If you’re new to the command line and Linux, fear not! You don’t need to be a Linux expert to start using the power of the terminal.

In this article, we’ll demystify the ‘for’ loop in Bash scripting. Whether you’re a developer, sysadmin, or just curious about the command line, understanding ‘for’ loops is essential.

Why Are ‘For’ Loops Necessary?

The ‘for’ loop is a fundamental construct that allows you to repeat a set of commands or actions multiple times. It’s like having a trusty assistant who diligently performs a task for you over and over again. Whether you’re processing files, managing directories, or automating tasks, there are many scenarios when loops are useful:

  1. File Processing and Batch Operations:
    • Loop through files in a directory to perform batch operations, such as renaming, moving, or compressing them.
    • Process log files, extract relevant information, and generate reports.
  2. System Administration and Configuration:
    • Iterate over a list of user accounts to apply changes (e.g., setting permissions, updating passwords).
    • Configure network interfaces, firewall rules, or services on multiple servers.
  3. Backup and Archiving:
    • Create backup scripts that loop through directories and files to archive or synchronize data.
    • Rotate log files by compressing older logs and keeping a specified number of recent ones.
  4. Automating Repetitive Tasks:
    • Run commands on multiple remote servers via SSH.
    • Schedule regular tasks (e.g., backups, database maintenance) using cron jobs.
  5. Data Processing and Transformation:
    • Parse CSV files or other structured data formats.
    • Transform data (e.g., converting file formats, extracting specific fields).

Loops in general are versatile and can be adapted to various scenarios. They allow you to iterate over lists, directories, or any other collection of items in your scripts.

In this post, we’ll explore the basic syntax of ‘for’ loops, and demonstrate their versatility with practical examples. By the end, you’ll be ready to wield this powerful tool in your Linux journey.

Basic Syntax of Bash ‘For’ Loop

A 'for' loop is a control structure in programming that allows you to repeat a set of commands for each item in a list. It’s like a conveyor belt that processes each item one by one.


  • for variable in list: This line initializes a loop. The variable represents the current item from the list.
  • do: This marks the beginning of the loop body.
  • # Commands to execute for each item in the list: Here, you can put any commands or actions you want to perform on each item.
  • done: This marks the end of the loop.
for variable in list
    # Commands to execute for each item in the list


  • You define a variable (usually a single letter) to keep track of the current item.
  • The list contains multiple items (e.g., filenames, numbers, or strings).
  • For each item in the list, the commands inside the loop are executed.
  • Once all items are processed, the loop ends.

Execution Frequency:

  • The for loop executes once for each item in the specified list.
  • If there are n items in the list, the loop will run n times.
  • For example, if you have a list of three filenames (file1.txt, file2.txt, and file3.txt), the loop will execute three times, once for each filename.
for filename in file1.txt file2.txt file3.txt
    if [ "$filename" == "file2.txt" ]; then
        echo "Found file2.txt! Exiting loop."
    echo "Processing $filename"
bash for loops

Using Bash ‘For’ Loop

Looping through Files and Directories

You can use a 'for' loop to process files or directories. This is ideal if you want to traverse through a directory which has a large number of files, or if the number of files keep changing.

for file in /path/to/files/*; do
    echo "Processing file: $file"
    # Add your custom commands here
bash for loop file processing

Iterating over a Range of Numbers

To loop through a range of numbers, use the {start..end} notation. If you want to run the loop a fixed number of times, you can create a list of numbers using this format.

for i in {1..5}; do
    echo "Number: $i"
number list in for loop

Using ‘for’ with Command Substitution

The ‘for’ loop is flexible and powerful. You can redirect the output of other commands in the loop, and then process each item in the list.

for user in $(cut -d: -f1 /etc/passwd); do
    echo "User: $user"

Nested ‘for’ Loops

If a simple ‘for’ loop isn’t enough, you can use multiple ‘for’ loops together to achieve more complex functionality.

for outer in A B C; do
    for inner in 1 2 3; do
        echo "$outer->$inner"

Final Thoughts

You’ve now unlocked the potential of Bash for loops. It is like a Swiss Army knife for your command line adventures. Mastering the ‘for’ loop opens up endless possibilities for automating tasks and managing data efficiently in your Linux environment.

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