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expect - programmed dialogue with interactive programs, Version 5


expect [ -dDinN ] [ -c cmds ] [ [ -[f|b] ] cmdfile ] [ args ]


Expect is a program that "talks" to other interactive programs according to a script.
Following the script, Expect knows what can be expected from a program and what the
correct response should be. An interpreted language provides branching and high-level
control structures to direct the dialogue. In addition, the user can take control and
interact directly when desired, afterward returning control to the script.

Expectk is a mixture of Expect and Tk. It behaves just like Expect and Tk's wish. Expect
can also be used directly in C or C++ (that is, without Tcl). See libexpect(3).

The name "Expect" comes from the idea of send/expect sequences popularized by uucp, kermit
and other modem control programs. However unlike uucp, Expect is generalized so that it
can be run as a user-level command with any program and task in mind. Expect can actually
talk to several programs at the same time.

For example, here are some things Expect can do:

· Cause your computer to dial you back, so that you can login without paying for
the call.

· Start a game (e.g., rogue) and if the optimal configuration doesn't appear,
restart it (again and again) until it does, then hand over control to you.

· Run fsck, and in response to its questions, answer "yes", "no" or give control
back to you, based on predetermined criteria.

· Connect to another network or BBS (e.g., MCI Mail, CompuServe) and
automatically retrieve your mail so that it appears as if it was originally
sent to your local system.

· Carry environment variables, current directory, or any kind of information
across rlogin, telnet, tip, su, chgrp, etc.

There are a variety of reasons why the shell cannot perform these tasks. (Try, you'll
see.) All are possible with Expect.

In general, Expect is useful for running any program which requires interaction between
the program and the user. All that is necessary is that the interaction can be
characterized programmatically. Expect can also give the user back control (without
halting the program being controlled) if desired. Similarly, the user can return control
to the script at any time.


Expect reads cmdfile for a list of commands to execute. Expect may also be invoked
implicitly on systems which support the #! notation by marking the script executable, and
making the first line in your script:

#!/usr/bin/expect -f

Of course, the path must accurately describe where Expect lives. /usr/bin is just an

The -c flag prefaces a command to be executed before any in the script. The command
should be quoted to prevent being broken up by the shell. This option may be used
multiple times. Multiple commands may be executed with a single -c by separating them
with semicolons. Commands are executed in the order they appear. (When using Expectk,
this option is specified as -command.)

The -d flag enables some diagnostic output, which primarily reports internal activity of
commands such as expect and interact. This flag has the same effect as "exp_internal 1"
at the beginning of an Expect script, plus the version of Expect is printed. (The strace
command is useful for tracing statements, and the trace command is useful for tracing
variable assignments.) (When using Expectk, this option is specified as -diag.)

The -D flag enables an interactive debugger. An integer value should follow. The
debugger will take control before the next Tcl procedure if the value is non-zero or if a
^C is pressed (or a breakpoint is hit, or other appropriate debugger command appears in
the script). See the README file or SEE ALSO (below) for more information on the
debugger. (When using Expectk, this option is specified as -Debug.)

The -f flag prefaces a file from which to read commands from. The flag itself is optional
as it is only useful when using the #! notation (see above), so that other arguments may
be supplied on the command line. (When using Expectk, this option is specified as -file.)

By default, the command file is read into memory and executed in its entirety. It is
occasionally desirable to read files one line at a time. For example, stdin is read this
way. In order to force arbitrary files to be handled this way, use the -b flag. (When
using Expectk, this option is specified as -buffer.)Notethatstdio-
bufferingmaystilltakeplacehoweverthis shouldn't cause problems when reading from a fifo or

If the string "-" is supplied as a filename, standard input is read instead. (Use "./-"
to read from a file actually named "-".)

The -i flag causes Expect to interactively prompt for commands instead of reading them
from a file. Prompting is terminated via the exit command or upon EOF. See interpreter
(below) for more information. -i is assumed if neither a command file nor -c is used.
(When using Expectk, this option is specified as -interactive.)

-- may be used to delimit the end of the options. This is useful if you want to pass an
option-like argument to your script without it being interpreted by Expect. This can
usefully be placed in the #! line to prevent any flag-like interpretation by Expect. For
example, the following will leave the original arguments (including the script name) in
the variable argv.

#!/usr/bin/expect --

Note that the usual getopt(3) and execve(2) conventions must be observed when adding
arguments to the #! line.

The file $exp_library/expect.rc is sourced automatically if present, unless the -N flag is
used. (When using Expectk, this option is specified as -NORC.) Immediately after this,
the file ~/.expect.rc is sourced automatically, unless the -n flag is used. If the
environment variable DOTDIR is defined, it is treated as a directory and .expect.rc is
read from there. (When using Expectk, this option is specified as -norc.) This sourcing
occurs only after executing any -c flags.

-v causes Expect to print its version number and exit. (The corresponding flag in
Expectk, which uses long flag names, is -version.)

Optional args are constructed into a list and stored in the variable named argv. argc is
initialized to the length of argv.

argv0 is defined to be the name of the script (or binary if no script is used). For
example, the following prints out the name of the script and the first three arguments:

send_user "$argv0 [lrange $argv 0 2]\n"


Expect uses Tcl (Tool Command Language). Tcl provides control flow (e.g., if, for,
break), expression evaluation and several other features such as recursion, procedure
definition, etc. Commands used here but not defined (e.g., set, if, exec) are Tcl
commands (see tcl(3)). Expect supports additional commands, described below. Unless
otherwise specified, commands return the empty string.

Commands are listed alphabetically so that they can be quickly located. However, new
users may find it easier to start by reading the descriptions of spawn, send, expect, and
interact, in that order.

Note that the best introduction to the language (both Expect and Tcl) is provided in the
book "Exploring Expect" (see SEE ALSO below). Examples are included in this man page but
they are very limited since this man page is meant primarily as reference material.

Note that in the text of this man page, "Expect" with an uppercase "E" refers to the
Expect program while "expect" with a lower-case "e" refers to the expect command within
the Expect program.)

close [-slave] [-onexec 0|1] [-i spawn_id]
closes the connection to the current process. Most interactive programs will detect
EOF on their stdin and exit; thus close usually suffices to kill the process as
well. The -i flag declares the process to close corresponding to the named

Both expect and interact will detect when the current process exits and implicitly
do a close. But if you kill the process by, say, "exec kill $pid", you will need to
explicitly call close.

