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Brace Expansion in Linux

Brace expansion is a mechanism in Unix-like operating systems such as Linux for generating arbitrary strings. It is a feature provided by the Bash shell (and some other shells) that allows you to create multiple text strings by including a specific format within braces {}. In this article, we delve into the mechanics of brace expansion, its uses, and its behavior in Linux.

What Is Brace Expansion?

Brace expansion is a feature for generating multiple text strings from a pattern that includes braces. For instance, the pattern file{1,2,3}.txt would expand to file1.txt file2.txt file3.txt.


The general syntax of brace expansion is:


Why Is It Useful?

Brace expansion can significantly simplify tasks like:

  • Generating multiple file or directory names
  • Renaming or copying batches of files
  • Creating complex commands without having to type out every string explicitly

How Does Brace Expansion Work?

The way brace expansion works is quite simple at its core. When you issue a command involving brace expansion, the following steps are generally undertaken:

  1. Command Parsing: The shell first reads the command and identifies the portion within the braces {}.
  2. Brace Expansion: It then generates a list of items by expanding the pattern within the braces.
  3. Command Execution: Finally, the command is executed with these expanded values.

It's important to note that brace expansion occurs before any other expansions like variable expansion or word splitting. This makes it incredibly powerful when used in combination with other shell features.


Basic Example: Creating Multiple Directories

The following command uses brace expansion to create three directories:

mkdir dir{1,2,3}

This is equivalent to manually typing:

mkdir dir1 dir2 dir3

Nested Example: Using Nested Braces

You can also nest braces to generate more complex combinations:

echo {A,B}{1,2,3}

This would produce:

A1 A2 A3 B1 B2 B3

Sequence Example: Generating Sequences

Brace expansion can also generate numerical or alphabetical sequences:

echo {1..5}


1 2 3 4 5

Advanced Usage: Commands and Brace Expansion

Imagine you have files named file1.txt, file2.txt, and file3.txt, and you want to copy them to a backup directory. You can use brace expansion:

cp file{1..3}.txt /path/to/backup/

Hybrid Example

Combining Nested and Sequence Expansions for Directory Creation

You can combine nested and sequence expansions for more complex tasks. For example, let's say you're working on a project where you need a set of directories to organize different versions of code and data. The directory names might follow a pattern like v1_data, v1_code, v2_data, v2_code, and so on.

You can create these directories using a single mkdir command with combined nested and sequence brace expansions:

mkdir v{1..3}_{data,code}

Here's how it works:

  1. The sequence expansion {1..3} generates the numbers 1, 2, and 3.
  2. The nested expansion {data,code} generates the two strings "data" and " code".
  3. The overall expansion creates combinations of these, resulting in the directory names v1_data, v1_code, v2_data, v2_code, v3_data, and v3_code.

When you run this command, the following directories will be created:

  • v1_data
  • v1_code
  • v2_data
  • v2_code
  • v3_data
  • v3_code

This example showcases the power of combining nested and sequence expansions in brace expansion, allowing you to carry out complex tasks with a high degree of flexibility and efficiency.


Brace expansion is a powerful feature in Linux that allows you to generate multiple strings conveniently, making your commands more concise and your tasks more efficient. Whether you're a system administrator or an everyday user, understanding how brace expansion works can streamline many of your activities on a Linux system.

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