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expr is a command line Unix utility which evaluates an expression and outputs the corresponding value. It first appeared in Unix v7.

Syntax: expr expression

expr evaluates integer or string expressions, including pattern matching regular expressions. Each symbol (operator, value, etc.) in the expression must be given as a separate parameter. Most of the challenge posed in writing expressions is preventing the invoking command line shell from acting on characters intended for expr to process.

The operators available

  • for integers: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and modulus
  • for strings: find regular expression, find a set of characters in a string; in some versions: find substring, length of string
  • for either: comparison (equal, not equal, less than, etc.)

The following is an example involving boolean expressions:

expr length  "abcdef"  "<"  5  "|"  15  -  4  ">"  8

This example outputs "1", this is because length "abcdef" is 6, which is not less than 5 (so the left side of the | returns zero). But 15 minus 4 is 11 and is greater than 8, so the right side is true, which makes the or true, so 1 is the result, the program exit status is zero for this example.

For pure arithmetic, it is often more convenient to use bc, for example:

echo "3*4+14/2" | bc

since it accepts the expression as a single argument.

For portable shell programming use of the length and substr commands is not recommended.

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