Command-line Calculators

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Here's the basics of the calculators you (probably) have installed.


bash has math built into it. The trick is to do echo $((x+y)) as in:

echo $((2+2)) will output 4 and

echo $((8*8/2+200)) will output 232.

BCMM provided this information.


perl is a programming language. The -e option can be used from the command-line to execute code. print will print out variables and also sums if you feed it numbers and/or equations.

perl -e "print 2+2"

will produce the answer 4 and

perl -e "print 8*8/2+200"

will correctly output 232.

Append ;echo if you want a newline after your output - perl will by default not add a newline. For example, perl -e "print (3010*2212)/987";echo outputs 6658120 and adds a newline after the answer.



bc is described in it's manual page as "an arbitrary precision calculator language".

bc can be used to quickly do simple calculations in a terminal. The trick is to pipe numbers and equations to it. As an example,

echo 2+2|bc will output 4 and echo 8*8/2+200|bc will output 232.

bc can do very advanced math. You will have to read the manual page to use it as a scientific calculator. A graphical calculator like SpeedCrunch really is a better choice if that is your use-case.

Regardless, if you want to do math in shell-scripts and things like that you can do it with bc.

For example, of you run

pi=$(echo "scale=10; 4*a(1)" | bc -l)

in a script you get to use the correct value for $pi - echo $pi will then produce 3.1415926532. Do notice how bc accepts $scale, you can use it to calculate PI with 20 or 100 digits.


expr will, according the fine manual, "evaluate expressions". However, they need to be separated by spaces and they can't have quotes around them. Thus, expr 2+2 will output 2+2 while expr 2 + 2 will output 4.

Further, expr "8 * 8" will output "8 * 8" while expr 8 "*" 8 produces 64

expr is just not a good option since you can only do two arguments.

honorable mentions

The IRC client IRC has a built-in /calc command which, under the hood, is a simple irssi alias for:

EXEC - if command -v bc >/dev/null 2>&1\; then printf '%s=' '$*'\; echo '$*' | bc -l\; else echo bc was not found\; fi

So you can do math with irssi - but you're really just doing it with bc

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