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A newbie question.. I was installing RVM (a tool to manage Ruby versions). The command for it is:

bash < <( curl )

I know a little bit that the < is a command redirection operator (correct?).

Then, why is the second < needed (what does it do)?

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This really isn't a newbie question; it's quite advanced. Good for you for being curious. – Stefano Palazzo Nov 25 '10 at 9:45
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It turns a string into the file descriptor for the output of the bash script that it represents. This might be confusing, here's an example

if you type echo <(ls) it will open a new file descriptor, the name of which is substituted. So the command might turn into say echo /dev/fd/63.

A program that expects a file can now read the output of the command without having to accept stdin.

$ my_program ls
Error: 'ls': No such file or directory.
$ my_program <(ls)
my_program was called with the argument /dev/fd/63
bin dev etc ...

Many Linux program will, if not provided with a source of input, wait for standard input. Because standard output can be piped to standard input with the "| " operator, you can then use say ls | grep hello. This only works because grep would've waited for input anway, if it'd expected a file name to open and read to get its data, the pipe operator doesn't work. This is why you need <(...).

I hope this is intelligible. :-)

Together with the < operator to redirect the output of a file to a programs reading of stdin, this makes for the following meaning:

Bash: read the output from this file, which is created from the output of this command.


  • standard input: a "file" (not really, but in linux everything acts like a file) that, when read, magically contains what you've typed
  • standard output: a "file" that, when written to, will be printed to the virtual terminal
  • operator (i.e. < or <()): Same as in regular maths, expressions of operators and operands will be evaluated and substituted. 3+2*3 turns into 5*3 turns into 15. It's the same in the bash language.

A nice example to emphasize Roger's point is this expression:

if [ -f my_condition ] then something fi

Here the contents of the brackets will be evaluated as a conditional statement, i.e. if my_condition is true, then do something. But: [ is actually just an alias of the program test, which, when called with the parameter -f, will check if a file exists.

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the way it is posted in the question, it will feed the output from the curl command into the input of bash, whereas bash | curl http://... will do it the other way around. Did you mean curl http://... | bash ? That would work in this case. – koushik Nov 25 '10 at 9:31
That's what I meant of course, well spotted. I'm still a bit tired. :-) – Stefano Palazzo Nov 25 '10 at 9:36
Thanks! A lot to chew on, i will definitely read more. Btw, is there a "name" for this <() operator? – Zabba Nov 25 '10 at 10:26
Oh, got it: 3.5.6 Process Substitution – Zabba Nov 25 '10 at 10:28

To clarify Stefano's point, the second < isn't just a <, it's actually <()

You may already be familiar with a similar construct, $() which produces a string that is the result of the command within it. So:

$ which bash # echo the path to bash
$ ldd $(which bash) # return which libraries bash is linked to

After the string substitution this is equivalent to

ldd /bin/bash

As Stefano says, <() does a very similar thing but instead returns a file descriptor.

You can find the bash documentation in man bash. As it's a huge man page, you can search (press /) for <\( (you need to escape the open bracket - searching for <( won't work).

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