How do I prompt for Yes/No/Cancel input in a Linux shell script?


I want to pause input in a shell script, and prompt the user for choices. The standard 'Yes, No, or Cancel' type question. How do I accomplish this in a typical bash prompt?

11/15/2016 2:46:22 AM

Accepted Answer

The simplest and most widely available method to get user input at a shell prompt is the read command. The best way to illustrate its use is a simple demonstration:

while true; do
    read -p "Do you wish to install this program?" yn
    case $yn in
        [Yy]* ) make install; break;;
        [Nn]* ) exit;;
        * ) echo "Please answer yes or no.";;

Another method, pointed out by Steven Huwig, is Bash's select command. Here is the same example using select:

echo "Do you wish to install this program?"
select yn in "Yes" "No"; do
    case $yn in
        Yes ) make install; break;;
        No ) exit;;

With select you don't need to sanitize the input – it displays the available choices, and you type a number corresponding to your choice. It also loops automatically, so there's no need for a while true loop to retry if they give invalid input.

Also, please check out the excellent answer by F. Hauri.

7/2/2017 6:11:49 AM

At least five answers for one generic question.

Depending on

  • compliant: could work on poor systems with generic environments
  • specific: using so called bashisms

and if you want

  • simple ``in line'' question / answer (generic solutions)
  • pretty formatted interfaces, like or more graphical using libgtk or libqt...
  • use powerful readline history capability

1. POSIX generic solutions

You could use the read command, followed by if ... then ... else:

echo -n "Is this a good question (y/n)? "
read answer

# if echo "$answer" | grep -iq "^y" ;then

if [ "$answer" != "${answer#[Yy]}" ] ;then
    echo Yes
    echo No

(Thanks to Adam Katz's comment: Replaced the test above with one that is more portable and avoids one fork:)

POSIX, but single key feature

But if you don't want the user to have to hit Return, you could write:

(Edited: As @JonathanLeffler rightly suggest, saving stty's configuration could be better than simply force them to sane.)

echo -n "Is this a good question (y/n)? "
old_stty_cfg=$(stty -g)
stty raw -echo ; answer=$(head -c 1) ; stty $old_stty_cfg # Careful playing with stty
if echo "$answer" | grep -iq "^y" ;then
    echo Yes
    echo No

Note: This was tested under , , , and !

Same, but waiting explicitly for y or n:

echo -n "Is this a good question (y/n)? "
old_stty_cfg=$(stty -g)
stty raw -echo
answer=$( while ! head -c 1 | grep -i '[ny]' ;do true ;done )
stty $old_stty_cfg
if echo "$answer" | grep -iq "^y" ;then
    echo Yes
    echo No

Using dedicated tools

There are many tools which were built using libncurses, libgtk, libqt or other graphical libraries. For example, using whiptail:

if whiptail --yesno "Is this a good question" 20 60 ;then
    echo Yes
    echo No

Depending on your system, you may need to replace whiptail with another similiar tool:

dialog --yesno "Is this a good question" 20 60 && echo Yes

gdialog --yesno "Is this a good question" 20 60 && echo Yes

kdialog --yesno "Is this a good question" 20 60 && echo Yes

where 20 is height of dialog box in number of lines and 60 is width of the dialog box. These tools all have near same syntax.

if [ -x /usr/bin/gdialog ] ;then DIALOG=gdialog ; fi
if [ -x /usr/bin/xdialog ] ;then DIALOG=xdialog ; fi
$DIALOG --yesno ...

2. Bash specific solutions

Basic in line method

read -p "Is this a good question (y/n)? " answer
case ${answer:0:1} in
    y|Y )
        echo Yes
    * )
        echo No

I prefer to use case so I could even test for yes | ja | si | oui if needed...

in line with single key feature

Under bash, we can specify the length of intended input for for the read command:

read -n 1 -p "Is this a good question (y/n)? " answer

Under bash, read command accepts a timeout parameter, which could be useful.

read -t 3 -n 1 -p "Is this a good question (y/n)? " answer
[ -z "$answer" ] && answer="Yes"  # if 'yes' have to be default choice

Some tricks for dedicated tools

More sophisticated dialog boxes, beyond simple yes - no purposes:

dialog --menu "Is this a good question" 20 60 12 y Yes n No m Maybe

Progress bar:

dialog --gauge "Filling the tank" 20 60 0 < <(
    for i in {1..100};do
        printf "XXX\n%d\n%(%a %b %T)T progress: %d\nXXX\n" $i -1 $i
        sleep .033

Little demo:

while true ;do
    [ -x "$(which ${DIALOG%% *})" ] || DIALOG=dialog
    DIALOG=$($DIALOG --menu "Which tool for next run?" 20 60 12 2>&1 \
            whiptail       "dialog boxes from shell scripts" >/dev/tty \
            dialog         "dialog boxes from shell with ncurses" \
            gdialog        "dialog boxes from shell with Gtk" \
            kdialog        "dialog boxes from shell with Kde" ) || exit
    clear;echo "Choosed: $DIALOG."
    for i in `seq 1 100`;do
        date +"`printf "XXX\n%d\n%%a %%b %%T progress: %d\nXXX\n" $i $i`"
        sleep .0125
      done | $DIALOG --gauge "Filling the tank" 20 60 0
    $DIALOG --infobox "This is a simple info box\n\nNo action required" 20 60
    sleep 3
    if $DIALOG --yesno  "Do you like this demo?" 20 60 ;then
        AnsYesNo=Yes; else AnsYesNo=No; fi
    AnsInput=$($DIALOG --inputbox "A text:" 20 60 "Text here..." 2>&1 >/dev/tty)
    AnsPass=$($DIALOG --passwordbox "A secret:" 20 60 "First..." 2>&1 >/dev/tty)
    $DIALOG --textbox /etc/motd 20 60
    AnsCkLst=$($DIALOG --checklist "Check some..." 20 60 12 \
        Correct "This demo is useful"        off \
        Fun        "This demo is nice"        off \
        Strong        "This demo is complex"        on 2>&1 >/dev/tty)
    AnsRadio=$($DIALOG --radiolist "I will:" 20 60 12 \
        " -1" "Downgrade this answer"        off \
        "  0" "Not do anything"                on \
        " +1" "Upgrade this anser"        off 2>&1 >/dev/tty)
    out="Your answers:\nLike: $AnsYesNo\nInput: $AnsInput\nSecret: $AnsPass"
    $DIALOG --msgbox "$out\nAttribs: $AnsCkLst\nNote: $AnsRadio" 20 60

More sample? Have a look at Using whiptail for choosing USB device and USB removable storage selector: USBKeyChooser

5. Using readline's history



set -i
history -c
history -r

myread() {
    read -e -p '> ' $1
    history -s ${!1}
trap 'history -a;exit' 0 1 2 3 6

while myread line;do
    case ${line%% *} in
        exit )  break ;;
        *    )  echo "Doing something with '$line'" ;;

This will create a file .myscript.history in your $HOME directory, than you could use readline's history commands, like Up, Down, Ctrl+r and others.

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