What Is Option in Shell Scripting?


Angela Bailey

In shell scripting, an option is a command-line argument that modifies the behavior of a shell script. Options are used to provide flexibility and customization to the script’s execution.

How to Define Options in a Shell Script

To define options in a shell script, you can use the getopts command or the getopt function. These tools allow you to specify which options are available and how they should be handled.

The getopts Command

The getopts command is a built-in shell command that is used to parse command-line options. It takes two arguments: the option string and the name of the variable that will store each option as it is parsed.

To use getopts, you need to define an option string that lists all the valid options for your script. Each letter in the string represents an option, and if a letter is followed by a colon (e.g., “a:”), it means that option requires an argument.

Here’s an example:


while getopts "abc:" opt; do
  case $opt in
      echo "Option -a was specified"
      echo "Option -b was specified"
      echo "Option -c was specified with argument $OPTARG"
      echo "Invalid option: -$OPTARG"

This script defines three options: -a, -b, and -c. The -c option requires an argument, which can be accessed using the $OPTARG variable.

The getopt Function

The getopt function is an alternative to the getopts command. It provides more advanced option parsing capabilities and is available in most modern shells.

To use getopt, you need to pass it the command-line arguments as an array, along with a string specifying the valid options and their arguments. The function will then parse the arguments and return them in a format that can be easily processed by your script.

options=$(getopt -o abc: — “$@”)
eval set — “$options”

while true; do
case $1 in
echo “Option -a was specified”
echo “Option -b was specified”
echo “Option -c was specified with argument $2”
shift 2
echo “Invalid option: $1”
exit 1

This script uses the getopt function to parse options. It defines three options: -a, -b, and -c. The -c option requires an argument, which can be accessed using the $2 variable.

Tips for Using Options in Shell Scripts

  • Keep it simple: Avoid using too many options in your script, as it can make it difficult for users to remember and understand their purpose.
  • Provide help: Include a help option that displays usage information and explains each available option.
  • Handle invalid options: Make sure your script gracefully handles invalid options by displaying an error message and providing guidance on correct usage.
  • Document your options: Clearly document the purpose and behavior of each option in your script’s documentation to make it easier for users to understand and utilize them.

By using options in your shell scripts, you can enhance their functionality and make them more user-friendly and versatile. Whether you choose to use getopts or getopt, understanding how to define and handle options will significantly improve your scripting skills.

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