Shell scripting in macOS – Part 2: Managing information

This article is a continuation of the previous article. We will be taking the previous script and using it to build on the concepts we will learning in this article.

Using Variables to store information

First up we will look at variable. Variables are containers that can hold information. The biggest advantage of this is the fact that we can use information in our tasks simply by reusing the variable it is stored in. This means if there is any change at a later date, then we only have to change the value in the variable. 

So, in the future, if there is a need to modify the information, we only have a single point of change to make. This greatly aids  in the ease of maintenance of the code.

It also makes the script more readable.

NOTE: The value of a variable can be changed at a later point of time within the script. 

Creating variables is very easy. You simply declare a name and assign it a value using the = operator. For example, if we are going to be using the path to the logs folder then storing it in a variable called PATH_TO_LOGS makes sense. We would then follow it up with the = sign and follow that up with the path in quotes. 

PATH_TO_LOGS=“/Library/Logs/“

To use this variable in a command we would simple callout the name with the $ symbol prefixed before it. 

echo $PATH_TO_LOGS

The $ symbol is necessary to access the value being held by the container.

While declaring variables try to use names which explain the purpose of the variable.

Built in variables

We can see that it is very easy to define our own variables. However, we are not restricted to creating our own variables. The system provides us with predefined variables. These give us access to useful information such as:

  • Path to the current user’s home folder.
  • The shell interpreter being used.
  • The currently logged in user name. 

We can get the complete list of commands with the help of the printenv command.

printenv

How about using these variables? Well, we will use it the same way we would use our own variables. Just prefix the $ symbol before the variable name. 

echo "The path to the home folder is $HOME"

Let us update the script from the previous article.

#!/bin/zsh

echo "Running script to create folders."

TOOLS_FOLDER="Tools"
REPORTS_FOLDER="Reports"
HELP_FOLDER="Help"

TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$TOOLS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$REPORTS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
HELP_FOLDER_CREATED=".$HELP_FOLDER-FolderCreated"

cd $HOME

echo "Creating folders: $TOOLS_FOLDER, $REPORTS_FOLDER, $HELP_FOLDER"
mkdir $TOOLS_FOLDER
mkdir $REPORTS_FOLDER
mkdir $HELP_FOLDER

echo "Creating hidden file for $TOOLS_FOLDER folder."
cd $TOOLS_FOLDER
touch $TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "Creating hidden file for $REPORTS_FOLDER folder."
cd $REPORTS_FOLDER
touch $REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "Creating hidden file for $HELP_FOLDER folder."
cd $HELP_FOLDER
touch $HELP_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "Task completed. Have a nice day!"

Capturing command output

Now that we have seen how variables can be created and used, then next logical step is to use them to store the outcome of a command. Why would we need to do this? Let us suppose that a command returns the path to a folder and we would like to perform multiple tasks on this folder. We can simply save the path in a variable and then use the variable across the script. 

If storing the result of the command in a variable wasn’t possible then we would have to execute the command over and over again every time we needed the result.

But before we store the outcome of the command we first need to understand how we can capture the output of a command itself. This is done with the help of command substitution. The command to be executed is placed within the $ symbol followed by parentheses.

So to store it in a variable we would just place the command we would just place this on he right hand side of the = sign. For example, if we wanted to store today’s date we would use the date command placed within the $() on the right hand side of the = sign. On the left hand side of the = sign would be the name of our variable.

TODAY=$(date)

There is an older way of doing the same thing, instead of using the $() the command would be placed within 2 back ticks.

TODAY=`date`

Writing to files

While it is useful to store information within variables there are some limitation with this. Sometimes we would like to store our data outside the script for example on some other file. The advantage with this approach is that it allows us to access the information across multiple invocations of the script. 

The way we write to a file is by redirecting the output of the command from standard output to a file. There are 2 operators that help us with this.

The redirect operator with a single angle bracket will write the contents to a file. This will replace the existing content fo the file.

echo "Hello, World!" > /Users/Shared/message.txt

The redirect operator with 2 angle brackets will also write contents to a file. But this will append or add the existing content. 

echo "Hello, World!" >> /Users/Shared/message.txt

Depending on what you want you can use one of the 2 approaches. 

Logging events taking place in the script

A log file is used to note done certain events being performed by an app, script, process, or any task. It is a very useful troubleshooting tool. This would be a nice feature to add to our script. We can log the different events that are taking place. To do this we will use the same redirect operator to write to a file.