The -onexec flag determines whether the spawn id will be closed in any new spawned
processes or if the process is overlayed. To leave a spawn id open, use the value
0. A non-zero integer value will force the spawn closed (the default) in any new

The -slave flag closes the slave associated with the spawn id. (See "spawn -pty".)
When the connection is closed, the slave is automatically closed as well if still

No matter whether the connection is closed implicitly or explicitly, you should call
wait to clear up the corresponding kernel process slot. close does not call wait
since there is no guarantee that closing a process connection will cause it to exit.
See wait below for more info.

debug [[-now] 0|1]
controls a Tcl debugger allowing you to step through statements, set breakpoints,

With no arguments, a 1 is returned if the debugger is not running, otherwise a 0 is

With a 1 argument, the debugger is started. With a 0 argument, the debugger is
stopped. If a 1 argument is preceded by the -now flag, the debugger is started
immediately (i.e., in the middle of the debug command itself). Otherwise, the
debugger is started with the next Tcl statement.

The debug command does not change any traps. Compare this to starting Expect with
the -D flag (see above).

See the README file or SEE ALSO (below) for more information on the debugger.

disconnects a forked process from the terminal. It continues running in the
background. The process is given its own process group (if possible). Standard I/O
is redirected to /dev/null.

The following fragment uses disconnect to continue running the script in the

if {[fork]!=0} exit
. . .

The following script reads a password, and then runs a program every hour that
demands a password each time it is run. The script supplies the password so that
you only have to type it once. (See the stty command which demonstrates how to turn
off password echoing.)

send_user "password?\ "
expect_user -re "(.*)\n"
for {} 1 {} {
if {[fork]!=0} {sleep 3600;continue}
spawn priv_prog
expect Password:
send "$expect_out(1,string)\r"
. . .

An advantage to using disconnect over the shell asynchronous process feature (&) is
that Expect can save the terminal parameters prior to disconnection, and then later
apply them to new ptys. With &, Expect does not have a chance to read the
terminal's parameters since the terminal is already disconnected by the time Expect
receives control.

exit [-opts] [status]
causes Expect to exit or otherwise prepare to do so.

The -onexit flag causes the next argument to be used as an exit handler. Without an
argument, the current exit handler is returned.

The -noexit flag causes Expect to prepare to exit but stop short of actually
returning control to the operating system. The user-defined exit handler is run as
well as Expect's own internal handlers. No further Expect commands should be
executed. This is useful if you are running Expect with other Tcl extensions. The
current interpreter (and main window if in the Tk environment) remain so that other
Tcl extensions can clean up. If Expect's exit is called again (however this might
occur), the handlers are not rerun.

Upon exiting, all connections to spawned processes are closed. Closure will be
detected as an EOF by spawned processes. exit takes no other actions beyond what
the normal _exit(2) procedure does. Thus, spawned processes that do not check for
EOF may continue to run. (A variety of conditions are important to determining, for
example, what signals a spawned process will be sent, but these are system-
dependent, typically documented under exit(3).) Spawned processes that continue to
run will be inherited by init.

status (or 0 if not specified) is returned as the exit status of Expect. exit is
implicitly executed if the end of the script is reached.

exp_continue [-continue_timer]
The command exp_continue allows expect itself to continue executing rather than
returning as it normally would. By default exp_continue resets the timeout timer.
The -continue_timer flag prevents timer from being restarted. (See expect for more

exp_internal [-f file] value
causes further commands to send diagnostic information internal to Expect to stderr
if value is non-zero. This output is disabled if value is 0. The diagnostic
information includes every character received, and every attempt made to match the
current output against the patterns.

If the optional file is supplied, all normal and debugging output is written to that
file (regardless of the value of value). Any previous diagnostic output file is

The -info flag causes exp_internal to return a description of the most recent non-
info arguments given.

exp_open [args] [-i spawn_id]
returns a Tcl file identifier that corresponds to the original spawn id. The file
identifier can then be used as if it were opened by Tcl's open command. (The spawn
id should no longer be used. A wait should not be executed.

The -leaveopen flag leaves the spawn id open for access through Expect commands. A
wait must be executed on the spawn id.

exp_pid [-i spawn_id]
returns the process id corresponding to the currently spawned process. If the -i
flag is used, the pid returned corresponds to that of the given spawn id.

is an alias for send.

is an alias for send_error.

is an alias for send_log.

is an alias for send_tty.

is an alias for send_user.

exp_version [[-exit] version]
is useful for assuring that the script is compatible with the current version of

With no arguments, the current version of Expect is returned. This version may then
be encoded in your script. If you actually know that you are not using features of
recent versions, you can specify an earlier version.

Versions consist of three numbers separated by dots. First is the major number.
Scripts written for versions of Expect with a different major number will almost
certainly not work. exp_version returns an error if the major numbers do not match.

Second is the minor number. Scripts written for a version with a greater minor
number than the current version may depend upon some new feature and might not run.
exp_version returns an error if the major numbers match, but the script minor number
is greater than that of the running Expect.

Third is a number that plays no part in the version comparison. However, it is
incremented when the Expect software distribution is changed in any way, such as by
additional documentation or optimization. It is reset to 0 upon each new minor

With the -exit flag, Expect prints an error and exits if the version is out of date.

expect [[-opts] pat1 body1] ... [-opts] patn [bodyn]
waits until one of the patterns matches the output of a spawned process, a specified
time period has passed, or an end-of-file is seen. If the final body is empty, it
may be omitted.

Patterns from the most recent expect_before command are implicitly used before any
other patterns. Patterns from the most recent expect_after command are implicitly
used after any other patterns.

If the arguments to the entire expect statement require more than one line, all the
arguments may be "braced" into one so as to avoid terminating each line with a
backslash. In this one case, the usual Tcl substitutions will occur despite the

If a pattern is the keyword eof, the corresponding body is executed upon end-of-
file. If a pattern is the keyword timeout, the corresponding body is executed upon
timeout. If no timeout keyword is used, an implicit null action is executed upon
timeout. The default timeout period is 10 seconds but may be set, for example to
30, by the command "set timeout 30". An infinite timeout may be designated by the
value -1. If a pattern is the keyword default, the corresponding body is executed
upon either timeout or end-of-file.

If a pattern matches, then the corresponding body is executed. expect returns the
result of the body (or the empty string if no pattern matched). In the event that
multiple patterns match, the one appearing first is used to select a body.

