What Is Expect Scripting?


Scott Campbell

Expect scripting is a powerful tool used in the world of automation and system administration. It allows you to automate interactions with programs that require user input, such as command-line interfaces, login prompts, or interactive scripts. With Expect scripting, you can create automated workflows that handle complex tasks, making your life as a system administrator much easier.

What is Expect?

Expect is an extension of the Tcl scripting language that provides additional commands for automating interactive tasks. Tcl (pronounced “tickle”) stands for Tool Command Language and is widely used in various domains, including network programming, GUI development, and automation.

Expect adds new commands to Tcl that enable you to send input to programs and match their output against patterns. This makes it possible to write scripts that can interact with other programs just like a human would.

Getting Started with Expect

To get started with Expect scripting, you first need to install the Expect package on your system. The installation process may vary depending on your operating system, but most Linux distributions have Expect available through their package manager.

Once installed, you can start writing Expect scripts using any text editor. Save your script with a .exp extension to indicate that it’s an Expect script.

Basic Syntax

The basic syntax of an Expect script consists of a series of commands that perform actions and expect certain patterns in the output. Here’s an example:


spawn ssh user@hostname
expect "password: "
send "my_password\r"
expect "$ "
send "ls\r"
expect "$ "
send "exit\r"
expect eof
  • spawn: This command starts a new process and connects it to the script. In this example, it initiates an SSH connection to a remote host.
  • expect: This command waits for a specific pattern to appear in the output. In the example, it waits for the “password: ” prompt and the “$ ” shell prompt.
  • send: This command sends input to the spawned process.

    It can be used to send passwords, commands, or any other text. Note that “\r” is used to simulate pressing the Enter key.

  • eof: This command waits for the spawned process to exit. It ensures that all output has been processed before terminating the script.

Advanced Features

In addition to basic interaction, Expect provides several advanced features that make it even more powerful:

  • Regular Expressions: Expect supports regular expressions for pattern matching, allowing you to create more flexible and dynamic scripts.
  • Timeouts: You can specify timeouts for expect commands, which allow your script to handle situations where a prompt or response doesn’t appear within a certain time frame.
  • Logging: Expect provides logging capabilities that allow you to record the interaction between your script and the Target program. This can be useful for debugging or auditing purposes.


Expect scripting is a valuable tool for automating interactions with programs that require user input. By leveraging its capabilities, you can streamline your workflows and save time on repetitive tasks. Whether you’re managing network devices, configuring servers, or testing software, Expect scripting can help you automate with ease.

If you’re interested in learning more about Expect scripting, be sure to explore the official documentation and experiment with writing your own scripts. With practice, you’ll become proficient in using Expect to automate complex interactions and boost your productivity as a system administrator.

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