Log files are typically stored in one of two locations in macOS:

  • ~/Library/Logs/
  • /Library/Logs

For our demo we will store it in the ~/Library/Logs/ folder. This makes sense because our script will be making changes to a user’s home folder. So ideally, the log file should also stay in the user’s home folder.

The way we will generate our log file is by redirecting the output of the echo command to our file.

echo "Hello, World!" >> ~/Library/Logs/folderCreator_log_v1-1.log

So all the echo statements we have will be modified to redirect to the log. Additionally, we will use command substitution to include the date and time in out message. Let us modify the script above to reflect these new changes.

#!/bin/zsh

echo "$(date) Running script to create folders."

TOOLS_FOLDER="Tools"
REPORTS_FOLDER="Reports"
HELP_FOLDER="Help"

TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$TOOLS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$REPORTS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
HELP_FOLDER_CREATED=".$HELP_FOLDER-FolderCreated"

TODAY=$(date)
PATH_TO_LOG="$HOME/Library/Logs/folderCreator_log_v1-1.log"

echo "$(date) Starting" >> $PATH_TO_LOG

cd $HOME

echo "$(date) Creating folders: $TOOLS_FOLDER, $REPORTS_FOLDER, $HELP_FOLDER" >> $PATH_TO_LOG
mkdir $TOOLS_FOLDER
mkdir $REPORTS_FOLDER
mkdir $HELP_FOLDER

echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $TOOLS_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $TOOLS_FOLDER
touch $TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $REPORTS_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $REPORTS_FOLDER
touch $REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $HELP_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $HELP_FOLDER
touch $HELP_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "$(date) Task completed. Have a nice day!"

Passing information to a script

While storing information and capturing information within a script is useful. It is also useful to have the ability to give information to a script at the time of running the script. This allows the user of the script to have greater control over the end result or outcome. 

The information that is passed into the script is store in predefined variables known as positional variables. They are named $0, $1, $2 and onwards. Let us modify the script to use these variables.

#!/bin/zsh

echo "$(date) Running script $0 to create folders."

TOOLS_FOLDER=$1
REPORTS_FOLDER=$2
HELP_FOLDER=$3

TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$TOOLS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$REPORTS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
HELP_FOLDER_CREATED=".$HELP_FOLDER-FolderCreated"

TODAY=$(date)
PATH_TO_LOG="$HOME/Library/Logs/folderCreator_log_v1-1.log"

echo "$(date) Starting" >> $PATH_TO_LOG

cd $HOME

echo "$(date) Creating folders: $TOOLS_FOLDER, $REPORTS_FOLDER, $HELP_FOLDER" >> $PATH_TO_LOG
mkdir $TOOLS_FOLDER
mkdir $REPORTS_FOLDER
mkdir $HELP_FOLDER

echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $TOOLS_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $TOOLS_FOLDER
touch $TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $REPORTS_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $REPORTS_FOLDER
touch $REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $HELP_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $HELP_FOLDER
touch $HELP_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..

echo "$(date) Task completed. Have a nice day!"

The final script should look like:

#!/bin/zsh
echo "$(date) Running script $0 to create folders."
TOOLS_FOLDER=$1
REPORTS_FOLDER=$2
HELP_FOLDER=$3
TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$TOOLS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED=".$REPORTS_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
HELP_FOLDER_CREATED=".$HELP_FOLDER-FolderCreated"
TODAY=$(date)
PATH_TO_LOG="$HOME/Library/Logs/folderCreator_log_v1-1.log"
echo "$(date) Starting" >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $HOME
echo "$(date) Creating folders: $TOOLS_FOLDER, $REPORTS_FOLDER, $HELP_FOLDER" >> $PATH_TO_LOG
mkdir $TOOLS_FOLDER
mkdir $REPORTS_FOLDER
mkdir $HELP_FOLDER
echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $TOOLS_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $TOOLS_FOLDER
touch $TOOLS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..
echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $REPORTS_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $REPORTS_FOLDER
touch $REPORTS_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..
echo "$(date) Creating hidden file for $HELP_FOLDER folder." >> $PATH_TO_LOG
cd $HELP_FOLDER
touch $HELP_FOLDER_CREATED
cd ..
echo "$(date) Task completed. Have a nice day!"

Script locations

One last thing to talk about now is script locations. So far we have been placing our scripts where ever we wish and running them from there. But it may be a good idea to use a consistent location for the same. There are several candidates for this:

  • ~/Library/Scripts/
  • /Library/Scripts/

These are the more standard locations.

The only decision that needs to be made is whether it is the Library folder in the user’s home folder or the library folder located at root. This affects if the script is available only for a specific user or for all users on a computer.