Each time new output arrives, it is compared to each pattern in the order they are
listed. Thus, you may test for absence of a match by making the last pattern
something guaranteed to appear, such as a prompt. In situations where there is no
prompt, you must use timeout (just like you would if you were interacting manually).

Patterns are specified in three ways. By default, patterns are specified as with
Tcl's string match command. (Such patterns are also similar to C-shell regular
expressions usually referred to as "glob" patterns). The -gl flag may may be used
to protect patterns that might otherwise match expect flags from doing so. Any
pattern beginning with a "-" should be protected this way. (All strings starting
with "-" are reserved for future options.)

For example, the following fragment looks for a successful login. (Note that abort
is presumed to be a procedure defined elsewhere in the script.)

expect {
busy {puts busy\n ; exp_continue}
failed abort
"invalid password" abort
timeout abort

Quotes are necessary on the fourth pattern since it contains a space, which would
otherwise separate the pattern from the action. Patterns with the same action (such
as the 3rd and 4th) require listing the actions again. This can be avoid by using
regexp-style patterns (see below). More information on forming glob-style patterns
can be found in the Tcl manual.

Regexp-style patterns follow the syntax defined by Tcl's regexp (short for "regular
expression") command. regexp patterns are introduced with the flag -re. The
previous example can be rewritten using a regexp as:

expect {
busy {puts busy\n ; exp_continue}
-re "failed|invalid password" abort
timeout abort

Both types of patterns are "unanchored". This means that patterns do not have to
match the entire string, but can begin and end the match anywhere in the string (as
long as everything else matches). Use ^ to match the beginning of a string, and $
to match the end. Note that if you do not wait for the end of a string, your
responses can easily end up in the middle of the string as they are echoed from the
spawned process. While still producing correct results, the output can look
unnatural. Thus, use of $ is encouraged if you can exactly describe the characters
at the end of a string.

Note that in many editors, the ^ and $ match the beginning and end of lines
respectively. However, because expect is not line oriented, these characters match
the beginning and end of the data (as opposed to lines) currently in the expect
matching buffer. (Also, see the note below on "system indigestion.")

The -ex flag causes the pattern to be matched as an "exact" string. No
interpretation of *, ^, etc is made (although the usual Tcl conventions must still
be observed). Exact patterns are always unanchored.

The -nocase flag causes uppercase characters of the output to compare as if they
were lowercase characters. The pattern is not affected.

While reading output, more than 2000 bytes can force earlier bytes to be
"forgotten". This may be changed with the function match_max. (Note that
excessively large values can slow down the pattern matcher.) If patlist is
full_buffer, the corresponding body is executed if match_max bytes have been
received and no other patterns have matched. Whether or not the full_buffer keyword
is used, the forgotten characters are written to expect_out(buffer).

If patlist is the keyword null, and nulls are allowed (via the remove_nulls
command), the corresponding body is executed if a single ASCII 0 is matched. It is
not possible to match 0 bytes via glob or regexp patterns.

Upon matching a pattern (or eof or full_buffer), any matching and previously
unmatched output is saved in the variable expect_out(buffer). Up to 9 regexp
substring matches are saved in the variables expect_out(1,string) through
expect_out(9,string). If the -indices flag is used before a pattern, the starting
and ending indices (in a form suitable for lrange) of the 10 strings are stored in
the variables expect_out(X,start) and expect_out(X,end) where X is a digit,
corresponds to the substring position in the buffer. 0 refers to strings which
matched the entire pattern and is generated for glob patterns as well as regexp
patterns. For example, if a process has produced output of "abcdefgh\n", the result

expect "cd"

is as if the following statements had executed:

set expect_out(0,string) cd
set expect_out(buffer) abcd

and "efgh\n" is left in the output buffer. If a process produced the output
"abbbcabkkkka\n", the result of:

expect -indices -re "b(b*).*(k+)"

is as if the following statements had executed:

set expect_out(0,start) 1
set expect_out(0,end) 10
set expect_out(0,string) bbbcabkkkk
set expect_out(1,start) 2
set expect_out(1,end) 3
set expect_out(1,string) bb
set expect_out(2,start) 10
set expect_out(2,end) 10
set expect_out(2,string) k
set expect_out(buffer) abbbcabkkkk

and "a\n" is left in the output buffer. The pattern "*" (and -re ".*") will flush
the output buffer without reading any more output from the process.

Normally, the matched output is discarded from Expect's internal buffers. This may
be prevented by prefixing a pattern with the -notransfer flag. This flag is
especially useful in experimenting (and can be abbreviated to "-not" for convenience
while experimenting).

The spawn id associated with the matching output (or eof or full_buffer) is stored
in expect_out(spawn_id).

The -timeout flag causes the current expect command to use the following value as a
timeout instead of using the value of the timeout variable.

By default, patterns are matched against output from the current process, however
the -i flag declares the output from the named spawn_id list be matched against any
following patterns (up to the next -i). The spawn_id list should either be a
whitespace separated list of spawn_ids or a variable referring to such a list of

For example, the following example waits for "connected" from the current process,
or "busy", "failed" or "invalid password" from the spawn_id named by $proc2.

expect {
-i $proc2 busy {puts busy\n ; exp_continue}
-re "failed|invalid password" abort
timeout abort

The value of the global variable any_spawn_id may be used to match patterns to any
spawn_ids that are named with all other -i flags in the current expect command. The
spawn_id from a -i flag with no associated pattern (i.e., followed immediately by
another -i) is made available to any other patterns in the same expect command
associated with any_spawn_id.

The -i flag may also name a global variable in which case the variable is read for a
list of spawn ids. The variable is reread whenever it changes. This provides a way
of changing the I/O source while the command is in execution. Spawn ids provided
this way are called "indirect" spawn ids.

Actions such as break and continue cause control structures (i.e., for, proc) to
behave in the usual way. The command exp_continue allows expect itself to continue
executing rather than returning as it normally would.

