How do I split a string on a delimiter in Bash?


I have this string stored in a variable:

IN="[email protected];[email protected]"

Now I would like to split the strings by ; delimiter so that I have:

ADDR1="[email protected]"
ADDR2="[email protected]"

I don't necessarily need the ADDR1 and ADDR2 variables. If they are elements of an array that's even better.

After suggestions from the answers below, I ended up with the following which is what I was after:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

IN="[email protected];[email protected]"

mails=$(echo $IN | tr ";" "\n")

for addr in $mails
    echo "> [$addr]"


> [[email protected]]
> [[email protected]]

There was a solution involving setting Internal_field_separator (IFS) to ;. I am not sure what happened with that answer, how do you reset IFS back to default?

RE: IFS solution, I tried this and it works, I keep the old IFS and then restore it:

IN="[email protected];[email protected]"

for x in $mails2
    echo "> [$x]"


BTW, when I tried


I only got the first string when printing it in loop, without brackets around $IN it works.

10/22/2018 9:20:54 PM

Accepted Answer

You can set the internal field separator (IFS) variable, and then let it parse into an array. When this happens in a command, then the assignment to IFS only takes place to that single command's environment (to read ). It then parses the input according to the IFS variable value into an array, which we can then iterate over.

IFS=';' read -ra ADDR <<< "$IN"
for i in "${ADDR[@]}"; do
    # process "$i"

It will parse one line of items separated by ;, pushing it into an array. Stuff for processing whole of $IN, each time one line of input separated by ;:

 while IFS=';' read -ra ADDR; do
      for i in "${ADDR[@]}"; do
          # process "$i"
 done <<< "$IN"
3/8/2012 8:31:44 PM

Taken from Bash shell script split array:

IN="[email protected];[email protected]"
arrIN=(${IN//;/ })


This construction replaces all occurrences of ';' (the initial // means global replace) in the string IN with ' ' (a single space), then interprets the space-delimited string as an array (that's what the surrounding parentheses do).

The syntax used inside of the curly braces to replace each ';' character with a ' ' character is called Parameter Expansion.

There are some common gotchas:

  1. If the original string has spaces, you will need to use IFS:
    • IFS=':'; arrIN=($IN); unset IFS;
  2. If the original string has spaces and the delimiter is a new line, you can set IFS with:
    • IFS=$'\n'; arrIN=($IN); unset IFS;

If you don't mind processing them immediately, I like to do this:

for i in $(echo $IN | tr ";" "\n")
  # process

You could use this kind of loop to initialize an array, but there's probably an easier way to do it. Hope this helps, though.


Compatible answer

There are a lot of different ways to do this in .

However, it's important to first note that bash has many special features (so-called bashisms) that won't work in any other .

In particular, arrays, associative arrays, and pattern substitution, which are used in the solutions in this post as well as others in the thread, are bashisms and may not work under other shells that many people use.

For instance: on my Debian GNU/Linux, there is a standard shell called ; I know many people who like to use another shell called ; and there is also a special tool called with his own shell interpreter ().

Requested string

The string to be split in the above question is:

IN="[email protected];[email protected]"

I will use a modified version of this string to ensure that my solution is robust to strings containing whitespace, which could break other solutions:

IN="[email protected];[email protected];Full Name <[email protected]>"

Split string based on delimiter in (version >=4.2)

In pure bash, we can create an array with elements split by a temporary value for IFS (the input field separator). The IFS, among other things, tells bash which character(s) it should treat as a delimiter between elements when defining an array:

IN="[email protected];[email protected];Full Name <[email protected]>"

# save original IFS value so we can restore it later
declare -a fields=($IN)
unset oIFS

In newer versions of bash, prefixing a command with an IFS definition changes the IFS for that command only and resets it to the previous value immediately afterwards. This means we can do the above in just one line:

IFS=\; read -a fields <<<"$IN"
# after this command, the IFS resets back to its previous value (here, the default):
set | grep ^IFS=
# IFS=$' \t\n'

We can see that the string IN has been stored into an array named fields, split on the semicolons:

set | grep ^fields=\\\|^IN=
# fields=([0]="[email protected]" [1]="[email protected]" [2]="Full Name <[email protected]>")
# IN='[email protected];[email protected];Full Name <[email protected]>'

(We can also display the contents of these variables using declare -p:)

declare -p IN fields
# declare -- IN="[email protected];[email protected];Full Name <[email protected]>"
# declare -a fields=([0]="[email protected]" [1]="[email protected]" [2]="Full Name <[email protected]>")

Note that read is the quickest way to do the split because there are no forks or external resources called.