There are other locations possible too. Developers often have a folder in the home folder called “Developer”. This needs to be manually created, but once created the system recognises it as the folder where files related to development are kept. You can create a scripts folder and place it in there.

Another popular location is the Application Support folder within the library folder. You can create a folder that represents items related to your scripts and then place the script in that folder. Note that these folders will have to be created by manually.

  • ~/Developer/Scripts/
  • ~/Library/Application Support/<your folder>/

These 2 locations would need to be created.

Scripts are not typically exposed to the end user. There is typically some kind of scheduling mechanism that triggers them. However, if a script is designed to be used by the end user you could even place them in:

  • /Applications/Scripts/
  • ~/Applications/Scripts/

Like the developer folder the applications folder in the home folder needs to be created. But once created the system recognises what it is intended for and gives it special privileges. The scripts folder within it will have to be created manually.

While this may not seem like a big deal. Placing your scripts in the correct location can lead to more consistent experiences, make troubleshooting easy, and also hide potential complexity.

Conclusion

The ability to store data within a script, pass data to a script or store data on an external file from within a script has several advantages. This makes the script more power and compact at the same time. It also makes the script less susceptible to errors and mistakes.

Video

Download

You can download the script from the same git repository as the previous one. The script is named folderCreator_v1-1.zsh.

Useful scripts for macOS

Getting Started

You might find these articles useful

One of the advantages with scripts is the fact that you can easily automate many tasks. Here is an article that walks you through that process.

If you come across a situation where you want to perform a set of tasks on multiple computers then scripts come in very handy.

I will be providing the Shell Script version of the task. Feel free to make changes to the scripts as required. I will try to provide an AppleScript version of the tasks a little later.

This is not the only way to implement the scripts. There may be multiple approaches towards achieving the same result. You will have to explore and examine the correct approach.

This is not a comprehensive list. The scripts should give you some ideas and act as a useful reference when you are creating your own scripts.

I have tested these scripts on macOS Catalina 10.15

Download

You can download all the scripts from here.

Script CategoryPage Number
Settings and Accounts1
Security2
Data3
Information Collection4
File System5

Disclaimer

The Software Is Provided “As Is”, Without Warranty Of Any Kind, Express Or Implied, Including But Not Limited To The Warranties Of Merchantability, Fitness For A Particular Purpose And Noninfringement. In No Event Shall The Authors Or Copyright Holders Be Liable For Any Claim, Damages Or Other Liability, Whether In An Action Of Contract, Tort Or Otherwise, Arising From, Out Of Or In Connection With The Software Or The Use Or Other Dealings In The Software.


WARNING

Please try these scripts on a test computer. Some of the scripts do make changes to the system. Always test before using these scripts.

Automation on the Mac

Automating tasks on the Mac is very useful for a wide variety of reasons. In this article we are going to look at the different technologies available for automating tasks.

TOOLS

Automator

The simplest way of achieving automation. Automator which is a built in application allows you to create task workflows by simply dragging in a set of predefined routines into a specified sequence. Let us explore how it works by creating a watermarking print plugin

Let us look at how we can create a print plugin that automatically adds a watermark to the pdf file.

  1. First get hold of an image that you will use as a watermark.
  2. Open Automator.
  3. Click on “New Document”
  4. Choose Print Plugin as the type of task to createScreen Shot 2018-03-21 at 11.58.26 AM
  5. From the left hand side drag the “Watermark PDF Documents” option. You will be able to locate this from the PDF library on the extreme right.1
  6. Add the image that will be used as a watermark. Customise the settings to your desired level. You may have to use trial and error till you get the desired output.
  7. Similarly drag the Move finder Items to the right. You will be able to locate this from the Files & Folders library.2
  8. Save the task as WatermarkCreator.
  9. Open a text file.
  10. Select File > Print
  11. Click on the PDF drop down in the print dialog.3.4
  12. Select the newly created task.
    3
  13. You have now successfully setup your own watermark creator.

Shell Scripting

For those coming from a Linux/Unix background this might be a familiar option. Very often users need to run a series of terminal commands repeatedly. While it is not difficult to do this, wouldn’t it be nice if we could write all the commands in a single file? Shell Scripts help users do just that.

