Proper Case in a shell script

How do you force a string into proper case in a Unix shell script? (That is to say, capitalise the first letter and make the rest lower case). Bash4 has a special feature for doing it, but I’d avoid using it because, well, I want to be Unix/POSIX compatible.

It’s actually very easy once you’ve realised tr won’t do it all for you. The tr utility has no concept on where in the input stream it is, but combining tr with cut works a treat.

I came across this problem when I was writing a few lines to automatically create directory layouts for interpreted languages (in this case the Laminas framework). Languages of this type like capitalisation of class names, but other names have be lower case.

Before I get started, I note about expressing character ranges in tr. Unfortunately different systems have done it in different ways. The following examples assume BSD Unix (and POSIX). Unix System V required ranges to be in square brackets – e.g. A-Z becomes “[A-Z]”. And the quotes are absolutely necessary to stop the shell globing once you’ve introduced the square brackets!

Also, if you’re using a strange character set, consider using \[:lower:\] and \[:upper:\] instead of A-Z if your version of tr supports it (most do). It’s more compatible with foreign character sets although I’d argue it’s not so easy on the eye!

Anyway, these examples use A-Z to specify ASCII characters 0x41 to 0x5A – adjust to suit your tr if your Unix is really old.

To convert a string ($1) into lower case, use this:

lower=$(echo $1 | tr A-Z a-z)
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To convert it into upper case, use the reverse:

upper=$(echo $1 | tr a-z A-Z)

To capitalise the first letter and force the rest to lower case, split using cut and force the first character to be upper and the rest lower:

proper=$(echo $1 | cut -c 1 | tr a-z A-Z)$(echo $1 | cut -c 2- | tr A-Z a-z)

A safer version would be:

proper=$(echo $1 | cut -c 1 | tr "[:lower:]" "[:upper:]")$(echo $1 | cut -c 2- | tr "[:upper:]" [":lower:"])

This is tested on FreeBSD in /bin/sh, but should work on all BSD and bash-based Linux systems using international character sets.

You could, if you wanted to, use sed to split up a multi-word string and change each word to proper case, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader.

How to hack UNIX and Linux using wildcards

Leon Juranic from Croatian security research company Defensecode has written a rather good summary of some of the nasty tricks you can play on UNIX sysadmins by the careful choice of file names and the shell’s glob functionality.

The shell is the UNIX/Linux command line, and globbing is the shell’s wildcard argument expansion. Basically, when you type in a command with a wildcard character in the argument, the shell will expand it into any number of discrete arguments. For example, if you have a directory containing the files test, junk and foo, specifying cp * /somewhere-else will expand to cp test junk foo /somewhere else when it’s run. Go and read a shell tutorial if this is new to you.

Anyway, I’d thought most people knew about this kind of thing but I was probably naïve. Leon Juranic’s straw poll suggests that only 20% of Linux administrators are savvy.

The next alarming thing he points out is as follows:
Another interesting attack vector similar to previously described 'chown'
attack is 'chmod'.
Chmod also has --reference option that can be abused to specify arbitrary permissions on files selected with asterisk wildcard.

Chmod manual page (man chmod):
use RFILE's mode instead of MODE values


Oh, er! Imagine what would happen if you created a file named “–reference=myfile”. When the root user ran “chmod 700 *” it’d end up setting the access permissions on everything to match those of “myfile”. chown has the same option, allowing you to take ownership of all the files as well.

It’s funny, but I didn’t remember seeing those options to chmod and chown. So I checked. They don’t actually exist on any UNIX system I’m aware of (including FreeBSD). On closer examination it’s an enhancement of the Linux bash shell, where many a good idea turns out to be a new vulnerability. That said, I know of quite a few people using bash on UNIX.

This doesn’t detract from his main point – people should take care over the consequences of wildcard expansion. The fact that those cool Linux guys didn’t see this one coming proves it.

This kind of stuff is (as he acknowledges) nothing new. One of the UNIX administrators I work with insists on putting a file called “-i” in every directory to stop wild-card file deletes (-i as an argument to rm forces an “Are you sure?” prompt on every file. And then there’s the old chestnut of how to remove a file with a name beginning with a ‘-‘. You can easily create one with:
echo test >-example
Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you how to get rid of it!

Update 2nd July:

Try this:
rm ./-example

Rename file extensions in UNIX/Linux/FreeBSD

I had a directory with thousands of files from a Windoze environment with inconsistent file extension  Some ended in .hgt, others in .HGT. They all needed to be in lower case, for some Windows-written cross-compiled software to find them. UNIX is, of course, case-sensitive on such things but Windoze with its CP/M-like file system used upper-case only, and when the shift key was invented, decided to ignore case.

Anyway, rather than renaming thousands of files by hand I thought I’d write a quick script. Here it is. Remember, the old extension was  .HGT, but I needed them all to be .hgt:

for oldname in `find . -name "*.HGT"`
newname=`echo $oldname | tr .HGT .hgt`
mv $oldname $newname

Pretty straightforward  but I’d almost forgotten the tr (translate) command existed, so I’m now feeling pretty smug and thought I’d share it with the world. It’ll do more than a simple substitution – you could use “[A-Z] [a-z]” to convert all upper case characters in the file to lower case, but I wanted only the extensions done. I could probably have used -exec on the find command, but I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader!

It could me more compact if you remove the $newname variable and substitute directly, but I used to have an echo line in there giving me confirmation I was doing the right thing.