This is useful for avoiding explicit loops or repeated expect statements. The
following example is part of a fragment to automate rlogin. The exp_continue avoids
having to write a second expect statement (to look for the prompt again) if the
rlogin prompts for a password.

expect {
Password: {
stty -echo
send_user "password (for $user) on $host: "
expect_user -re "(.*)\n"
send_user "\n"
send "$expect_out(1,string)\r"
stty echo
} incorrect {
send_user "invalid password or account\n"
} timeout {
send_user "connection to $host timed out\n"
} eof {
send_user \
"connection to host failed: $expect_out(buffer)"
} -re $prompt

For example, the following fragment might help a user guide an interaction that is
already totally automated. In this case, the terminal is put into raw mode. If the
user presses "+", a variable is incremented. If "p" is pressed, several returns are
sent to the process, perhaps to poke it in some way, and "i" lets the user interact
with the process, effectively stealing away control from the script. In each case,
the exp_continue allows the current expect to continue pattern matching after
executing the current action.

stty raw -echo
expect_after {
-i $user_spawn_id
"p" {send "\r\r\r"; exp_continue}
"+" {incr foo; exp_continue}
"i" {interact; exp_continue}
"quit" exit

By default, exp_continue resets the timeout timer. The timer is not restarted, if
exp_continue is called with the -continue_timer flag.

expect_after [expect_args]
works identically to the expect_before except that if patterns from both expect and
expect_after can match, the expect pattern is used. See the expect_before command
for more information.

expect_background [expect_args]
takes the same arguments as expect, however it returns immediately. Patterns are
tested whenever new input arrives. The pattern timeout and default are meaningless
to expect_background and are silently discarded. Otherwise, the expect_background
command uses expect_before and expect_after patterns just like expect does.

When expect_background actions are being evaluated, background processing for the
same spawn id is blocked. Background processing is unblocked when the action
completes. While background processing is blocked, it is possible to do a
(foreground) expect on the same spawn id.

It is not possible to execute an expect while an expect_background is unblocked.
expect_background for a particular spawn id is deleted by declaring a new
expect_background with the same spawn id. Declaring expect_background with no
pattern removes the given spawn id from the ability to match patterns in the

expect_before [expect_args]
takes the same arguments as expect, however it returns immediately. Pattern-action
pairs from the most recent expect_before with the same spawn id are implicitly added
to any following expect commands. If a pattern matches, it is treated as if it had
been specified in the expect command itself, and the associated body is executed in
the context of the expect command. If patterns from both expect_before and expect
can match, the expect_before pattern is used.

If no pattern is specified, the spawn id is not checked for any patterns.

Unless overridden by a -i flag, expect_before patterns match against the spawn id
defined at the time that the expect_before command was executed (not when its
pattern is matched).

The -info flag causes expect_before to return the current specifications of what
patterns it will match. By default, it reports on the current spawn id. An
optional spawn id specification may be given for information on that spawn id. For

expect_before -info -i $proc

At most one spawn id specification may be given. The flag -indirect suppresses
direct spawn ids that come only from indirect specifications.

Instead of a spawn id specification, the flag "-all" will cause "-info" to report on
all spawn ids.

The output of the -info flag can be reused as the argument to expect_before.

expect_tty [expect_args]
is like expect but it reads characters from /dev/tty (i.e. keystrokes from the
user). By default, reading is performed in cooked mode. Thus, lines must end with
a return in order for expect to see them. This may be changed via stty (see the
stty command below).

expect_user [expect_args]
is like expect but it reads characters from stdin (i.e. keystrokes from the user).
By default, reading is performed in cooked mode. Thus, lines must end with a return
in order for expect to see them. This may be changed via stty (see the stty command

fork creates a new process. The new process is an exact copy of the current Expect
process. On success, fork returns 0 to the new (child) process and returns the
process ID of the child process to the parent process. On failure (invariably due
to lack of resources, e.g., swap space, memory), fork returns -1 to the parent
process, and no child process is created.

Forked processes exit via the exit command, just like the original process. Forked
processes are allowed to write to the log files. If you do not disable debugging or
logging in most of the processes, the result can be confusing.

Some pty implementations may be confused by multiple readers and writers, even
momentarily. Thus, it is safest to fork before spawning processes.

interact [string1 body1] ... [stringn [bodyn]]
gives control of the current process to the user, so that keystrokes are sent to the
current process, and the stdout and stderr of the current process are returned.

String-body pairs may be specified as arguments, in which case the body is executed
when the corresponding string is entered. (By default, the string is not sent to
the current process.) The interpreter command is assumed, if the final body is

If the arguments to the entire interact statement require more than one line, all
the arguments may be "braced" into one so as to avoid terminating each line with a
backslash. In this one case, the usual Tcl substitutions will occur despite the

For example, the following command runs interact with the following string-body
pairs defined: When ^Z is pressed, Expect is suspended. (The -reset flag restores
the terminal modes.) When ^A is pressed, the user sees "you typed a control-A" and
the process is sent a ^A. When $ is pressed, the user sees the date. When ^C is
pressed, Expect exits. If "foo" is entered, the user sees "bar". When ~~ is
pressed, the Expect interpreter runs interactively.

set CTRLZ \032
interact {
-reset $CTRLZ {exec kill -STOP [pid]}
\001 {send_user "you typed a control-A\n";
send "\001"
$ {send_user "The date is [clock format [clock seconds]]."}
\003 exit
foo {send_user "bar"}

In string-body pairs, strings are matched in the order they are listed as arguments.
Strings that partially match are not sent to the current process in anticipation of
the remainder coming. If characters are then entered such that there can no longer
possibly be a match, only the part of the string will be sent to the process that
cannot possibly begin another match. Thus, strings that are substrings of partial
matches can match later, if the original strings that was attempting to be match
ultimately fails.

By default, string matching is exact with no wild cards. (In contrast, the expect
command uses glob-style patterns by default.) The -ex flag may be used to protect
patterns that might otherwise match interact flags from doing so. Any pattern
beginning with a "-" should be protected this way. (All strings starting with "-"
are reserved for future options.)

The -re flag forces the string to be interpreted as a regexp-style pattern. In this
case, matching substrings are stored in the variable interact_out similarly to the
way expect stores its output in the variable expect_out. The -indices flag is
similarly supported.

The pattern eof introduces an action that is executed upon end-of-file. A separate
eof pattern may also follow the -output flag in which case it is matched if an eof
is detected while writing output. The default eof action is "return", so that
interact simply returns upon any EOF.

The pattern timeout introduces a timeout (in seconds) and action that is executed
after no characters have been read for a given time. The timeout pattern applies to
the most recently specified process. There is no default timeout. The special
variable "timeout" (used by the expect command) has no affect on this timeout.

For example, the following statement could be used to autologout users who have not
typed anything for an hour but who still get frequent system messages:

interact -input $user_spawn_id timeout 3600 return -output \

If the pattern is the keyword null, and nulls are allowed (via the remove_nulls
command), the corresponding body is executed if a single ASCII 0 is matched. It is
not possible to match 0 bytes via glob or regexp patterns.

