Section: POSIX Programmer's Manual (1P)
Updated: 2017
Page Index


This manual page is part of the POSIX Programmer's Manual. The Linux implementation of this interface may differ (consult the corresponding Linux manual page for details of Linux behavior), or the interface may not be implemented on Linux.  


expr --- evaluate arguments as an expression  


expr operand...


The expr utility shall evaluate an expression and write the result to standard output.  




The single expression evaluated by expr shall be formed from the operand operands, 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 separate arguments to expr.  


Not used.  




The following environment variables shall affect the execution of expr:
Provide a default value for the internationalization variables that are unset or null. (See the Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1-2017, Section 8.2, Internationalization Variables for the precedence of internationalization variables used to determine the values of locale categories.)
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 LC_MESSAGES.




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 following table. The symbols expr, expr1, and expr2 represent expressions formed from integer and string symbols and the expression operator symbols (all separate arguments) by recursive application of the constructs described in the table. The expressions are listed in order of decreasing precedence, with equal-precedence operators grouped between horizontal lines. All of the operators shall be left-associative.

integer An argument consisting only of an (optional) unary minus followed by digits.
string A string argument; see below.

expr ) Grouping symbols. Any expression can be placed within parentheses. Parentheses can be nested to a depth of {EXPR_NEST_MAX}.

expr1 : expr2 Matching expression; see below.

expr1 * expr2 Multiplication of decimal integer-valued arguments.
expr1 / expr2 Integer division of decimal integer-valued arguments, producing an integer result.
expr1 % expr2 Remainder of integer division of decimal integer-valued arguments.

expr1 + expr2 Addition of decimal integer-valued arguments.
expr1 - expr2 Subtraction of decimal integer-valued arguments.

Returns the result of a decimal integer comparison if both arguments are integers; otherwise, returns the result of a string comparison using the locale-specific collation sequence. The result of each comparison is 1 if the specified relationship is true, or 0 if the relationship is false.
expr1 = expr2Equal.
expr1 > expr2Greater than.
expr1 >= expr2Greater than or equal.
expr1 < expr2Less than.
expr1 <= expr2Less than or equal.
expr1 != expr2Not equal.

expr1 & expr2 Returns the evaluation of expr1 if neither expression evaluates to null or zero; otherwise, returns zero.

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.

Matching Expression

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 POSIX.1-2017, 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 'ha' is a special character in that context. Usually, the matching operator shall return a string representing the number of characters matched ('0' on failure). Alternatively, if the pattern contains at least one regular expression subexpression "[\(...\)]", the string matched by the back-reference expression "\1" shall be returned. If the back-reference expression "\1" does not match, then the null string shall be returned.  

Identification as Integer or String

An argument or the value of a subexpression that consists only of an optional unary minus followed by digits is a candidate for treatment as an integer if it is used as the left argument to the | operator or as either argument to any of the following operators: & = > >= < <= != + - * / %. Otherwise, the argument or subexpression value shall be treated as a string.

The use of string arguments length, substr, index, or match produces unspecified results.  


The following exit values shall be returned:
The expression evaluates to neither null nor zero.
The expression evaluates to null or zero.
Invalid expression.
An error occurred.



The following sections are informative.  


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> characters is required. For example:
In many cases, the arithmetic and string features provided as part of
the shell command language are easier to use than their equivalents in
Newly written scripts should avoid    

After argument processing by the shell,    
is not required to be able to tell the difference between an operator      
and an operand except by the value. If
the command:
expr "$a" = '='
looks like:
expr = = =
as the arguments are passed to
(and they all may be taken as the
operator). The following works reliably:
expr "X$a" = X=
Also note that this volume of POSIX.1-2017 permits implementations to extend utilities. The
utility permits the integer arguments to be preceded with a unary
minus. This means that an integer argument could look like an option.
Therefore, the conforming application must employ the
construct of Guideline 10 of the Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1-2017,
to protect its operands if there is any chance the first operand might
be a negative integer (or any string with a leading minus).
For testing string equality the
utility is preferred over
as it is usually implemented as a shell built-in. However, the
functionality is not quite the same because the
operators check whether strings collate equally, whereas
checks whether they are identical. Therefore, they can produce
different results in locales where the collation sequence does not
have a total ordering of all characters (see the Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1-2017,
The following command:
a=$(expr "$a" + 1)
adds 1 to the variable
The following command, for
equal to either
or just
expr $a : '.*/\(.*\)' \| $a
returns the last segment of a pathname (that is,
Applications should avoid the character
used alone as an argument;
may interpret it as the division operator.
The following command:
expr "//$a" : '.*/\(.*\)'
is a better representation of the previous example. The addition of
characters eliminates any ambiguity about the division operator and
simplifies the whole expression. Also note that pathnames may contain
characters contained in the
variable and should be quoted to avoid having
expand into multiple arguments.
The following command:
expr "X$VAR" : '.*' - 1
returns the number of characters in
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
in the BRE is unspecified because many historical implementations have
treated it as a special character, despite their system documentation. For
expr foo : hafoo expr hafoo : hafoo
return 3 and 0, respectively, on those systems; their documentation
would imply the reverse. Thus, the anchoring condition is left
unspecified to avoid breaking historical scripts relying on this
undocumented feature.
The Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1-2017,
Portions of this text are reprinted and reproduced in electronic form
from IEEE Std 1003.1-2017, Standard for Information Technology
-- Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX), The Open Group Base
Specifications Issue 7, 2018 Edition,
Copyright (C) 2018 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 .
Any typographical or formatting errors that appear
in this page are most likely
to have been introduced during the conversion of the source files to
man page format. To report such errors, see
https://www.kernel.org/doc/man-pages/reporting_bugs.html .



Matching Expression
Identification as Integer or String