Write snippets of code in your documentation and execute them as regression tests.

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byexample can execute shell commands using by default bash configured to be POSIX-conformant but other shells are supported like dash and ksh.

Run the Shell examples calling byexample as:

$ byexample -l shell your-file-here                   # byexample: +skip
$ byexample -l shell -o '+shell=dash' your-file-here  # byexample: +skip

Stability: provisional - low impact non backward compatibility changes may occur between versions; but in general a change like that will happen only between major versions.

Versions tested

We tested byexample with the following versions of the language and the underlying runner or interpreter:

Language Runner/Interpreter
latest 5.0.17


byexample configures bash to run in POSIX-conformant by default.

If you execute an shell example and you get a syntax error, you may be using a non-POSIX syntax.

You can disable the POSIX-conformant from within bash with set +o posix:

$ echo $POSIXLY_CORRECT  # this Bash's variable says yes if we are in POSIX

$ set +o posix
$ echo $POSIXLY_CORRECT  # we are not longer in POSIX mode, happy hacking

$ set -o posix
$ echo $POSIXLY_CORRECT  # back to the default of byexample

Find interactive examples

For Shell, we use the simple $ marker as the primary prompt and > as the secondary prompt to found examples in a document.

$ g () {
>     c=$3
>     c=$(( $c + $1 ))
>     c=$(( $c + $2 ))
>     echo $c
> }

$ g 1 2 3

Running in background

byexample executes each example in sequence, one after the other, moving to the next one only when the previous finished.

That means that you need to relay in the shell’s job control to put some process to work in background.

Moreover you need to make sure that the process doesn’t write anything to the console, otherwise its output will be mixed with the output of the next examples.

It is easy to do this using a redirection:

$ sleep 2 >/dev/null 2>&1 &
[<job-id>] <pid>

Notice how the & operator tells the shell to put the process in the background and the >/dev/null 2>&1 discards both standard output and error streams.

Depending of the underlying shell when you send a process to the background the job control may print the job id and process id linked to that process.

bash and ksh do this always but others like dash does not.

You can get the process id of the process running in background and its job id to control it later.

$ echo "$!"                         # byexample: +paste

$ jobs -l                           # byexample: +paste +norm-ws
[<job-id>]+ <pid> Running <...>

When a process finishes (or dies), the shell will print a message.

It may happen asynchronously unless you control, and probably kill the background process, and wait for it to finish.

Here is an example (the %% is replaced by the job id by the shell):

$ kill %% ; wait                    # byexample: +timeout=4 +norm-ws +paste
[<job-id>]+ Terminated <...>


If waiting for a process is not an option, you can start the process in background inside of a subshell:

$ ( sleep 1 & ) >/dev/null 2>&1

The & operator tells the shell to put the process in the background and because we grouped it in a subshell (using the parenthesis), any job-control message will be suppressed.

The downside of this is that we cannot access to neither the process id nor the job id.

Therefore the job list will be empty:

$ jobs -l

Disabling the job monitor

An alternative solution is disabling the monitoring that the shell does.

This basically suppress any message about the end of a process that was running in background without loosing its process id or job id.

$ set +m
$ sleep 1 >/dev/null 2>&1 &
[<job-id>] <pid>

$ echo "$!"                         # byexample: +paste

$ jobs -l                           # byexample: +paste +norm-ws
[<job-id>]+ <pid> Running <...>

To prove this we can wait enough and see that no asynchronous message is print.

$ sleep 2                           # byexample: +timeout=4
$ echo "foreground"

You can re-enable it later

$ set -m                            # byexample: +pass -skip

The downside of this solution is that disabling the monitoring also prevent us to send ^Z and ^Y signals from an interactive session among other side effects.

See the documentation of your shell.

The following stackoverflow thread explains all of this in a very concise manner:

Killing any background process

This has nothing to do with byexample but I found quite useful this trick.

To kill any running background process you can write:

$ kill -9 $(jobs -p) && wait        # byexample: -skip +pass

The -skip will make sure that this example gets executed while the +pass will ignore any output so it will work even if there is no process to kill.

Stopping a process on inactivity or silence

Sometimes is useful to run a long-running process in foreground and after some period of inactivity or silence, stop it and get back the control of the shell.

For example, imagine that we want to read the new entries of a log file as soon as they are saved in the log file.

$ echo "some log line" > w/msg.log

We could use tail -f for this. But if we do that, tail will never end, blocking the whole execution.

In these cases we can use the +stop-on-silence option. After some period of inactivity of the process, byexample will stop it returning back the control of the shell.

$ tail -f w/msg.log             # byexample: +stop-on-silence
some log line

The process will be stopped, if you want that the process keeps running in background execute bg.

Or you can resume it in foreground with fg, this enable us to keep reading the new entries in the log.