Prefacing a pattern with the flag -iwrite causes the variable interact_out(spawn_id)
to be set to the spawn_id which matched the pattern (or eof).

Actions such as break and continue cause control structures (i.e., for, proc) to
behave in the usual way. However return causes interact to return to its caller,
while inter_return causes interact to cause a return in its caller. For example, if
"proc foo" called interact which then executed the action inter_return, proc foo
would return. (This means that if interact calls interpreter interactively typing
return will cause the interact to continue, while inter_return will cause the
interact to return to its caller.)

During interact, raw mode is used so that all characters may be passed to the
current process. If the current process does not catch job control signals, it will
stop if sent a stop signal (by default ^Z). To restart it, send a continue signal
(such as by "kill -CONT <pid>"). If you really want to send a SIGSTOP to such a
process (by ^Z), consider spawning csh first and then running your program. On the
other hand, if you want to send a SIGSTOP to Expect itself, first call interpreter
(perhaps by using an escape character), and then press ^Z.

String-body pairs can be used as a shorthand for avoiding having to enter the
interpreter and execute commands interactively. The previous terminal mode is used
while the body of a string-body pair is being executed.

For speed, actions execute in raw mode by default. The -reset flag resets the
terminal to the mode it had before interact was executed (invariably, cooked mode).
Note that characters entered when the mode is being switched may be lost (an
unfortunate feature of the terminal driver on some systems). The only reason to use
-reset is if your action depends on running in cooked mode.

The -echo flag sends characters that match the following pattern back to the process
that generated them as each character is read. This may be useful when the user
needs to see feedback from partially typed patterns.

If a pattern is being echoed but eventually fails to match, the characters are sent
to the spawned process. If the spawned process then echoes them, the user will see
the characters twice. -echo is probably only appropriate in situations where the
user is unlikely to not complete the pattern. For example, the following excerpt is
from rftp, the recursive-ftp script, where the user is prompted to enter ~g, ~p, or
~l, to get, put, or list the current directory recursively. These are so far away
from the normal ftp commands, that the user is unlikely to type ~ followed by
anything else, except mistakenly, in which case, they'll probably just ignore the
result anyway.

interact {
-echo ~g {getcurdirectory 1}
-echo ~l {getcurdirectory 0}
-echo ~p {putcurdirectory}

The -nobuffer flag sends characters that match the following pattern on to the
output process as characters are read.

This is useful when you wish to let a program echo back the pattern. For example,
the following might be used to monitor where a person is dialing (a Hayes-style
modem). Each time "atd" is seen the script logs the rest of the line.

proc lognumber {} {
interact -nobuffer -re "(.*)\r" return
puts $log "[clock format [clock seconds]]: dialed $interact_out(1,string)"

interact -nobuffer "atd" lognumber

During interact, previous use of log_user is ignored. In particular, interact will
force its output to be logged (sent to the standard output) since it is presumed the
user doesn't wish to interact blindly.

The -o flag causes any following key-body pairs to be applied to the output of the
current process. This can be useful, for example, when dealing with hosts that send
unwanted characters during a telnet session.

By default, interact expects the user to be writing stdin and reading stdout of the
Expect process itself. The -u flag (for "user") makes interact look for the user as
the process named by its argument (which must be a spawned id).

This allows two unrelated processes to be joined together without using an explicit
loop. To aid in debugging, Expect diagnostics always go to stderr (or stdout for
certain logging and debugging information). For the same reason, the interpreter
command will read interactively from stdin.

For example, the following fragment creates a login process. Then it dials the user
(not shown), and finally connects the two together. Of course, any process may be
substituted for login. A shell, for example, would allow the user to work without
supplying an account and password.

spawn login
set login $spawn_id
spawn tip modem
# dial back out to user
# connect user to login
interact -u $login

To send output to multiple processes, list each spawn id list prefaced by a -output
flag. Input for a group of output spawn ids may be determined by a spawn id list
prefaced by a -input flag. (Both -input and -output may take lists in the same form
as the -i flag in the expect command, except that any_spawn_id is not meaningful in
interact.) All following flags and strings (or patterns) apply to this input until
another -input flag appears. If no -input appears, -output implies "-input
$user_spawn_id -output". (Similarly, with patterns that do not have -input.) If
one -input is specified, it overrides $user_spawn_id. If a second -input is
specified, it overrides $spawn_id. Additional -input flags may be specified.

The two implied input processes default to having their outputs specified as
$spawn_id and $user_spawn_id (in reverse). If a -input flag appears with no -output
flag, characters from that process are discarded.

The -i flag introduces a replacement for the current spawn_id when no other -input
or -output flags are used. A -i flag implies a -o flag.

It is possible to change the processes that are being interacted with by using
indirect spawn ids. (Indirect spawn ids are described in the section on the expect
command.) Indirect spawn ids may be specified with the -i, -u, -input, or -output

interpreter [args]
causes the user to be interactively prompted for Expect and Tcl commands. The
result of each command is printed.

Actions such as break and continue cause control structures (i.e., for, proc) to
behave in the usual way. However return causes interpreter to return to its caller,
while inter_return causes interpreter to cause a return in its caller. For example,
if "proc foo" called interpreter which then executed the action inter_return, proc
foo would return. Any other command causes interpreter to continue prompting for
new commands.

By default, the prompt contains two integers. The first integer describes the depth
of the evaluation stack (i.e., how many times Tcl_Eval has been called). The second
integer is the Tcl history identifier. The prompt can be set by defining a
procedure called "prompt1" whose return value becomes the next prompt. If a
statement has open quotes, parens, braces, or brackets, a secondary prompt (by
default "+> ") is issued upon newline. The secondary prompt may be set by defining
a procedure called "prompt2".

During interpreter, cooked mode is used, even if the its caller was using raw mode.

If stdin is closed, interpreter will return unless the -eof flag is used, in which
case the subsequent argument is invoked.

log_file [args] [[-a] file]
If a filename is provided, log_file will record a transcript of the session
(beginning at that point) in the file. log_file will stop recording if no argument
is given. Any previous log file is closed.

Instead of a filename, a Tcl file identifier may be provided by using the -open or
-leaveopen flags. This is similar to the spawn command. (See spawn for more info.)

The -a flag forces output to be logged that was suppressed by the log_user command.

By default, the log_file command appends to old files rather than truncating them,
for the convenience of being able to turn logging off and on multiple times in one
session. To truncate files, use the -noappend flag.

