I have tried to increment a numeric variable using both var=$var+1 and var=($var+1) without success. The variable is a number, though bash appears to be reading it as a string.

Bash version 4.2.45(1)-release (x86_64-pc-linux-gnu) on Ubuntu 13.10.

up vote 737 down vote accepted

There is more than one way to increment a variable in bash, but what you tried is not correct.

You can use for example arithmetic expansion:


Or you can use let:

let "var=var+1"
let "var+=1"
let "var++"

See also: http://tldp.org/LDP/abs/html/dblparens.html.

  • 23
    or ((++var)) or ((var=var+1)) or ((var+=1)). – gniourf_gniourf Dec 3 '13 at 18:30
  • or var=$(expr $var + 1) – Javier López Dec 3 '13 at 23:20
  • 2
    Curiously, var=0; ((var++)) returns an error code while var=0; ((var++)); ((var++)) does not. Any idea why? – phunehehe Mar 26 '14 at 9:36
  • 12
    @phunehehe Look at help '(('. The last line says: Returns 1 if EXPRESSION evaluates to 0; returns 0 otherwise. – Radu Rădeanu Mar 27 '14 at 11:41
  • 4
    is it safe to use let var++, without the quotes? – wjandrea Jun 14 '17 at 20:20
var=$((var + 1))

Arithmetic in bash uses $((...)) syntax.

  • 4
    Vastly better than the accepted answer. In just 10% as much space, you managed to provide enough examples (one is plenty - nine is overkill to the point when you're just showing off), and you provided us with enough info to know that ((...)) is the key to using arithmetic in bash. I didn't realize that just looking at the accepted answer - I thought there was a weird set of rules about order of operations or something leading to all of the parenthesis in the accepted answer. – ArtOfWarfare Jun 22 '16 at 13:56

Performance Analysis of various options

Thanks to Radu Rădeanu's answer that provides the following ways to increment a variable in bash:

let "var=var+1"
let "var+=1" 
let "var++"

There are other ways too. For example, look in the other answers on this question.

let var++
    declare -i var
    i=$(expr $i + 1)

Having so many options leads to these two questions:

  1. Is there a performance difference between them?
  2. If so which, which performs best?

Incremental performance test code:


# To focus exclusively on the performance of each type of increment
# statement, we should exclude bash performing while loops from the
# performance measure. So, let's time individual scripts that
# increment $i in their own unique way.

# Declare i as an integer for tests 12 and 13.
echo > t12 'declare -i i; i=i+1'
echo > t13 'declare -i i; i+=1'
# Set i for test 14.
echo > t14 'i=0; i=$(expr $i + 1)'

while ((x--)); do
    echo >> t0 'i=$((i+1))'
    echo >> t1 'i=$((i++))'
    echo >> t2 '((i=i+1))'
    echo >> t3 '((i+=1))'
    echo >> t4 '((i++))'
    echo >> t5 '((++i))'
    echo >> t6 'let "i=i+1"'
    echo >> t7 'let "i+=1"'
    echo >> t8 'let "i++"'
    echo >> t9 'let i=i+1'
    echo >> t10 'let i+=1'
    echo >> t11 'let i++'
    echo >> t12 'i=i+1'
    echo >> t13 'i+=1'
    echo >> t14 'i=$(expr $i + 1)'

for script in t0 t1 t2 t3 t4 t5 t6 t7 t8 t9 t10 t11 t12 t13 t14; do
    line1="$(head -1 "$script")"
    printf "%-24s" "$line1"
    { time bash "$script"; } |& grep user
    # Since stderr is being piped to grep above, this will confirm
    # there are no errors from running the command:
    eval "$line1"
    rm "$script"


i=$((i+1))              user    0m0.992s
i=$((i++))              user    0m0.964s
((i=i+1))               user    0m0.760s
((i+=1))                user    0m0.700s
((i++))                 user    0m0.644s
((++i))                 user    0m0.556s
let "i=i+1"             user    0m1.116s
let "i+=1"              user    0m1.100s
let "i++"               user    0m1.008s
let i=i+1               user    0m0.952s
let i+=1                user    0m1.040s
let i++                 user    0m0.820s
declare -i i; i=i+1     user    0m0.528s
declare -i i; i+=1      user    0m0.492s
i=0; i=$(expr $i + 1)   user    0m5.464s


It seems bash is fastest at performing i+=1 when $i is declared as an integer. let statements seem particularly slow, and expr is by far the slowest because it is not a builtin.

  • Apparently speed correlates with command length. I wonder whether the commands call the same functions. – MatthewRock Jan 5 '17 at 15:40
  • 1
    i=(expr ...) is a syntax error. Did you mean i=$(expr ...)? – muru Jun 15 '17 at 6:18
  • @muru fixed, and added a check into the for loop. – wjandrea Jun 15 '17 at 17:08

There's also this:

var=`expr $var + 1`

Take careful note of the spaces and also ` is not '

While Radu's answers, and the comments, are exhaustive and very helpful, they are bash-specific. I know you did specifically ask about bash, but I thought I'd pipe in since I found this question when I was looking to do the same thing using sh in busybox under uCLinux. This portable beyond bash.

  • You can also use i=$((i+1)) – wjandrea Jun 14 '17 at 22:58
  • If process substitution $(...) is available on this shell, I'd recommend using it instead. – Radon Rosborough Aug 24 '17 at 18:54

If you declare $var as an integer, then what you tried the first time will actually work:

$ declare -i var=5
$ echo $var
$ var=$var+1
$ echo $var

Reference: Types of variables, Bash Guide for Beginners

There's one method missing in all the answers - bc

$ VAR=7    
$ bc <<< "$VAR+2"
$ echo $VAR
$ VAR=$( bc <<< "$VAR+1" )
$ echo $VAR

bc is specified by POSIX standard, so should be present on all versions of Ubuntu and POSIX-compliant systems. The <<< redirection could be altered to echo "$VAR" | bc for portability, but since the question asks about bash - it's OK to just use <<<.

The return code 1 issue is present for all default variants (let, (()), etc.). This often causes trouble, e.g., in scripts that use set -o errexit. Here is what I am using to prevent error code 1 from math expressions that evaluate to 0;

math() { (( "$@" )) || true; }

math a = 10, b = 10
math a++, b+=2
math c = a + b
math mod = c % 20
echo $a $b $c $mod
#11 12 23 3

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