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Using Variables

Bunch allows the use of variables within Bunches and Snippets, adding flexibility and dynamic capabilities to your Bunches.

Default Variables

Some variables are populated automatically and can be referenced within a Bunch.

contains either the filename, or the display title if it’s been set with title: frontmatter.
contains the filename of the Bunch, without the .bunch extension. This is the name by which AppleScript and any tools that rely on AppleScript responses will recognize, so if you need to a Bunch to reference itself, e.g. in a script argument, you can use ${basename}.
This value will be “OPENING” or “CLOSING” if the Bunch is currently being processed.
If the current Bunch is being opened by another Bunch, this variable will contain the title of the parent Bunch.

Defining Variables

In order to use a variable within a Bunch, you need to give it a value. Variables get their values in a variety of ways: from frontmatter, from interactive dialogs, or from arguments passed when opening a Snippet or Bunch from within a Bunch or via automation tools. You can also assign variables directly in the Bunch using strings or file imports.

Direct Assignment

Direct assignment works like most scripting languages, defining the variable and it’s value like this:

my_var = The Value

// which can now be used as
* say "${my_var}"

You don’t need to quote or escape the value in any way. This is essentially the same as defining the variable in frontmatter, but allows you to define/modify values within conditional logic blocks.


If you want to create a value with multiple lines, you can use one of Bunch’s heredoc syntaxes.

Markdown Syntax

The first form of this syntax is similar to fenced code blocks in Markdown. You start the block with three backticks (```) and a newline, insert your text, then end the block with another newline and triple backticks.

All content will be outdented to the level of the first line, so you can indent the entire block as much as you like for readability.

my_var = ```
         line one
         all of this will be outdented
         line three

The last three backticks must be on a line by themselves, but can be indented with any number of tabs and/or spaces.

Traditional Syntax

The second heredoc syntax is taken from programming languages, using <<MARKER to start the block, and MARKER on a line to end the block. MARKER can be any combination of uppercase alphabetical characters (basic latin A-Z only).

Like the Markdown syntax, all content between the start and end markers will be outdented to the level of the first line.

my_var = <<EOFILE
         line one
         all of this will be outdented
         line three

Snippet/External File

You can also use Bunch’s snippet syntax when defining a variable, including fragment support.

my_var = <external.snippet

The contents of the file external.snippet (relative to your Bunch folder) will be imported as the value of my_var. If the file you’re importing makes use of fragments, you can specify that with <external.snippet#fragment name.

This syntax also supports embedded snippets, e.g. my_var = <<#Text Section. As long as nothing else is trying to execute the text section as Bunch lines, you can include any text you want in the embedded snippet or fragment.

In Frontmatter

A variable is a key and a value. You can define the variable in frontmatter by using a key: value line. As long as the key doesn’t conflict with one of Bunch’s built-in keys, you can use anything you want. Keys should be letters, numbers, and underscores only.

title: My Bunch
my variable: my value

The variable my variable is now available for use in the Bunch and any snippets it calls. See using variables to see how.

Dynamic Frontmatter

Using the dynamic frontmatter options from file or from script, you can set variable values dynamically when opening the Bunch.

Variables set by reading a file or running a script will supersede any values hard coded in the frontmatter.

With a Script

You can set a frontmatter key’s value using a script (shell script or AppleScript). To do so, use the format:

# With a direct AppleScript command
keyname = * tell app... // AppleScript
# With an AppleScript script file
keyname = * myscript.applescript

# With a shell command
keyname = $ echo "my value"
# With a shell script
keyname = $

A script line like this is executed in the order of the Bunch. It should appear before any usage of the variable, but can be added after other script items and will allow their execution before running.

If your script returns more than one line, newlines are translated to \n in the variable’s value. This allows Bunch to treat it as one line, making it available for uses like string comparisons in conditionals. You can output the newlines in various ways; see the notes on transforms.

See the CodeKit example Bunch for a demonstration of this in action.

With a Dialog

You can use interactive dialogs to define values for variables. See Interactivity->Variables to learn how. A dialog that sets a variable will only be triggered if the variable is not already assigned a value via another method.

For an example of a Bunch with a multiple choice dialog, see the Coding example Bunch.

In a Snippet

You can also directly assign a variable from within a Snippet, including embedded snippets. This abstracts the process, but allows you to use a dialog to load Snippets and have the variable set by the snippet instead of by setting with the dialog itself. A variable set within a snippet is available after the snippet is imported, but will not override a variable already set by other methods (see Variable Precedence).

To assign a variable directly from a Snippet:

choice = ?[One, Two]


- ${text_file}
text_file = "~/Documents/File 1.txt"

text_file = "~/Documents/File 2.txt"

Direct assignment also works in a Bunch itself, having the same effect as setting a frontmatter key. For the sake of clarity, it’s better that you use frontmatter in this case.

When Calling a Snippet or Bunch

When you call a Bunch or Snippet from within a Bunch, you can use file lines with key=value pairs to set frontmatter and variable values for them.

