Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Octals in UNIX shell scripting

9th February 2007

I have just discovered that if you have a number with a leading zero, such as 08, it is assumed to be an octal number, that is, one of base 8. The upshot of this is that you get errors when you have numbers like 08 and 09 in your arithmetical expressions; they are illegal in octal: 08 should be 10 and 09 should be 11. Og course, as luck would have it, you get exactly these expressions when date/time processing. Luckily you can forced things to be base 10 by having something like 10#08 or, when extracting the minute from a date-time value, 10#$(date +%M). Strange as it might appear, this behaviour is all by design. It is dictated in the POSIX standard that governs UNIX. That said, I’d rather it if 08 was interpreted as an 8 and 09 as a 9 rather than triggering the errors that we see but that could have been seen as muddying the simplicity of the standard.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please be aware that comment moderation is enabled and may delay the appearance of your contribution.

  • All the views that you find expressed on here in postings and articles are mine alone and not those of any organisation with which I have any association, through work or otherwise. As regards editorial policy, whatever appears here is entirely of my own choice and not that of any other person or organisation.

  • Please note that everything you find here is copyrighted material. The content may be available to read without charge and without advertising but it is not to be reproduced without attribution. As it happens, a number of the images are sourced from stock libraries like iStockPhoto so they certainly are not for abstraction.

  • With regards to any comments left on the site, I expect them to be civil in tone of voice and reserve the right to reject any that are either inappropriate or irrelevant. Comment review is subject to automated processing as well as manual inspection but whatever is said is the sole responsibility of the individual contributor.