Once the array is defined, you can use a simple loop to process each field (or, rather, each element in the array you've now defined):

# `"${fields[@]}"` expands to return every element of `fields` array as a separate argument
for x in "${fields[@]}" ;do
    echo "> [$x]"
# > [[email protected]]
# > [[email protected]]
# > [Full Name <[email protected]>]

Or you could drop each field from the array after processing using a shifting approach, which I like:

while [ "$fields" ] ;do
    echo "> [$fields]"
    # slice the array 
# > [[email protected]]
# > [[email protected]]
# > [Full Name <[email protected]>]

And if you just want a simple printout of the array, you don't even need to loop over it:

printf "> [%s]\n" "${fields[@]}"
# > [[email protected]]
# > [[email protected]]
# > [Full Name <[email protected]>]

Update: recent >= 4.4

In newer versions of bash, you can also play with the command mapfile:

mapfile -td \; fields < <(printf "%s\0" "$IN")

This syntax preserve special chars, newlines and empty fields!

If you don't want to include empty fields, you could do the following:

mapfile -td \; fields <<<"$IN"
fields=("${fields[@]%$'\n'}")   # drop '\n' added by '<<<'

With mapfile, you can also skip declaring an array and implicitly "loop" over the delimited elements, calling a function on each:

myPubliMail() {
    printf "Seq: %6d: Sending mail to '%s'..." $1 "$2"
    # mail -s "This is not a spam..." "$2" </path/to/body
    printf "\e[3D, done.\n"

mapfile < <(printf "%s\0" "$IN") -td \; -c 1 -C myPubliMail

(Note: the \0 at end of the format string is useless if you don't care about empty fields at end of the string or they're not present.)

mapfile < <(echo -n "$IN") -td \; -c 1 -C myPubliMail

# Seq:      0: Sending mail to '[email protected]', done.
# Seq:      1: Sending mail to '[email protected]', done.
# Seq:      2: Sending mail to 'Full Name <[email protected]>', done.

Or you could use <<<, and in the function body include some processing to drop the newline it adds:

myPubliMail() {
    local seq=$1 dest="${2%$'\n'}"
    printf "Seq: %6d: Sending mail to '%s'..." $seq "$dest"
    # mail -s "This is not a spam..." "$dest" </path/to/body
    printf "\e[3D, done.\n"

mapfile <<<"$IN" -td \; -c 1 -C myPubliMail

# Renders the same output:
# Seq:      0: Sending mail to '[email protected]', done.
# Seq:      1: Sending mail to '[email protected]', done.
# Seq:      2: Sending mail to 'Full Name <[email protected]>', done.

Split string based on delimiter in

If you can't use bash, or if you want to write something that can be used in many different shells, you often can't use bashisms -- and this includes the arrays we've been using in the solutions above.

However, we don't need to use arrays to loop over "elements" of a string. There is a syntax used in many shells for deleting substrings of a string from the first or last occurrence of a pattern. Note that * is a wildcard that stands for zero or more characters:

(The lack of this approach in any solution posted so far is the main reason I'm writing this answer ;)

${var#*SubStr}  # drops substring from start of string up to first occurrence of `SubStr`
${var##*SubStr} # drops substring from start of string up to last occurrence of `SubStr`
${var%SubStr*}  # drops substring from last occurrence of `SubStr` to end of string
${var%%SubStr*} # drops substring from first occurrence of `SubStr` to end of string

As explained by Score_Under:

# and % delete the shortest possible matching substring from the start and end of the string respectively, and

## and %% delete the longest possible matching substring.

Using the above syntax, we can create an approach where we extract substring "elements" from the string by deleting the substrings up to or after the delimiter.

The codeblock below works well in (including Mac OS's bash), , , and 's :

IN="[email protected];[email protected];Full Name <[email protected]>"
while [ "$IN" ] ;do
    # extract the substring from start of string up to delimiter.
    # this is the first "element" of the string.
    echo "> [$iter]"
    # if there's only one element left, set `IN` to an empty string.
    # this causes us to exit this `while` loop.
    # else, we delete the first "element" of the string from IN, and move onto the next.
    [ "$IN" = "$iter" ] && \
        IN='' || \
# > [[email protected]]
# > [[email protected]]
# > [Full Name <[email protected]>]

Have fun!


I've seen a couple of answers referencing the cut command, but they've all been deleted. It's a little odd that nobody has elaborated on that, because I think it's one of the more useful commands for doing this type of thing, especially for parsing delimited log files.

In the case of splitting this specific example into a bash script array, tr is probably more efficient, but cut can be used, and is more effective if you want to pull specific fields from the middle.


$ echo "[email protected];[email protected]" | cut -d ";" -f 1
[email protected]
$ echo "[email protected];[email protected]" | cut -d ";" -f 2
[email protected]

You can obviously put that into a loop, and iterate the -f parameter to pull each field independently.

This gets more useful when you have a delimited log file with rows like this:

2015-04-27|12345|some action|an attribute|meta data

cut is very handy to be able to cat this file and select a particular field for further processing.


This worked for me:

echo $string | cut -d';' -f1 # output is 1
echo $string | cut -d';' -f2 # output is 2

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