The -info flag causes log_file to return a description of the most recent non-info
arguments given.

log_user -info|0|1
By default, the send/expect dialogue is logged to stdout (and a logfile if open).
The logging to stdout is disabled by the command "log_user 0" and reenabled by
"log_user 1". Logging to the logfile is unchanged.

The -info flag causes log_user to return a description of the most recent non-info
arguments given.

match_max [-d] [-i spawn_id] [size]
defines the size of the buffer (in bytes) used internally by expect. With no size
argument, the current size is returned.

With the -d flag, the default size is set. (The initial default is 2000.) With the
-i flag, the size is set for the named spawn id, otherwise it is set for the current

overlay [-# spawn_id] [-# spawn_id] [...] program [args]
executes program args in place of the current Expect program, which terminates. A
bare hyphen argument forces a hyphen in front of the command name as if it was a
login shell. All spawn_ids are closed except for those named as arguments. These
are mapped onto the named file identifiers.

Spawn_ids are mapped to file identifiers for the new program to inherit. For
example, the following line runs chess and allows it to be controlled by the current
process - say, a chess master.

overlay -0 $spawn_id -1 $spawn_id -2 $spawn_id chess

This is more efficient than "interact -u", however, it sacrifices the ability to do
programmed interaction since the Expect process is no longer in control.

Note that no controlling terminal is provided. Thus, if you disconnect or remap
standard input, programs that do job control (shells, login, etc) will not function

parity [-d] [-i spawn_id] [value]
defines whether parity should be retained or stripped from the output of spawned
processes. If value is zero, parity is stripped, otherwise it is not stripped.
With no value argument, the current value is returned.

With the -d flag, the default parity value is set. (The initial default is 1, i.e.,
parity is not stripped.) With the -i flag, the parity value is set for the named
spawn id, otherwise it is set for the current process.

remove_nulls [-d] [-i spawn_id] [value]
defines whether nulls are retained or removed from the output of spawned processes
before pattern matching or storing in the variable expect_out or interact_out. If
value is 1, nulls are removed. If value is 0, nulls are not removed. With no value
argument, the current value is returned.

With the -d flag, the default value is set. (The initial default is 1, i.e., nulls
are removed.) With the -i flag, the value is set for the named spawn id, otherwise
it is set for the current process.

Whether or not nulls are removed, Expect will record null bytes to the log and

send [-flags] string
Sends string to the current process. For example, the command

send "hello world\r"

sends the characters, h e l l o <blank> w o r l d <return> to the current process.
(Tcl includes a printf-like command (called format) which can build arbitrarily
complex strings.)

Characters are sent immediately although programs with line-buffered input will not
read the characters until a return character is sent. A return character is denoted

The -- flag forces the next argument to be interpreted as a string rather than a
flag. Any string can be preceded by "--" whether or not it actually looks like a
flag. This provides a reliable mechanism to specify variable strings without being
tripped up by those that accidentally look like flags. (All strings starting with
"-" are reserved for future options.)

The -i flag declares that the string be sent to the named spawn_id. If the spawn_id
is user_spawn_id, and the terminal is in raw mode, newlines in the string are
translated to return-newline sequences so that they appear as if the terminal was in
cooked mode. The -raw flag disables this translation.

The -null flag sends null characters (0 bytes). By default, one null is sent. An
integer may follow the -null to indicate how many nulls to send.

The -break flag generates a break condition. This only makes sense if the spawn id
refers to a tty device opened via "spawn -open". If you have spawned a process such
as tip, you should use tip's convention for generating a break.

The -s flag forces output to be sent "slowly", thus avoid the common situation where
a computer outtypes an input buffer that was designed for a human who would never
outtype the same buffer. This output is controlled by the value of the variable
"send_slow" which takes a two element list. The first element is an integer that
describes the number of bytes to send atomically. The second element is a real
number that describes the number of seconds by which the atomic sends must be
separated. For example, "set send_slow {10 .001}" would force "send -s" to send
strings with 1 millisecond in between each 10 characters sent.

The -h flag forces output to be sent (somewhat) like a human actually typing.
Human-like delays appear between the characters. (The algorithm is based upon a
Weibull distribution, with modifications to suit this particular application.) This
output is controlled by the value of the variable "send_human" which takes a five
element list. The first two elements are average interarrival time of characters in
seconds. The first is used by default. The second is used at word endings, to
simulate the subtle pauses that occasionally occur at such transitions. The third
parameter is a measure of variability where .1 is quite variable, 1 is reasonably
variable, and 10 is quite invariable. The extremes are 0 to infinity. The last two
parameters are, respectively, a minimum and maximum interarrival time. The minimum
and maximum are used last and "clip" the final time. The ultimate average can be
quite different from the given average if the minimum and maximum clip enough

As an example, the following command emulates a fast and consistent typist:

set send_human {.1 .3 1 .05 2}
send -h "I'm hungry. Let's do lunch."

while the following might be more suitable after a hangover:

set send_human {.4 .4 .2 .5 100}
send -h "Goodd party lash night!"

Note that errors are not simulated, although you can set up error correction
situations yourself by embedding mistakes and corrections in a send argument.

The flags for sending null characters, for sending breaks, for forcing slow output
and for human-style output are mutually exclusive. Only the one specified last will
be used. Furthermore, no string argument can be specified with the flags for sending
null characters or breaks.

It is a good idea to precede the first send to a process by an expect. expect will
wait for the process to start, while send cannot. In particular, if the first send
completes before the process starts running, you run the risk of having your data
ignored. In situations where interactive programs offer no initial prompt, you can
precede send by a delay as in:

# To avoid giving hackers hints on how to break in,
# this system does not prompt for an external password.
# Wait for 5 seconds for exec to complete
spawn telnet very.secure.gov
sleep 5
send password\r

exp_send is an alias for send. If you are using Expectk or some other variant of
Expect in the Tk environment, send is defined by Tk for an entirely different
purpose. exp_send is provided for compatibility between environments. Similar
aliases are provided for other Expect's other send commands.

send_error [-flags] string
is like send, except that the output is sent to stderr rather than the current

send_log [--] string
is like send, except that the string is only sent to the log file (see log_file.)
The arguments are ignored if no log file is open.

send_tty [-flags] string
is like send, except that the output is sent to /dev/tty rather than the current

send_user [-flags] string
is like send, except that the output is sent to stdout rather than the current

sleep seconds
causes the script to sleep for the given number of seconds. Seconds may be a
decimal number. Interrupts (and Tk events if you are using Expectk) are processed
while Expect sleeps.

