(+) Variables may be made read-only with `set -r' (q.v.) Read-only variables may not be modified or unset; attempting to do so will cause an error. Once made read-only, a variable cannot be made writable, so `set -r' should be used with caution. Environment variables cannot be made read-only.
Some variables are set by the shell or referred to by it. For instance, the argv variable is an image of the shell's argument list, and words of this variable's value are referred to in special ways. Some of the variables referred to by the shell are toggles; the shell does not care what their value is, only whether they are set or not. For instance, the verbose variable is a toggle which causes command input to be echoed. The -v command line option sets this variable. Special shell variables lists all variables which are referred to by the shell.
Other operations treat variables numerically. The `@' command permits numeric calculations to be performed and the result assigned to a variable. Variable values are, however, always represented as (zero or more) strings. For the purposes of numeric operations, the null string is considered to be zero, and the second and subsequent words of multiword values are ignored.
After the input line is aliased and parsed, and before each command is executed, variable substitution is performed keyed by `$' characters. This expansion can be prevented by preceding the `$' with a `\' except within `"'s where it always occurs, and within `''s where it never occurs. Strings quoted by ``' are interpreted later (see Command substitution below) so `$' substitution does not occur there until later, if at all. A `$' is passed unchanged if followed by a blank, tab, or end-of-line.
Input/output redirections are recognized before variable expansion, and are variable expanded separately. Otherwise, the command name and entire argument list are expanded together. It is thus possible for the first (command) word (to this point) to generate more than one word, the first of which becomes the command name, and the rest of which become arguments.
Unless enclosed in `"' or given the `:q' modifier the results of variable substitution may eventually be command and filename substituted. Within `"', a variable whose value consists of multiple words expands to a (portion of a) single word, with the words of the variables value separated by blanks. When the `:q' modifier is applied to a substitution the variable will expand to multiple words with each word separated by a blank and quoted to prevent later command or filename substitution.
The following metasequences are provided for introducing variable values into the shell input. Except as noted, it is an error to reference a variable which is not set.
The `:' modifiers described under History substitution, except for `:p', can be applied to the substitutions above. More than one may be used. (+) Braces may be needed to insulate a variable substitution from a literal colon just as with History substitution (q.v.); any modifiers must appear within the braces.
The following substitutions can not be modified with `:' modifiers.
The editor command expand-variables, normally bound to `^X-$', can be used to interactively expand individual variables.
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