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If I pipe the output of a command into `read variable', why doesn't the output show up in $variable when the read command finishes?

This has to do with the parent-child relationship between Unix
processes. It affects all commands run in pipelines, not just
simple calls to `read'. For example, piping a command's output
into a `while' loop that repeatedly calls `read' will result in
the same behavior.

Each element of a pipeline runs in a separate process, a child of
the shell running the pipeline. A subprocess cannot affect its
parent's environment. When the `read' command sets the variable
to the input, that variable is set only in the subshell, not the
parent shell. When the subshell exits, the value of the variable
is lost.

Many pipelines that end with `read variable' can be converted
into command substitutions, which will capture the output of
a specified command. The output can then be assigned to a

grep ^gnu /usr/lib/news/active | wc -l | read ngroup

can be converted into

ngroup=$(grep ^gnu /usr/lib/news/active | wc -l)

This does not, unfortunately, work to split the text among
multiple variables, as read does when given multiple variable
arguments. If you need to do this, you can either use the
command substitution above to read the output into a variable
and chop up the variable using the bash pattern removal
expansion operators or use some variant of the following

Say /usr/local/bin/ipaddr is the following shell script:

#! /bin/sh
host `hostname` | awk '/address/ {print $NF}'

Instead of using

/usr/local/bin/ipaddr | read A B C D

to break the local machine's IP address into separate octets, use

set -- $(/usr/local/bin/ipaddr)
A="$1" B="$2" C="$3" D="$4"

Beware, however, that this will change the shell's positional
parameters. If you need them, you should save them before doing

This is the general approach -- in most cases you will not need to
set $IFS to a different value.

Some other user-supplied alternatives include:

read A B C D << HERE
$(IFS=.; echo $(/usr/local/bin/ipaddr))

and, where process substitution is available,

read A B C D < <(IFS=.; echo $(/usr/local/bin/ipaddr))

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