# Here documents and here strings

# Execute command with here document

ssh -p 21 example@example.com <<EOF
  echo 'printing pwd'
  echo "\$(pwd)"
  ls -a
  find '*.txt'
EOF

$ is escaped because we do not want it to be expanded by the current shell i.e $(pwd) is to be executed on the remote shell.

Another way:

ssh -p 21 example@example.com <<'EOF'
  echo 'printing pwd'
  echo "$(pwd)"
  ls -a
  find '*.txt'
EOF    

Note: The closing EOF should be at the beginning of the line (No whitespaces before). If indentation is required, tabs may be used if you start your heredoc with <<-. See the Indenting here documents and Limit Strings examples for more information.

# Indenting here documents

You can indent the text inside here documents with tabs, you need to use the <<- redirection operator instead of <<:

$ cat <<- EOF
    This is some content indented with tabs `\t`.
    You cannot indent with spaces you __have__ to use tabs.
    Bash will remove empty space before these lines.
    __Note__: Be sure to replace spaces with tabs when copying this example.
EOF

This is some content indented with tabs _\t_.
You cannot indent with spaces you __have__ to use tabs.
Bash will remove empty space before these lines.
__Note__: Be sure to replace spaces with tabs when copying this example.

One practical use case of this (as mentioned in man bash) is in shell scripts, for example:

if cond; then
    cat <<- EOF
    hello
    there
    EOF
fi

It is customary to indent the lines within code blocks as in this if statement, for better readability. Without the <<- operator syntax, we would be forced to write the above code like this:

if cond; then
    cat << EOF
hello
there
EOF
fi

That's very unpleasant to read, and it gets much worse in a more complex realistic script.

# Here strings

You can feed a command using here strings like this:

$ awk '{print $2}' <<< "hello world - how are you?"
world

$ awk '{print $1}' <<< "hello how are you
> she is fine"
hello
she

You can also feed a while loop with a here string:

$ while IFS=" " read -r word1 word2 rest
> do
> echo "$word1"
> done <<< "hello how are you - i am fine"
hello

# Create a file

A classic use of here documents is to create a file by typing its content:

cat > fruits.txt << EOF
apple
orange
lemon
EOF

The here-document is the lines between the << EOF and EOF.

This here document becomes the input of the cat command. The cat command simply outputs its input, and using the output redirection operator > we redirect to a file fruits.txt.

As a result, the fruits.txt file will contain the lines:

apple
orange
lemon

The usual rules of output redirection apply: if fruits.txt did not exist before, it will be created. If it existed before, it will be truncated.

# Run several commands with sudo

sudo -s <<EOF
  a='var'
  echo 'Running serveral commands with sudo'
  mktemp -d
  echo "\$a"
EOF

  • $a needs to be escaped to prevent it to be expanded by the current shell

Or

sudo -s <<'EOF'
  a='var'
  echo 'Running serveral commands with sudo'
  mktemp -d
  echo "$a"
EOF

# Limit Strings

A heredoc uses the limitstring to determine when to stop consuming input. The terminating limitstring must

  • Be at the start of a line.
  • Be the only text on the line Note: If you use <<- the limitstring can be prefixed with tabs \t

Correct:

cat <<limitstring
line 1
line 2
limitstring

This will output:

line 1
line 2

Incorrect use:

cat <<limitstring
line 1
line 2
 limitstring

Since limitstring on the last line is not exactly at the start of the line, the shell will continue to wait for further input, until it sees a line that starts with limitstring and doesn't contain anything else. Only then it will stop waiting for input, and proceed to pass the here-document to the cat command.

Note that when you prefix the initial limitstring with a hyphen, any tabs at the start of the line are removed before parsing, so the data and the limit string can be indented with tabs (for ease of reading in shell scripts).

cat <<-limitstring
        line 1    has a tab each before the words line and has
            line 2 has two leading tabs
        limitstring

will produce

line 1    has a tab each before the words line and has
line 2 has two leading tabs

with the leading tabs (but not the internal tabs) removed.