Avoid Infinite Loops:

Be cautious when using infinite loops. Always include a way to exit, whether it’s based on user input, a specific condition, or a ‘break’ statement.


# Infinite loop with a way to exit
while true
  read -p "Enter 'q' to quit: " user_input
  if [ "$user_input" == "q" ]

Test and Debug:

Test your ‘for’ loops with different inputs to ensure they behave as expected. Use debugging tools and techniques to catch and fix errors.

Optimize Performance:

For large datasets, consider optimization techniques like parallel processing or minimizing disk I/O to enhance performance.

Avoid Unnecessary Actions:

Avoid executing actions inside a loop that can be performed outside of it. For instance, if you’re writing to a file, open the file before the loop and close it afterward.

Keep an Eye on Efficiency:

If you’re processing a long list, be mindful of loop efficiency. Reducing the number of external commands within the loop can speed up execution.

Stay Consistent:

Be consistent with your coding style and practices across your script. It makes your code easier to maintain and collaborate on.

Following these best practices will help you write clean, efficient, and reliable ‘for’ loops in your Bash scripts, making your code more manageable and less prone to errors.


‘For’ loops are powerful tools in Bash scripting, enabling you to automate tasks, process data, and manage files efficiently. With a solid understanding of their syntax and practical applications, you can unlock the full potential of ‘for’ loops. Remember to keep your code clean, test thoroughly, and optimize for performance. Whether you’re processing files, manipulating text, or tackling real-world challenges, ‘for’ loops are your reliable companions in the world of Bash scripting. So, go ahead, experiment, and embrace the possibilities of automation and efficiency with ‘for’ loops.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a ‘for’ loop in Bash scripting?

A ‘for’ loop is a control structure in Bash that allows you to iterate over a list of items or perform actions a specific number of times.

How does a ‘for’ loop work?

What is the difference between standard and C-styled ‘for’ loops?

When would I need an infinite ‘for’ loop?

How can I exit an infinite ‘for’ loop?

What are the best practices for using ‘for’ loops in Bash scripting?

Can ‘for’ loops be used for practical tasks?

How can I improve the performance of ‘for’ loops?


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