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I am trying to generate some PATH-like directory list, using simple bash- and UNIX commands. I think this one here gives me the output I like to use:

$ find /usr/local -type d -exec dirname \{\} \; | sort -u | tr '\n' ':'

However, when I try to use this expression using command substitution (e.g. for assigning to a variable), it breaks:

$ echo $(find /usr/local -type d -exec dirname \{\} \; | sort -u | tr '\n' ':' )
/usr /usr/local /usr/local/lib /usr/local/lib/python2.6 /usr/local/lib/site_ruby /usr/local/lib/site_ruby/1.8 /usr/local/lib/xemacs /usr/local/share /usr/local/share/emacs /usr/local/share/emacs/23.2 /usr/local/share/sgml /usr/local/share/xml /usr/local/share/zsh

Any ideas what I am doing wrong, or how I can achieve my goal differently?

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Cannot reproduce, neither in bash nor zsh. Both produce the same output for me. – slhck Jul 30 '12 at 14:31
Hm, I am using Bash 4.1.5 on Debian Squeeze. Maybe there's some shopt which triggers this? – Arne Jul 30 '12 at 14:53
I'm on 4.2.24 with Ubuntu. Have you set any custom options in one of your startup scripts? – slhck Jul 30 '12 at 15:00
Funny enough this happens for me only in interactive shells. When I put this in a script, it works :-/ – Arne Jul 31 '12 at 7:19
Interesting. Found any differences in your bashrc or bash_profile that could influence the behavior? – slhck Jul 31 '12 at 7:21
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Check the contents of the environment variable IFS, the field separator. It is not used in the find form, but in the echo $(find) form.

export IFS="-"
echo $(...)


export IFS=:
echo $(echo asdf:asdf:asdf)
> asdf asdf asdf

export IFS=;
echo $(echo asdf:asdf:asdf)
> asdf:asdf:asdf

export IFS=:
unset IFS
echo $(echo asdf:asdf:asdf)
> asdf:asdf:asdf
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