spawn [args] program [args]
creates a new process running program args. Its stdin, stdout and stderr are
connected to Expect, so that they may be read and written by other Expect commands.
The connection is broken by close or if the process itself closes any of the file

When a process is started by spawn, the variable spawn_id is set to a descriptor
referring to that process. The process described by spawn_id is considered the
current process. spawn_id may be read or written, in effect providing job control.

user_spawn_id is a global variable containing a descriptor which refers to the user.
For example, when spawn_id is set to this value, expect behaves like expect_user.

error_spawn_id is a global variable containing a descriptor which refers to the
standard error. For example, when spawn_id is set to this value, send behaves like

tty_spawn_id is a global variable containing a descriptor which refers to /dev/tty.
If /dev/tty does not exist (such as in a cron, at, or batch script), then
tty_spawn_id is not defined. This may be tested as:

if {[info vars tty_spawn_id]} {
# /dev/tty exists
} else {
# /dev/tty doesn't exist
# probably in cron, batch, or at script

spawn returns the UNIX process id. If no process is spawned, 0 is returned. The
variable spawn_out(slave,name) is set to the name of the pty slave device.

By default, spawn echoes the command name and arguments. The -noecho flag stops
spawn from doing this.

The -console flag causes console output to be redirected to the spawned process.
This is not supported on all systems.

Internally, spawn uses a pty, initialized the same way as the user's tty. This is
further initialized so that all settings are "sane" (according to stty(1)). If the
variable stty_init is defined, it is interpreted in the style of stty arguments as
further configuration. For example, "set stty_init raw" will cause further spawned
processes's terminals to start in raw mode. -nottycopy skips the initialization
based on the user's tty. -nottyinit skips the "sane" initialization.

Normally, spawn takes little time to execute. If you notice spawn taking a
significant amount of time, it is probably encountering ptys that are wedged. A
number of tests are run on ptys to avoid entanglements with errant processes.
(These take 10 seconds per wedged pty.) Running Expect with the -d option will show
if Expect is encountering many ptys in odd states. If you cannot kill the processes
to which these ptys are attached, your only recourse may be to reboot.

If program cannot be spawned successfully because exec(2) fails (e.g. when program
doesn't exist), an error message will be returned by the next interact or expect
command as if program had run and produced the error message as output. This
behavior is a natural consequence of the implementation of spawn. Internally, spawn
forks, after which the spawned process has no way to communicate with the original
Expect process except by communication via the spawn_id.

The -open flag causes the next argument to be interpreted as a Tcl file identifier
(i.e., returned by open.) The spawn id can then be used as if it were a spawned
process. (The file identifier should no longer be used.) This lets you treat raw
devices, files, and pipelines as spawned processes without using a pty. 0 is
returned to indicate there is no associated process. When the connection to the
spawned process is closed, so is the Tcl file identifier. The -leaveopen flag is
similar to -open except that -leaveopen causes the file identifier to be left open
even after the spawn id is closed.

The -pty flag causes a pty to be opened but no process spawned. 0 is returned to
indicate there is no associated process. Spawn_id is set as usual.

The variable spawn_out(slave,fd) is set to a file identifier corresponding to the
pty slave. It can be closed using "close -slave".

The -ignore flag names a signal to be ignored in the spawned process. Otherwise,
signals get the default behavior. Signals are named as in the trap command, except
that each signal requires a separate flag.

strace level
causes following statements to be printed before being executed. (Tcl's trace
command traces variables.) level indicates how far down in the call stack to trace.
For example, the following command runs Expect while tracing the first 4 levels of
calls, but none below that.

expect -c "strace 4" script.exp

The -info flag causes strace to return a description of the most recent non-info
arguments given.

stty args
changes terminal modes similarly to the external stty command.

By default, the controlling terminal is accessed. Other terminals can be accessed
by appending "< /dev/tty..." to the command. (Note that the arguments should not be
grouped into a single argument.)

Requests for status return it as the result of the command. If no status is
requested and the controlling terminal is accessed, the previous status of the raw
and echo attributes are returned in a form which can later be used by the command.

For example, the arguments raw or -cooked put the terminal into raw mode. The
arguments -raw or cooked put the terminal into cooked mode. The arguments echo and
-echo put the terminal into echo and noecho mode respectively.

The following example illustrates how to temporarily disable echoing. This could be
used in otherwise-automatic scripts to avoid embedding passwords in them. (See more
discussion on this under EXPECT HINTS below.)

stty -echo
send_user "Password: "
expect_user -re "(.*)\n"
set password $expect_out(1,string)
stty echo

system args
gives args to sh(1) as input, just as if it had been typed as a command from a
terminal. Expect waits until the shell terminates. The return status from sh is
handled the same way that exec handles its return status.

In contrast to exec which redirects stdin and stdout to the script, system performs
no redirection (other than that indicated by the string itself). Thus, it is
possible to use programs which must talk directly to /dev/tty. For the same reason,
the results of system are not recorded in the log.

timestamp [args]
returns a timestamp. With no arguments, the number of seconds since the epoch is

The -format flag introduces a string which is returned but with substitutions made
according to the POSIX rules for strftime. For example %a is replaced by an
abbreviated weekday name (i.e., Sat). Others are:
%a abbreviated weekday name
%A full weekday name
%b abbreviated month name
%B full month name
%c date-time as in: Wed Oct 6 11:45:56 1993
%d day of the month (01-31)
%H hour (00-23)
%I hour (01-12)
%j day (001-366)
%m month (01-12)
%M minute (00-59)
%p am or pm
%S second (00-61)
%u day (1-7, Monday is first day of week)
%U week (00-53, first Sunday is first day of week one)
%V week (01-53, ISO 8601 style)
%w day (0-6)
%W week (00-53, first Monday is first day of week one)
%x date-time as in: Wed Oct 6 1993
%X time as in: 23:59:59
%y year (00-99)
%Y year as in: 1993
%Z timezone (or nothing if not determinable)
%% a bare percent sign

Other % specifications are undefined. Other characters will be passed through
untouched. Only the C locale is supported.

The -seconds flag introduces a number of seconds since the epoch to be used as a
source from which to format. Otherwise, the current time is used.

