I’ve started putting all my configuration files (which include many shell files) under version control. In the Git repository, I’ve configured a pre-commit hook that runs the checkbashisms utility from Debian’s devscripts package on each sh file in the repository as a simple sanity check to ensure that I don’t inadvertently introduce Bash-specific syntax into scripts that should be POSIX compatible.

Reason for using POSIX sh

I’m using /bin/sh as the interpreter for this pre-commit hook as it’s quicker for systems where /bin/sh is a link to dash. Committing files shouldn’t take a noticeable amount of time.

I don’t want to run checkbashisms if the only files staged for committing are non-shell files and for performance, I only want to execute checkbashisms command once and supply as arguments the names of all the relevant files that should be checked.

Arguments that may contain spaces

While I don’t normally create files with names containing unusual characters, I tried to write this script to be reasonably robust (without becoming overly complex, harder to read and prone to error on various inputs).

In a more fully-featured shell such as Bash, I’d process a list of file name arguments using an array. However, a plain POSIX shell (such as dash) doesn’t support array variables.

My solution

When using a POSIX shell, the positional parameters can often be used as a substitute but in this case, I couldn’t see how I could easily modify them to only add the filenames of shell scripts. The technique I used was to split fields using newlines (not spaces) and to use a string to store the arguments to be passed to checkbashisms.

I’ve verified that it works with filenames containing spaces and single quotes – but due to to how the shell represents names containing other characters, it doesn’t work with filenames containing double quotes, tabs, etc. This is fine as I really don’t expect to have to process such filenames.

However, it feels hacky and I don’t know if I’m introducing the potential for other errors (“unknown unknowns”). Modifying IFS is explicitly not recommended by Greg’s Wiki. I thought I’d post here in the hope that the robustness and/or maintainability of the code can be improved.



# Check shell scripts for Bashisms if the `checkbashisms` utility is installed.
# Called by "git commit" with no arguments.  This hook should exit with a
# non-zero status after issuing an appropriate message if it wants to stop the
# commit.
# Allows for files with spaces or single quotes in their name – but not any
# other unusual characters.

set -u  # -o nounset – exit with failure if an unset shell variable is referenced.
set -e  # -o errexit – exit script if any command fails.
set -o noclobber  # prevent shell redirection from over-writing files.

if ! command -v checkbashisms >/dev/null 2>&1; then
  echo "‘checkbashisms’ is not available; it can be installed from the ‘devscripts’ package."
  echo "Checking for Bashisms in shell scripts..."

  # Use only newline characters (not spaces) to split filenames.
"  # POSIX way to set IFS to newline (be careful with indentation).
  set -f  # Disable globbing of pathnames.
  # Arrays are not defined by POSIX so store arguments in a string variable.

  # Get list of filenames that have been staged for committing.
  for file in $(git diff --cached --name-only); do
    # Only process shell scripts.
    case "$file" in *.sh|shell/*.sh)
      # Add file to list of arguments (separated by newlines).
$file"  # again, be careful with indentation of the code.

  # If any shell files have been staged, check their syntax for Bashisms.
  if [ "$filenames" ]; then
    if checkbashisms $filenames; then   # no quotes for field-splitting.
      printf "(No Bashisms found)"
      exit 1

  # Restore file globbing and IFS.
  unset IFS
  set +f

# Further code to check for other issues ...

1 Answer 1


First thing, you could turn the check if the checkbashisms tool is installed into a guard clause, shaving off one level of indentation:

if ! command -v checkbashisms >/dev/null 2>&1; then
    echo "‘checkbashisms’ is not available; it can be installed from the ‘devscripts’ package."
    exit 1

The remaining logic can be simplified a lot with the xargs tool.

if git diff --cached --name-only | grep "\\.sh$" | xargs checkbashisms; then
    printf "(No Bashisms found)"
    exit 1

I understand that the code you showed it only part of a bigger script and you still want to use the generated list of files. However, calling git diff repeatedly will have negligible overhead and you can wrap the code in a shell function like this:

staged_scripts() {
    git diff --cached --name-only | grep "\\.sh$"

staged_scripts | xargs checkbashisms

Or even

check_staged_scripts() {
    git diff --cached --name-only | grep "\\.sh$" | xargs $1

check_staged_scripts "checkbashisms"
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Anselm, that’s a great review. I’ve since modified my script somewhat but your answer is still applicable. I like your xargs pipeline – it’s much more elegant than the for loop with its conditional statements. BTW, I see you only recently joined the Stack Exchange network so I’d like to say, “Wilkommen”. \$\endgroup\$ May 26, 2016 at 8:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Dankeschön! It was my pleasure. \$\endgroup\$ May 26, 2016 at 11:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just pointing out that some people sometimes name bash files .bash , so I would add that to the valid file extension regex. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chev_603
    Jul 6, 2017 at 5:02

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