echo and printf

Bash Shell in Linux

In Linux, echo and printf are 2 commands that are used commonly when we need to print text to the screen. In this article, we will learn how to use and the difference between these 2 commands.

I. echo

1. Print text by echo command

To print a text string, we can use the echo command as follows:

 $ echo Welcome to Bash
Welcome to Bash 


 $ echo 'Welcome to Bash'
Welcome to Bash 


 $ echo "Welcome to Bash" & nbsp;
Welcome to Bash 

All 3 methods above return same result, but each method has own using purpose and circumstance.


 $ echo Hello World!
Hello the world! 
 $ echo 'Hello World!'
Hello the world! 
 $ echo "Hello World!"
 - bash event not found: error! " 

The difference between these 3 methods is as below:

  • When using echo without squotes (”), we cannot use semicolon (;), because in this circumstance the semicolon acts as the separator between commands in the Bash shell.


 $ echo hello; Hello
-bash: hello: command not found 
  • Variable substitution has no effect within quotes ”.


echo '$VAR' => $ VAR
echo "$VAR" => hello 

2. Do not add new line in output text of echo

By default, after outputting the results, echo will automatically add a new line.

 $ echo "Newline"
New line

If we don’t want echo to automatically add new line, add the -n flag after echo like this:

 $ echo -n "Newline"
Newline $ 

3. Format result with colors

The following list is color codes that are often used with string characters.

  • reset – 0
  • black – 30
  • red – 31
  • blue – 32
  • yellow – 33
  • blue – 34
  • magenta – 35
  • cyan – 36
  • white – 37

To print a colored text, use echo command as below:

 $ echo -e "\e[31m This is red text\e[0m"
 This is red text


  • \e [31m: Escape string to set color into red (color code is 31).
  • \e [0m: reset to default color.

Replace 31 with the color code you want.


With background colors, below is commonly used color codes.

  • reset – 0
  • black – 40
  • red- 41
  • green – 42
  • yellow – 43
  • blue – 44
  • magenta – 45
  • cyan – 46
  • white – 47


$ echo -e "\e[42m Green Background \e[0m"

II. printf

1. Print text with printf

Another command used to print text is printf command. It uses arguments like the printf command in the C programming language.

Unlike echo, the text to be printed must be completely enclosed in single or double quotes and printf does not automatically add new line like echo command.

$ printf "Hello World"
Hello World $
$ printf 'Hello World'
Hello World $
$ printf Hello World
Hello $

2. Format the output string with printf


printf "%-5s %-10s %-4s\n" No Name Mark
printf "%-5s %-10s %-4.2f\n" 1 Sarath 80.3456
printf "%-5s %-10s %-4.2f\n" 2 James 90.9989
printf "%-5s %-10s %-4.2f\n" 3 Jeff 77.564

Run above script

$ bash

Output result

No Name Mark
1 Sarath 80.35
2 James 91.00
3 Jeff 77.56


  • %s, %c, %d and %f are format substitution characters that an argument can be placed in.
  • %-5s
    • : left-aligned string of characters. Without the string will be right-aligned
    • 5: string-specific length. In case the string is less than 5 characters long, the space characters will be inserted to make it long enough.
  • %-4.2f
    • .2 : round to 2 decimals
  • /n: newline


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