The -gmt flag forces timestamp output to use the GMT timezone. With no flag, the
local timezone is used.

trap [[command] signals]
causes the given command to be executed upon future receipt of any of the given
signals. The command is executed in the global scope. If command is absent, the
signal action is returned. If command is the string SIG_IGN, the signals are
ignored. If command is the string SIG_DFL, the signals are result to the system
default. signals is either a single signal or a list of signals. Signals may be
specified numerically or symbolically as per signal(3). The "SIG" prefix may be

With no arguments (or the argument -number), trap returns the signal number of the
trap command currently being executed.

The -code flag uses the return code of the command in place of whatever code Tcl was
about to return when the command originally started running.

The -interp flag causes the command to be evaluated using the interpreter active at
the time the command started running rather than when the trap was declared.

The -name flag causes the trap command to return the signal name of the trap command
currently being executed.

The -max flag causes the trap command to return the largest signal number that can
be set.

For example, the command "trap {send_user "Ouch!"} SIGINT" will print "Ouch!" each
time the user presses ^C.

By default, SIGINT (which can usually be generated by pressing ^C) and SIGTERM cause
Expect to exit. This is due to the following trap, created by default when Expect

trap exit {SIGINT SIGTERM}

If you use the -D flag to start the debugger, SIGINT is redefined to start the
interactive debugger. This is due to the following trap:

trap {exp_debug 1} SIGINT

The debugger trap can be changed by setting the environment variable
EXPECT_DEBUG_INIT to a new trap command.

You can, of course, override both of these just by adding trap commands to your
script. In particular, if you have your own "trap exit SIGINT", this will override
the debugger trap. This is useful if you want to prevent users from getting to the
debugger at all.

If you want to define your own trap on SIGINT but still trap to the debugger when it
is running, use:

if {![exp_debug]} {trap mystuff SIGINT}

Alternatively, you can trap to the debugger using some other signal.

trap will not let you override the action for SIGALRM as this is used internally to
Expect. The disconnect command sets SIGALRM to SIG_IGN (ignore). You can reenable
this as long as you disable it during subsequent spawn commands.

See signal(3) for more info.

wait [args]
delays until a spawned process (or the current process if none is named) terminates.

wait normally returns a list of four integers. The first integer is the pid of the
process that was waited upon. The second integer is the corresponding spawn id.
The third integer is -1 if an operating system error occurred, or 0 otherwise. If
the third integer was 0, the fourth integer is the status returned by the spawned
process. If the third integer was -1, the fourth integer is the value of errno set
by the operating system. The global variable errorCode is also set.

Additional elements may appear at the end of the return value from wait. An
optional fifth element identifies a class of information. Currently, the only
possible value for this element is CHILDKILLED in which case the next two values are
the C-style signal name and a short textual description.

The -i flag declares the process to wait corresponding to the named spawn_id (NOT
the process id). Inside a SIGCHLD handler, it is possible to wait for any spawned
process by using the spawn id -1.

The -nowait flag causes the wait to return immediately with the indication of a
successful wait. When the process exits (later), it will automatically disappear
without the need for an explicit wait.

The wait command may also be used wait for a forked process using the arguments "-i
-1". Unlike its use with spawned processes, this command can be executed at any
time. There is no control over which process is reaped. However, the return value
can be checked for the process id.


Expect automatically knows about two built-in libraries for Expect scripts. These are
defined by the directories named in the variables exp_library and exp_exec_library. Both
are meant to contain utility files that can be used by other scripts.

exp_library contains architecture-independent files. exp_exec_library contains
architecture-dependent files. Depending on your system, both directories may be totally
empty. The existence of the file $exp_exec_library/cat-buffers describes whether your
/bin/cat buffers by default.


A vgrind definition is available for pretty-printing Expect scripts. Assuming the vgrind
definition supplied with the Expect distribution is correctly installed, you can use it

vgrind -lexpect file


It many not be apparent how to put everything together that the man page describes. I
encourage you to read and try out the examples in the example directory of the Expect
distribution. Some of them are real programs. Others are simply illustrative of certain
techniques, and of course, a couple are just quick hacks. The INSTALL file has a quick
overview of these programs.

The Expect papers (see SEE ALSO) are also useful. While some papers use syntax
corresponding to earlier versions of Expect, the accompanying rationales are still valid
and go into a lot more detail than this man page.


Extensions may collide with Expect's command names. For example, send is defined by Tk
for an entirely different purpose. For this reason, most of the Expect commands are also
available as "exp_XXXX". Commands and variables beginning with "exp", "inter", "spawn",
and "timeout" do not have aliases. Use the extended command names if you need this
compatibility between environments.

Expect takes a rather liberal view of scoping. In particular, variables read by commands
specific to the Expect program will be sought first from the local scope, and if not
found, in the global scope. For example, this obviates the need to place "global timeout"
in every procedure you write that uses expect. On the other hand, variables written are
always in the local scope (unless a "global" command has been issued). The most common
problem this causes is when spawn is executed in a procedure. Outside the procedure,
spawn_id no longer exists, so the spawned process is no longer accessible simply because
of scoping. Add a "global spawn_id" to such a procedure.

If you cannot enable the multispawning capability (i.e., your system supports neither
select (BSD *.*), poll (SVR>2), nor something equivalent), Expect will only be able to
control a single process at a time. In this case, do not attempt to set spawn_id, nor
should you execute processes via exec while a spawned process is running. Furthermore,
you will not be able to expect from multiple processes (including the user as one) at the
same time.

Terminal parameters can have a big effect on scripts. For example, if a script is written
to look for echoing, it will misbehave if echoing is turned off. For this reason, Expect
forces sane terminal parameters by default. Unfortunately, this can make things
unpleasant for other programs. As an example, the emacs shell wants to change the "usual"
mappings: newlines get mapped to newlines instead of carriage-return newlines, and echoing
is disabled. This allows one to use emacs to edit the input line. Unfortunately, Expect
cannot possibly guess this.

You can request that Expect not override its default setting of terminal parameters, but
you must then be very careful when writing scripts for such environments. In the case of
emacs, avoid depending upon things like echoing and end-of-line mappings.

The commands that accepted arguments braced into a single list (the expect variants and
interact) use a heuristic to decide if the list is actually one argument or many. The
heuristic can fail only in the case when the list actually does represent a single
argument which has multiple embedded \n's with non-whitespace characters between them.
This seems sufficiently improbable, however the argument "-nobrace" can be used to force a
single argument to be handled as a single argument. This could conceivably be used with
machine-generated Expect code. Similarly, -brace forces a single argument to be handle as
multiple patterns/actions.

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