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How To Find BASH Shell Array Length ( number of elements )

Q. How do I define array in a bash shell script? How do I find out bash array length (number of elements) while running a script using for shell loop?

A. Bash provides one-dimensional array variables. Any variable may be used as an array; the declare builtin will explicitly declare an array. There is no maximum limit on the size of an array, nor any requirement that members be indexed or assigned contiguously.

How do I define bash array?

Array can be defined using following syntax:
ArrayName=("element 1" "element 2" "element 3")
Define array called distro with 3 elements, enter:

distro=("redhat" "debian" "gentoo")

How do I reference any element in bash array?

Any element of an array may be referenced using following syntax:


To print redhat i.e first element enter:

echo ${distro[0]}
echo ${distro[2]}  # will print gentoo

How do I find out bash shell array length?

You can easily find out bash shell array length using following syntax:


To print distro array length enter:

echo ${#distro[@]} 

Sample output:


If subscript is @ or *, the word expands to all members of name. By prefixing # to variable you will find length of an array (i.e number of elements).

Putting it all together

A sample shell script to print array called NAMESERVERS:

# define array
# name server names FQDN 
NAMESERVERS=("ns1.nixcraft.net." "ns2.nixcraft.net." "ns3.nixcraft.net.")
# get length of an array
# use for loop read all nameservers
for (( i=0; i<${tLen}; i++ ));
  echo ${NAMESERVERS[$i]}

Sample output:

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{ 16 comments… add one }

  • S. Nilesh July 27, 2008, 4:47 pm

    Nice one ;)

  • Diya July 28, 2008, 8:20 am

    Excellent info.

  • those August 5, 2008, 8:04 pm

    how to clean the array? ;d

    • Dan June 16, 2010, 7:39 pm

      Here’s a quick flush:
      NUM=${#a[@]}; for ((i=0;i<${NUM};i++)); do a[${i}]=''; done

      And a for a quick scan, you can do the following either before or after:
      COUNT=0; while [ ${COUNT} -lt ${#a[@]} ]; do echo ${a[${COUNT}]}; COUNT=$((COUNT+1)); done

  • budacsik September 20, 2008, 12:18 pm

    I think that this example is bad.
    I would do this without a block .


    NAMESERVERS=”ns1.nixcraft.net. ns2.nixcraft.net. ns3.nixcraft.net.”
    for i in $NAMESERVERS; do
    echo “$i”

    • Dan June 16, 2010, 5:56 pm

      That only works if you have no spaces.

      • Ferk January 3, 2012, 8:48 pm

        The way it’s done in the post only works when using bash. This is a more POSIX-compatible way of making it work. You can also change the element-separator character to something different than the space, using the variabe IFS.

  • Raymond February 7, 2009, 10:11 am


    echo ${#a[@]}

    Thus this is the lenght of the array, not the index of the last element.

    Try instead:
    for i in “${a[@]}”; do echo $i; done

    Some further ideas may be found at

    Best Regards,

    • Dan June 16, 2010, 7:29 pm

      Well yes, ${#a[@]} pretty much spits out the the number of elements in the array, like the document here said… notice that it’s plainly used as tlen which is the length of the array?

      you could do it a million different ways…

      for ((i=0;i<${NUM};i++)); do echo ${a[${NUM}]}; done


      COUNT=0; while [ ${COUNT} -lt ${#a[@]} ]; do echo ${a[${COUNT}]}; COUNT=$((COUNT+1)); done

      We could go on and on, since there's more than one way to skin a cat.

  • Stuart Holme October 27, 2010, 3:35 pm

    Good points on handling a possibly sparse array, Raymond, but the example is pretty useful if you load the array yourself. Also note that you don’t need to use a variable to store the array length:

    for (( i = 0 ; i < ${#my_array[@]} ; i++ )) do; echo "${my_array[i]}"; done

    Note the implementations of BASH I am using don't require "$i" as the index of the array, they work fine with just "i". This only seems to work with single character length index variable names though, like "i", not with, for example, "index". YMMV.


  • Edward August 5, 2011, 7:17 am

    1.Write a Linux shell Script to count the Number of user accounts both normal and special or privileged user user accounts on the system.
    2.Write an interactive Linux shell script to test whether a file is (a). Read Permission set. (b). Execution permission set (c). Is a non empty file (d). A regular file (e). Ia a directory.

  • Ryan October 3, 2011, 9:48 pm

    lol @ all the bikeshedding syntax scholars here. Ok, your voice has been heard, move along idiots.

    • Dan January 3, 2012, 10:30 pm

      It’s called sharing knowledge. If you don’t like it, move along.

  • Jeff October 25, 2012, 9:25 am

    Dan I know this is an older thread but I found this and your information was very helpful to me. Unfortunately there are not enough people in the world like you and more like Ryan.

    Thanks again!

  • Raina May 9, 2013, 9:20 pm

    Hi, Sorry i know this is an old thread!

    I need a help!

    for i in `seq 1 ${#DEV[@]}` ; do
      echo "DEV- ${DEV[$i]} ${DEV_DS[$i]} " >> $REPORT1

    ${#DEV[@]} –> this represents the length of the array

    If I want to go to the second last element of the array , what can I write in place of ${#DEV[@]} ?

    • Brian June 5, 2013, 2:59 pm

      If ${#DEV[@]} is the last element then just decrement it to get the second last element.

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