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Storing NUL in variables

From: George
Subject: Storing NUL in variables
Date: Fri, 09 Jun 2017 19:06:17 -0400

On Fri, 2017-06-09 at 20:58 +0300, Pierre Gaston wrote:
> On Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 8:40 PM, Peter & Kelly Passchier <
> address@hidden> wrote:
> > 
> > On 09/06/2560 23:38, L A Walsh wrote:
> > > 
> > > Chet Ramey wrote:
> > > > 
> > > > 
> > > >  Should mapfile silently drop the NULs?
> > > Maybe add a flag to ignore NUL bytes that could be used in the 'read'
> > > statement as well?  If not specified, keep same behavior?
> > That sounds like it might be useful.
> > It might be more desirable to change it to a newline instead of dropping
> > it? (Or both, with different flags??)
> > 
> I feel this kind of magic behavior would result in hackish scripts or fill
> a somewhat rare niche at best.
> I'd rather have bash to fully handle arrays of byte, or nothing.
I think allowing shell variables to contain NUL would be lovely. How about we 
make that happen?  :)
(I would be up for writing a patch to do it, of course, though I have a few 
other things in the pipeline... A feature like this could take a fair bit
of work depending on how far the implementation goes in supporting various 
Of course such variables couldn't be exported (the NULs would be lost if the 
data were stored in an environment variable) and for compatibility,
variables should probably support containment of NULs only if the caller 
specifically requests it with an argument to "declare" or "read".
...And then there is the problem of how to use such variables. They can't be 
exported as environment variables or passed as command arguments, or used
as file names...  Essentially they'd be limited to use in I/O within the shell, 
and within a handful of built-in commands or shell functions equipped
to properly handle that data.
I think that this approach, capturing an arbitrary byte stream and then taking 
further actions to process or encode it, is preferable to the
alternative of capturing the byte stream and simultaneously encoding it into a 
text format. In principle commands like "read" shouldn't transform the
data they're given, they should just store it. (I think the fact that read 
requires the option "-r" to read data without transforming it is kind of
(That said, one could argue that it would be equally reasonable, or even more 
reasonable to implement an operation that simultaneously reads and
encodes the data, and another that decodes the data and writes it out, and then 
any commands designed to perform operations on byte stream data in the
shell (re-encode it in a different format, etc.) should simply use that first 
encoding as a common format for exchanging the data..  Given the
limitations of the shell with respect to its ability to handle NUL in various 
contexts, I think it's a reasonable argument. I tend to prefer the idea
of providing true shell support for capturing a byte stream because it makes it 
easier to write code that handles the data without having to build-in
a parser to interpret the data first.)
One option that might make a feature like this integrate into the shell better 
would be to store a captured byte stream as an integer array rather
than as an atomic variable. The back-end implementation in this case could be 
very efficient, and the stored data would be manipulable using existing
array syntax. The main limitation perhaps would be that one could not create an 
array of these arrays.

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