EXPR(1P) POSIX Programmer's Manual EXPR(1P)PROLOG
This manual page is part of the POSIX Programmer's Manual. The Linux
implementation of this interface may differ (consult the corresponding
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not be implemented on Linux.
NAMEexpr - evaluate arguments as an expression
The expr utility shall evaluate an expression and write the result to
The single expression evaluated by expr shall be formed from the oper‐
ands, as described in the EXTENDED DESCRIPTION section. The application
shall ensure that each of the expression operator symbols:
( ) | & = > >= < <= != + - * / % :
and the symbols integer and string in the table are provided as sepa‐
rate arguments to expr.
The following environment variables shall affect the execution of expr:
LANG Provide a default value for the internationalization variables
that are unset or null. (See the Base Definitions volume of
IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Section 8.2, Internationalization Vari‐
ables for the precedence of internationalization variables used
to determine the values of locale categories.)
LC_ALL If set to a non-empty string value, override the values of all
the other internationalization variables.
Determine the locale for the behavior of ranges, equivalence
classes, and multi-character collating elements within regular
expressions and by the string comparison operators.
Determine the locale for the interpretation of sequences of
bytes of text data as characters (for example, single-byte as
opposed to multi-byte characters in arguments) and the behavior
of character classes within regular expressions.
Determine the locale that should be used to affect the format
and contents of diagnostic messages written to standard error.
Determine the location of message catalogs for the processing of
The expr utility shall evaluate the expression and write the result,
followed by a <newline>, to standard output.
The standard error shall be used only for diagnostic messages.
The formation of the expression to be evaluated is shown in the follow‐
ing table. The symbols expr, expr1, and expr2 represent expressions
formed from integer and string symbols and the expression operator sym‐
bols (all separate arguments) by recursive application of the con‐
structs described in the table. The expressions are listed in order of
increasing precedence, with equal-precedence operators grouped between
horizontal lines. All of the operators shall be left-associative.
expr1 | expr2 Returns the evaluation of expr1 if it is
neither null nor zero; otherwise,
returns the evaluation of expr2 if it is
not null; otherwise, zero.
expr1 & expr2 Returns the evaluation of expr1 if nei‐
ther expression evaluates to null or
zero; otherwise, returns zero.
Returns the result of a decimal integer
comparison if both arguments are inte‐
gers; otherwise, returns the result of a
string comparison using the locale-spe‐
cific collation sequence. The result of
each comparison is 1 if the specified
relationship is true, or 0 if the rela‐
tionship is false.
expr1 = expr2 Equal.
expr1 > expr2 Greater than.
expr1 >= expr2 Greater than or equal.
expr1 < expr2 Less than.
expr1 <= expr2 Less than or equal.
expr1 != expr2 Not equal.
expr1 + expr2 Addition of decimal integer-valued argu‐
expr1 - expr2 Subtraction of decimal integer-valued
expr1 * expr2 Multiplication of decimal integer-valued
expr1 / expr2 Integer division of decimal integer-val‐
ued arguments, producing an integer
expr1 % expr2 Remainder of integer division of decimal
expr1 : expr2 Matching expression; see below.
( expr ) Grouping symbols. Any expression can be
placed within parentheses. Parentheses
can be nested to a depth of
integer An argument consisting only of an
(optional) unary minus followed by dig‐
string A string argument; see below.
The ':' matching operator shall compare the string resulting from the
evaluation of expr1 with the regular expression pattern resulting from
the evaluation of expr2. Regular expression syntax shall be that
defined in the Base Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Section
9.3, Basic Regular Expressions, except that all patterns are anchored
to the beginning of the string (that is, only sequences starting at the
first character of a string are matched by the regular expression) and,
therefore, it is unspecified whether '^' is a special character in that
context. Usually, the matching operator shall return a string repre‐
senting the number of characters matched ( '0' on failure). Alterna‐
tively, if the pattern contains at least one regular expression subex‐
pression "[\(...\)]", the string corresponding to "\1" shall be
A string argument is an argument that cannot be identified as an inte‐
ger argument or as one of the expression operator symbols shown in the
The use of string arguments length, substr, index, or match produces
The following exit values shall be returned:
0 The expression evaluates to neither null nor zero.
1 The expression evaluates to null or zero.
2 Invalid expression.
>2 An error occurred.
CONSEQUENCES OF ERRORS
The following sections are informative.
After argument processing by the shell, expr is not required to be able
to tell the difference between an operator and an operand except by the
value. If "$a" is '=', the command:
expr $a = '='
expr = = =
as the arguments are passed to expr (and they all may be taken as the
'=' operator). The following works reliably:
expr X$a = X=
Also note that this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 permits implementa‐
tions to extend utilities. The expr utility permits the integer argu‐
ments to be preceded with a unary minus. This means that an integer
argument could look like an option. Therefore, the conforming applica‐
tion must employ the "--" construct of Guideline 10 of the Base Defini‐
tions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Section 12.2, Utility Syntax
Guidelines to protect its operands if there is any chance the first op‐
erand might be a negative integer (or any string with a leading minus).
The expr utility has a rather difficult syntax:
* Many of the operators are also shell control operators or reserved
words, so they have to be escaped on the command line.
* Each part of the expression is composed of separate arguments, so
liberal usage of <blank>s is required. For example:
expr 1+2 expr 1 + 2
expr "1 + 2" expr 1 + 2
expr 1 + (2 * 3) expr 1 + \( 2 \* 3 \)
In many cases, the arithmetic and string features provided as part of
the shell command language are easier to use than their equivalents in
expr. Newly written scripts should avoid expr in favor of the new fea‐
tures within the shell; see Parameters and Variables and Arithmetic
The following command:
a=$(expr $a + 1)
adds 1 to the variable a.
The following command, for "$a" equal to either /usr/abc/file or just
expr $a : '.*/\(.*\)' \| $a
returns the last segment of a pathname (that is, file). Applications
should avoid the character '/' used alone as an argument; expr may
interpret it as the division operator.
The following command:
expr "//$a" : '.*/\(.*\)'
is a better representation of the previous example. The addition of the
"//" characters eliminates any ambiguity about the division operator
and simplifies the whole expression. Also note that pathnames may con‐
tain characters contained in the IFS variable and should be quoted to
avoid having "$a" expand into multiple arguments.
The following command:
expr "$VAR" : '.*'
returns the number of characters in VAR.
In an early proposal, EREs were used in the matching expression syntax.
This was changed to BREs to avoid breaking historical applications.
The use of a leading circumflex in the BRE is unspecified because many
historical implementations have treated it as a special character,
despite their system documentation. For example:
expr foo : ^foo expr ^foo : ^foo
return 3 and 0, respectively, on those systems; their documentation
would imply the reverse. Thus, the anchoring condition is left unspeci‐
fied to avoid breaking historical scripts relying on this undocumented
Parameters and Variables, Arithmetic Expansion
Portions of this text are reprinted and reproduced in electronic form
from IEEE Std 1003.1, 2003 Edition, Standard for Information Technology
-- Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX), The Open Group Base
Specifications Issue 6, Copyright (C) 2001-2003 by the Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc and The Open Group. In the
event of any discrepancy between this version and the original IEEE and
The Open Group Standard, the original IEEE and The Open Group Standard
is the referee document. The original Standard can be obtained online
at http://www.opengroup.org/unix/online.html .
IEEE/The Open Group 2003 EXPR(1P)