As you gain experience with batch files, you're likely to find that you need to manipulate text strings. You may need to prompt a user for a name or password, process a list of files, or find a name in a phone list. All of these are examples of string processing -- the manipulation of readable text.
TCC includes several features that make string processing easier. For example, you can use the INPUT, MSGBOX, and QUERYBOX commands for user input; the ECHO and ECHOERR, ECHOS and ECHOSERR, SCREEN, SCRPUT, and VSCRPUT commands for output; and the FOR command or the @FILEREAD function to scan through the lines of a file. In addition, variable functions offer a wide range of strings and character handling capabilities.
For example, suppose you need a batch file that will prompt a user for a name, break the name into a first name and a last name, and then run a hypothetical LOGIN program. LOGIN expects the syntax /F:first /L:last with both the first and last names in upper case and neither name longer than 8 characters. Here is one way to write such a batch file:
input Enter your name (no initials): %%name
iff %flen gt 8 .or. %llen gt 8 then
echo First or last name too long
login /F:%@upper[%first] /L:%@upper[%last]
The SETLOCAL command at the beginning of this batch file saves the environment and aliases. Then the UNALIAS * command removes any existing aliases so they won't interfere with the behavior of the commands in the remainder of the batch file. The first block of lines ends with a INPUT command which asks the user to enter a name. The user's input is stored in the environment variable NAME.
The second block of lines extracts the user's first and last names from the NAME variable and calculates the length of each. It stores the first and last name, along with the length of each, in additional environment variables. Note that the @WORD function numbers the first word as 0, not as 1.
The IFF command in the third block of lines tests the length of both the first and last names. If either is longer than 8 characters, the batch file displays an error message and ends. (QUERYBOX can limit the length of input text more simply with its /L switch. We used a slightly more cumbersome method above in order to demonstrate the use of string functions in batch files.)
Finally, in the last block, the batch file executes the LOGIN program with the appropriate parameters, then uses the ENDLOCAL command to restore the original environment and alias list. At the same time, ENDLOCAL discards the temporary variables that the batch file used (NAME, FIRST, FLEN, etc.).
When you're processing strings, you also need to avoid some common traps. The biggest one is handling special characters.
Suppose you have a batch file with these two commands, which simply accept a string and display it:
input Enter a string: %%str
Those lines look safe, but what happens if the user enters the string "some > none" (without the quotes). After the string is placed in the variable STR, the second line becomes
echo some > none
The ">" is a redirection symbol, so the line echoes the string "some" and redirects it to a file called NONE -- probably not what you expected. You could try using double quotes to avoid this kind of problem, but that won't quite work. If you use back-quotes (ECHO `%STR`), the command will echo the four-character string %STR. Environment variable names are not expanded when they are inside back-quotes.
If you use double quotes (ECHO "%STR"), the string entered by the user will be displayed properly, and so will the double quotes. With double quotes, the output would look like this:
"some > none"
As you can imagine, this kind of problem becomes much more difficult if you try to process text from a file. Special characters in the text can cause all kinds of confusion in your batch files. Text containing back-quotes, double quotes, or redirection symbols can be virtually impossible to handle correctly.
One way to overcome these potential problems is to use the SETDOS /X command to temporarily disable redirection symbols and other special characters. The two-line batch file above would be a lot more likely to produce the expected results if it were rewritten this way:
input Enter a string: %%str
The first line turns off alias processing and disables several special symbols, including the command separator and all redirection symbols. Once the string has been processed, the last line re-enables the features that were turned off in the first line.
If you need advanced string processing capabilities beyond those provided by TCC, you may want to consider using the Perl, Python, REXX, or Ruby languages. Our products can execute Perl, Python, REXX, and Ruby programs internally, and also support evaluating individual Perl, Python, REXX, and Ruby expressions internally.