Expect usage example for automation scripts

Practice Expect, Automation, Passwd


Expect is an extension to Tcl scripting language and provides features to automate interactions between programs and users. For example, it can send password to an SSH command automatically without any user interaction. I will give some insights about what expect can do and some examples in this post.

Basic examples

Greeting like a robot

Basically, expect has two keywords to use, expect and send. expect is to receive a certain message or a message pattern and then send responds accordingly. The following simple example shows a greeting between two robots. Create a file greeting.exp and add following lines:

#!/usr/bin/expect -f
expect "Nice to meet you"
send "Nice to meet you, too"
expect eof

The shebang line implies this script uses expect and the final line expect eof indicates the end of the program. You can run the script by

$ expect greeting.exp


$ chmod +x greeting.exp
$ ./greeting.exp

and after you type Nice to meet you, the program will respond.

$ expect greeting.exp
Nice to meet you
Nice to meet you, too

That’s interesting, right?

Automatically SSH to a server

Then we can move to another example which is to login to a server automatically, with an additional keyword spawn.

Create a file ssh.exp and add the following lines:

#!/usr/bin/expect -f
set passwd password

spawn ssh bowentan@server.address
expect ".*assword.*"
send "$passwd\r"
expect eof

The set is used to locally declare a variable passwd containing password, just like a shell variable. Besides a complete string to match in expect, you can also use a regex pattern to match the prompt messages. And the \r character is to simulate the enter key of the keyboard.

Automate password resets for a large number of user list

One more example is to add the feature of receiving command line arguments and then use the script to reset the passwords of a large number of users maintained in a list with root privilege.

Create a file auto_passwd.exp and add the following lines:

#!/usr/bin/expect -f

set username [lindex $argv 0]
set password 00000000

spawn passwd $username
expect ".*assword.*"
send "$password\r"
expect eof

and the list of users user.list is like


then you can change passwords for all users to 00000000 in the list user.list by a single command:

$ while read username; do expect auto_passwd.exp $username; done < user.list

That’s it! Expect has many more helpful features for automation, you can learn more here.


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