I was looking inside /etc/skel/.bashrc and found this line:

[ -x /usr/bin/lesspipe ] && eval "$(SHELL=/bin/sh lesspipe)"

I understand what the test -x does, but everything onward with eval is not-understandable.

Further more, when I run this line in other Linux distros it will cause an error:

#  eval "$(SHELL=/bin/bash lesspipe)"
bash: syntax error near unexpected token `newline'

This is on Ubuntu 14.04 (bash 4.3.11(1)), and the other bash version I tested is 4.3.39(1).

Can you explain what this line is doing, and why am I getting the above error?


To understand the eval snippet eval "$(SHELL=/bin/sh lesspipe)", we need to break it down:

  • At first let's check what SHELL=/bin/sh lesspipe returns:

    $ SHELL=/bin/sh lesspipe
    export LESSOPEN="| /usr/bin/lesspipe %s";
    export LESSCLOSE="/usr/bin/lesspipe %s %s";

    As you can see it returns two commands containing variable declarations preceded by export to make them environment variables.

  • Now another thing, $() is the command substitution syntax that returns exactly what we have seen above i.e. the output of a command, let's check:

    $ echo "$(SHELL=/bin/sh lesspipe)"
    export LESSOPEN="| /usr/bin/lesspipe %s";
    export LESSCLOSE="/usr/bin/lesspipe %s %s";
  • Ok, what about eval now, so eval will just run the two commands returned by command substitution:

    eval "$(SHELL=/bin/sh lesspipe)"

    after this the variables LESSOPEN and LESSCLOSE will be environment variables to the shell on which this command is being run.

  • ok, this still does not explain error. Further more, when I do your first step I get what you say with /bin/sh (dash) but not with bash... – Oz123 Jan 22 '16 at 18:32
  • @Oz123 lessfile script comes with less..i can not reproduce the error in dash, ksh, bash, zsh ..On other systems this can behave differently of course, hard to say without peeking.. – heemayl Jan 22 '16 at 18:41
  • I already figured out that lesspipe which comes in less-481, packaged in gentoo is substantially different from the one which comes with Ubuntu (less 458-2). The one from gentoo can be found here gitweb.gentoo.org/repo/gentoo.git/tree/sys-apps/less/files/…, and there is even this one github.com/wofr06/lesspipe/blob/lesspipe/lesspipe.sh. Go figure, I always thought my bashrc is universal. Apparently it isn't... – Oz123 Jan 22 '16 at 18:46

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