To create a shell script:

  1. Open TextEdit
  2. Write the following code in there (We will write code to create a series of files and folders in our home folder for a user called admin):
    #! /bin/sh
    cd /Users/admin/
    if [ -d "/Users/admin/Applications/" ]; then
    echo "Applications Folder Exists"
    else
    mkdir Applications
    fi
    if [ -d "/Users/admin/Sites/" ]; then
    echo "Sites Folder Exists"
    else
    mkdir Sites
    fi
    if [ -d "/Users/admin/Developer/" ]; then
    echo "Developer Folder Exists"
    else
    mkdir Developer
    fi
    cd Developer
    if [ -d "/Users/admin/Developer/iOSProjects/" ]; then
    echo "iOSProjects Folder Exists"
    else
    mkdir iOSProjects
    fi
    if [ -d "/Users/admin/Developer/macOSProjects/" ]; then
    echo "macOSProjects Folder Exists"
    else
    mkdir macOSProjects
    fi
    
  3. Save the file with the name FolderCreator on the Desktop.
  4. Open the Terminal Application
  5. Let us make the script executable. To do that, run the commands:
    cd ~/Desktop
    chmod 777 FolderCreator
    
  6. Now run the command:
    ./FolderCreator

You have now easily created your own shell script. For more information about terminal commands you can read the following articles: Terminal Commands for OS X – BasicTerminal Commands for OS X – Part 2Terminal Commands – Part 3, & Configuring/Troubleshooting OS X Using Command Line

AppleScript

AppleScript is Apple’s proprietary scripting technology. It comes bundled as a part of macOS. To create AppleScript tasks we need to use the built in AppleScript editor.

Here is an example of a small AppleScript

tell application “Finder” to set the view for all Finder Windows as column view
tell application “Finder” to close every Finder Window
tell application “Safari”
open location “<a href="http://www.arunpatwardhan.com">http://www.arunpatwardhan.com</a>
open location “<a href="http://www.amaranthine.in/feedback">http://www.amaranthine.in/feedback</a>
open location “<a href="http://www.amaranthine.in/gallery">http://www.amaranthine.in/gallery</a>
end tell

Copy that block of commands in your AppleScript editor and see what comes up.

There are many more things that can be done with AppleScript. You can have popup windows asking users for commands, turn off the computer. Change the settings for different parts of the OS and for different applications. All this with commands written in a single file. All the user has to do is double click the file.

For more information about AppleScript visit Apple’s Developer site.

Launch Agents, Launch Daemons

NOTE: Scheduling Launch Agents/Launch Daemons improperly may leave your computer in an unusable state. Always test this on a computer that does not contain important data. If you are unsure, please consult someone with knowledge of the same before proceeding ahead.

Launch Agents/Launch Daemons allow you to schedule tasks which are to be performed at intervals. You can also use them to ensure that tasks are kept running and that the user does not have the possibility to quit them. To setup a launch daemon:

  1. First create a Plist file that looks like the one below. I have created a script called echoer and placed it in the /Users/admin/Applications folder where admin is the user.Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 10.34.18 AM
  2. Place the file in the ~/Library/LaunchAgents folder. Name it in.amaranthine.demod.plist
  3. Run the command in terminal to load the Launch Agent.
    launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgent/in.amaranthine.demod.plist

That’s it you have just setup a simple launch agent which will ensure that your script runs every 6 seconds.

For more information or to create detailed Launch Agents/Launch Daemons visit:Creating Launch Agents & Launch Daemons

Login Items

An easy way to automatically load, Applications/Files/Folder, as soon as well login is to use Login Items. This is very easy to do.

  1. Open System Preferences > Users & Groups
  2. Switch to the Login Items tab.IMG_1560
  3. Click on the ‘+’ sign at the bottom to add new Applications. Let’s add Maps so that it launches as soon as we login. You should see it appear in the list.IMG_1561

That’s it. You have setup login items. You can repeat this process for as many applications as you wish.

Others

PHP, Perl, Python, Javascript, Swift allow you to create custom automated tasks and routines. These require knowledge of programming.

Choosing the right approach

Which one to choose depends on a lot of factors but we can break it down to 2:

  • You are a technically qualified person and understand things like programming, scripting and command line
  • You are an end user working either at home or in office.

End User

If you are an End user then you should really stick to Automator and Login Items. These are the ones that are the easiest to implement and least likely to cause any issues. You could venture and explore other options if you have a good understanding of them. Or you can ask the IT or Tech Support teams to help you with scripting and other technologies.

Tech Support or IT Person

Any of the tools mentioned above can be used by you. Make sure that you have a good command over the tools and are able to troubleshoot issues arising out of their usage.

Note: The programs/applications/tools and languages mentioned in this article may not cover all the available options. Also, anyone who uses or implements the items mentioned in the article does so at their own risk. The author does not take responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise from the use of the programs/applications/tools and languages mentioned above.