Skip to main content

Arithmetic Expansion in Linux

Arithmetic expansion is a feature of the shell in Unix-like operating systems such as Linux that allows the evaluation of an arithmetic expression and the substitution of the result. This powerful feature is incredibly useful for tasks that involve numbers, counting, loops, and more. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of arithmetic expansion, its syntax, and its various operators.

What Is Arithmetic Expansion?

Arithmetic expansion enables you to perform basic calculations directly within the shell. The $((...)) notation is used to define an arithmetic context within a command or script. The expression enclosed in $((...)) is evaluated, and the result replaces the expression itself in the command line.


The general syntax for arithmetic expansion is as follows:

$(( expression ))

Why Is It Useful?

Arithmetic expansion is beneficial for a range of tasks, including:

  • Performing calculations directly within the command line
  • Managing numbered files and directories
  • Creating loops and conditional statements in shell scripts

How Does Arithmetic Expansion Work?

When you include an arithmetic expression within $((...)) in a command, the following steps occur:

  1. Command Parsing: The shell parses the command line to identify words, operators, and constructs.
  2. Identification: It then identifies the $((...)) notation as a candidate for arithmetic expansion.
  3. Expression Evaluation: The arithmetic expression within $((...)) is evaluated.
  4. Substitution: The original $((...)) notation in the command line is replaced by the result of the evaluation.
  5. Command Execution: Finally, the command is executed with the replaced value.

Table of Arithmetic Operators

+Addition$((3 + 2))5
-Subtraction$((4 - 2))2
*Multiplication$((3 * 2))6
/Division$((4 / 2))2
%Modulus (Remainder of division)$((5 % 2))1
**Exponentiation$((2 ** 3))8
++Increment by 1a=5; $((a++))5
--Decrement by 1a=5; $((a--))5
+=Add and assigna=3; $((a += 2))5
-=Subtract and assigna=5; $((a -= 2))3
*=Multiply and assigna=3; $((a *= 2))6
/=Divide and assigna=4; $((a /= 2))2


Example 1: Basic Arithmetic

The most straightforward use case is performing basic arithmetic:

echo $((5 + 3))

This will output 8.

Example 2: Variable Substitution

You can use variables within arithmetic expansion:

echo $((a + b))

This will also output 8.

Example 3: Using in a Loop

Arithmetic expansion is often used in for loops:

for (( i=1; i<=5; i++ )); do
echo $((i * 2))

This will output the first 5 even numbers.

Combining Arithmetic Expansion with Common Commands

While arithmetic expansion is mostly used within conditional statements and loops in shell scripting, you can also creatively combine it with other common commands like ls, echo, and mkdir directly in the terminal. This can be especially useful for generating sequences of numbers, manipulating numbered files, and other similar tasks.

Example 1: Creating Multiple Directories

You can create multiple directories with numbered suffixes using a for loop combined with arithmetic expansion:

for (( i=1; i<=5; i++ )); do
mkdir dir$((i))

This creates directories named dir1, dir2, dir3, dir4, and dir5.

Example 2: Renaming Numbered Files

Let's say you have files named old1.txt, old2.txt, etc., and you want to rename them to new1.txt, new2.txt, etc. You can use the mv command combined with arithmetic expansion:

for (( i=1; i<=5; i++ )); do
mv old$((i)).txt new$((i)).txt

Here, for each iteration, i takes on the values from 1 to 5, and the mv command renames the files accordingly.


Arithmetic expansion is a robust feature in Linux, offering a variety of uses from simple calculations to complex scripting tasks involving loops and conditionals. By understanding how arithmetic expansion works and the operators that can be used, you can make your shell scripts more powerful and concise.

What Can You Do Next 🙏😊

If you liked the article, consider subscribing to Cloudaffle, my YouTube Channel, where I keep posting in-depth tutorials and all edutainment stuff for software developers.

YouTube @cloudaffle