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Running UNIX commands

There are a few builtin macros in m4 that allow you to run UNIX commands from within m4.

Executing simple commands

Any shell command can be executed, using syscmd:

syscmd(shell-command)

which executes shell-command as a shell command.

The expansion of syscmd is void, not the output from shell-command! Output or error messages from shell-command are not read by m4. See section Reading the output of commands, if you need to process the command output.

Prior to executing the command, m4 flushes its output buffers. The default standard input, output and error of shell-command are the same as those of m4.

The builtin macro syscmd is recognized only when given arguments.

Reading the output of commands

If you want m4 to read the output of a UNIX command, use esyscmd:

esyscmd(shell-command)

which expands to the standard output of the shell command shell-command.

Prior to executing the command, m4 flushes its output buffers. The default standard input and error output of shell-command are the same as those of m4. The error output of shell-command is not a part of the expansion: it will appear along with the error output of m4.

Assume you are positioned into the `checks' directory of GNU m4 distribution, then:

define(`vice', `esyscmd(grep Vice ../Makefile)')
=>
vice
=>#  Ty Coon, President of Vice
=>

Note how the expansion of esyscmd has a trailing newline.

The builtin macro esyscmd is recognized only when given arguments.

Exit codes

To see whether a shell command succeeded, use sysval:

sysval

which expands to the exit status of the last shell command run with syscmd or esyscmd.

syscmd(`false')
=>
ifelse(sysval, 0, zero, nonzero)
=>nonzero
syscmd(`true')
=>
sysval
=>0

Making names for temporary files

Commands specified to syscmd or esyscmd might need a temporary file, for output or for some other purpose. There is a builtin macro, maketemp, for making temporary file names:

maketemp(template)

which expands to a name of a non-existent file, made from the string template, which should end with the string `XXXXXX'. The six X's are then replaced, usually with something that includes the process id of the m4 process, in order to make the file name unique.

maketemp(`/tmp/fooXXXXXX')
=>/tmp/fooa07346
maketemp(`/tmp/fooXXXXXX')
=>/tmp/fooa07346

As seen in the example, several calls of maketemp might expand to the same string, since the selection criteria is whether the file exists or not. If a file has not been created before the next call, the two macro calls might expand to the same name.

The builtin macro maketemp is recognized only when given arguments.


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