Traps, debugging, profiling

Catching kill signals: trap

What if your script generates temp file and you’d like to keep it clean even if script gets interrupted at the execution time?

The built-in trap command lets you tell the shell what to do if your script received signal to exit. It can catch all, but here listed most common by their numbers. Note that signals are one of the common ways of communicating with running processes in UNIX: you see these same numbers and names in programs like kill.

  • 0 EXIT exit command

  • 1 HUP when session disconnected

  • 2 INT interrupt - often Ctrl-c

  • 3 QUIT quit - often Ctrl-

  • 9 KILL real kill command, it can’t be caught

  • 15 TERM termination, by kill command

# 'trap' catches listed signals only, others it silently ignores
# Usage: trap group_of_commands/function list_of_signals

trap 'echo Do something on exit' EXIT

Expanding the backup script from the Arrays section, this can be added to the very beginning:

interrupted() {
  echo 'Seems that backup has been interrupted in the middle'
  echo 'Rerun the script later to let rsync to finish its job'
  exit 1

trap interrupted 1 2 15
# ... the rest of the script

In other situation, instead of echo, one can come up with something else: removing temp files, put something to the log file or output a valuable error message to the screen.

Hint About signals see Standard signals section at man 7 signal. Like Ctrl-c is INT (aka SIGINT).

Debugging and profiling

BASH has no a debugger, but there are several ways to help with the debugging

Check for syntax errors without actual running it bash -n

Or echos each command and its results with bash -xv, or even adding options directly to the script. -x enables tracing during the execution, -v makes bash to be verbose. Both can be set directly from the command line as above or with set -xv inside the script.

#!/bin/bash -xv

To enable debugging for some parts of the code only:

set +x
... some code
set -x

If you want to check quickly a few commands, with respect to how variables or other substitutions look like, use DEBUG variable set to echo.


$DEBUG command1 $arguments

# call this script like 'DEBUG=echo ./' to see how *command1* looks like
# otherwise the script can be run as is.

One can also trap at the EXIT, this should be the very first lines in the script:

end() { echo Variable Listing: a = $a  b = $b; }
trap end EXIT  # will execute end() function on exit

For a sake of profiling one can use PS4 and date (GNU version that deals with nanoseconds). PS4 is a built in BASH variable which is printed before each command bash displays during an execution trace. The first character of PS4 is replicated multiple times, as necessary, to indicate multiple levels of indirection. The default is +. Add the lines below right after ‘#!/bin/bash’

# this will give you execution time of each command and its line number
# \011 is a tab
PS4='+\011$(date "+%s.%N")\011${LINENO}\011'
set -x

Optionally, if you want tracing output to be in a separate file:

PS4='+\011$(date "+%s.%N")\011${LINENO}\011'
exec 5> ${0##*/}.$$.x && BASH_XTRACEFD='5' && set -x

Or to get your script looking more professional, one can enable DEBUG, i.e. tracing only happens when you run as DEBUG=profile ./

case $DEBUG in
    PS4='+\011$(date "+%s.%N")\011${LINENO}\011'
    exec 5> ${0##*/}.$$.x && BASH_XTRACEFD='5' && set -x ;;

For the larger scripts with loops and functions tracing output with the date stamps and line numbers can be summarized. For further discussion please take a look at [1]