$ echo "another log line" >> w/msg.log

$ fg                            # byexample: +stop-on-silence
tail -f w/msg.log
another log line

By default, +stop-on-silence waits for 0.2 seconds of inactivity. If your process is a little slower and sends data to the output less frequently you can increase the wait time:

$ (sleep 0.4 ; echo "a slow line" >> w/msg.log) &
[2] <pid>

$ fg %1                           # byexample: +stop-on-silence=0.5
tail -f w/msg.log
a slow line

$ jobs

Note: +stop-on-silence requires the job control and monitoring to be enabled (set -m). This should be the default in your shell.

Changed in byexample 8.0.0: before the +stop-on-silence had the same behaviour than +stop-on-timeout stopping the process always on timeout. But in 8.0.0 this option was fixed and the old behaviour can be achieved using +stop-on-timeout.

Stopping on timeout

+stop-on-silence will stop a process if this one times out, which it is basically another kind of inactivity.

But sometimes you have a process that it is continually sending data and you want to stop it after some period of time.

+stop-on-silence will work, but it is not the correct tool for this job.

Instead, +stop-on-timeout is the correct one: instead of checking periodically if there is activity or not, byexample will wait for the process to timeout and it will stop it later.

New in byexample 8.0.0.

Note: +stop-on-timeout requires the job control and monitoring to be enabled (set -m). This should be the default in your shell.

Stop signal

+stop-on-timeout and +stop-on-silence stop the running process but what does it mean?

By default byexample sends a suspend signal (SIGTSTP or ^Z in Linux parlance) which stops the process and sends it to background.

The signal used can be changed with +stop-signal.

If you want to interrupt the process and very likely finish it, send an interrupt signal (SIGINT or ^C):

$ sleep 300      # byexample: +stop-on-silence +stop-signal=interrupt

If the process is waiting for input perhaps closing the standard input is more adequate than interrupting the process.

For that send an eof signal (^D):

$ cat -      # byexample: +stop-on-silence +stop-signal=eof

New in byexample 10.1.0.

Signals like SIGTERM and SIGKILL cannot be used from +stop-signal; the closest thing is the quit signal (SIGQUIT or ^\):

$ cat -      # byexample: +stop-on-silence +stop-signal=quit

New in byexample 10.5.2.

Arbitrary signals on stop

If you want to kill a process with SIGKILL or SIGTERM you will have to stop the process first with a suspend signal (the default for +stop-signal), capture the process’ id or job’s id and kill it calling kill:

$ cat -      # byexample: +stop-on-silence

$ # The following sends a SIGTERM. Replace the -15 by -9 to send
$ # a SIGKILL. See signal(7).
$ kill -15 %%

In fact, you can use this trick to send any signal like SIGUSR1. In some cases you will have to bring the process to foreground (with fg to give it a chance to receive the signal).

$ fg         # byexample: +pass

Using other shells

byexample supports bash, dash and ksh and the shell by default is set to bash in POSIX-conformant mode.

Changed in byexample 8.1.0: before the default shell was sh. However different Linux distros have different shells behind the name of sh: in Debian it is dash while in Red Hat it is bash. And this changed over the time: Ubuntu had bash but in Ubuntu 6.10 it changed the shell to dash.

To have a stable shell, since byexample 8.1.0 it is explicitly set to bash.

You can change the default shell from the command line with the +shell option.

$ byexample -l shell -o '+shell=bash' test/ds/shell-example  # byexample: +timeout=8
[PASS] Pass: 14 Fail: 0 Skip: 0

$ byexample -l shell -o '+shell=dash' test/ds/shell-example  # byexample: +if=dash-installed +timeout=8
[PASS] Pass: 14 Fail: 0 Skip: 0

$ byexample -l shell -o '+shell=ksh' test/ds/shell-example   # byexample: +if=ksh-installed +timeout=8
[PASS] Pass: 14 Fail: 0 Skip: 0

The option can only be set from the command line and it will affect all the shell examples (you cannot change the shell only for a single example)

New in byexample 8.1.0.

For backward compatibility with byexample 8.0.0 and earlier versions, you can use +shell=sh; however, we encourage to you to set a more specific shell.

If another shell is needed, byexample allows you to use -x-shebang to control how to spawn a runner, in this case, a shell.

You could run ssh to have a remote shell for example.

Or you could run bash without the constraint to be POSIX-conformant by default (but see set +o posix as mentioned above before trying to do this):

$ byexample -l shell -x-shebang 'shell:%e bash --norc --noprofile --noediting' test/ds/shell-example
[PASS] Pass: 14 Fail: 0 Skip: 0

Shell specific options

$ byexample -l shell --show-options       # byexample: +norm-ws
shell's specific options
  +stop-on-timeout      stop the process if it timeout.
  +stop-on-silence [secs]
                        stop the process if no output is read in the last
                        <secs> seconds (0.2 secs by default).
  +stop-signal {suspend,eof,interrupt,quit}
                        signal to send when stop-on-timeout/stop-on-silence is
                        used (suspend ^Z by default).
  +shell {bash,dash,ksh,sh}
                        shell to use with default settings ('bash' by
                        default). For full control use -x-shebang)