For a Bunch, you would use:

- myvariable=my value

This value would override any matching key in MyBunch.bunch’s frontmatter. The value would then be available to MyBunch, any snippets it calls, and any Bunches it opens.

For a Snippet, you would use:

- myvariable=my value

This variable would be set only for the snippet, but would not affect the frontmatter keys for the calling Bunch or any Bunches the snippet calls.

Values set using file lines will supersede any frontmatter or dialog values.

With the URL Handler or AppleScript

You can also define variables in query strings when using the URL handler. Arbitrary key=value pairs can be added when using the methods for opening, closing, and toggling Bunches, and when running Snippets directly.

When using Bunch’s AppleScript, you can add with variables and include a query string of keys and values, e.g. with variables "variable1=My Value&variable2=Other Value".

Values set in this manner will supersede frontmatter values, but will be overridden by file lines.

With this capability, you can create Bunches that focus efforts around a particular file (or files), but change that file with each opening of the Bunch. Set up a `${placeholder} in the Bunch for the filename, then specify the file in the url when calling the Bunch.

Scenario: you have Hazel watching for new audio files that need processing in a shared Dropbox folder. A new file shows up, and a Hazel script adds an entry to your task manager that includes a Bunch url with the file specified as a parameter. Clicking it not only switches to your audio editing context, but also loads the file in question in your audio editor.

Global Variables

You can use the keyword global when setting a variable and the value will be stored in Bunch’s preferences, accessible to other Bunches and persisting across application launches. To make a variable global just put global in front of the variable name (with a space between):

global my_global_variable = true

You can reference a global variable just like any other variable: ${my_global_variable}. It can be used in logic conditions in any Bunch, e.g. if my_global_variable is true.

The last value assigned using the global keyword is what will be stored. Modifying a variable’s value without the global keyword does not affect the global value, only the value local to the current Bunch.

If a variable with a matching name is set within a Bunch, that value will take precedence over the global variable’s value. Global variables have the lowest precedence, so even a value set in a Bunch’s frontmatter will override it.

Variable Precedence

Because variables can be set in multiple ways, you need to be aware of which value takes precedence. Variables are set in this order, the top available value (lowest number in the list below) being used.

Precedence also takes into account assignment order. If a variable is already assigned (e.g. by a URL handler query string), a dialog that sets that variable (var = ?[]) will be skipped, as will a direct assignment (var = val). This allows you to, for example, skip a dialog if opening via a URL by setting the variable in the URL itself.

  1. Variables set using direct assignment
  2. Variables set in file lines
  3. Variables set by in a URL call/AppleScript method
  4. Variables set by interactive dialogs
  5. Variables set in dynamic frontmatter
  6. Variables set in frontmatter
  7. Variables set in tag/folder frontmatter
  8. Global Variables
  9. Variable default values

If variable values are read from multiple frontmatter files, e.g. @tag.frontmatter where more than one file applies, duplicate keys will receive the value found in the last file read (which is typically the last filename alphanumerically).

Variable Parsing Order (Modifying Values at Runtime)

Bunch is not (yet) an actual compiler, so things like scope and sequence are different from a scripting language.

Variable placeholders are replaced as soon as their value is known, and variables assigned inside of conditional logic are parsed after placeholders outside of the condition are already updated.

For example, we assign a variable at the top of the Bunch or in frontmatter, then in a conditional block we append more text to its value, and then at the end we use the value in a placeholder. The value at the end will be replaced with the initial value before the conditional block appends the new value, so the changes within the conditional block won’t be reflected in the final use of the placeholder.

To illustrate, the example below will log “Prefix text”, as the appended text isn’t added until after the placeholder in the log statement is already replaced:

final_text = Prefix text

if append
    final_text = ${final_text} appended text

(log ${final_text})

The solution to the above example is to use a different value for the initial value and the appended value. If our first variable is defined as pre_text = Prefix, and then in the conditional block we use final_text = ${pre_text} appended text, then we can use ${final_text} in our placeholder at the end, and it won’t be replaced until final_text receives its value.


pre_text = Prefix text

if true
    final_text = ${pre_text} appended text
    final_text = ${pre_text}

(log ${final_text})

Using Variables

Once a variable has a value, you can use it in your Bunch or Snippet by adding a placeholder in the format ${variable name}. Remember that spaces are removed and the name will be lower case when looking up the variable’s value, regardless of casing and spacing in the key you defined, so ${Variable Name} is the same as ${variablename}.

In a Bunch or Snippet that might look like:

- ~/Code/Projects/${project}/${project}.xcworkspace

You can use a placeholder anywhere, including in an app or command line.


(display ${logtoshow} 800x800)

Placeholders can not be nested within other placeholders.

Transforming Values

You can transform the output of a variable placeholder using a set of pre-defined transforms with the syntax ${VarName/[transform]}. The available transformations are:

Transform Result
/url Percent encode the value
/shell Backslash escape spaces and special characters
/raw Output “\n” as actual newlines (see note below)
/typed Output “\n” as \\\n for use in [typed strings]

Transforms can be used in addition to default values: ${VarName/url:Default%20Value}. Transforms are not applied to default value replacements by default, but can be added if needed: ${VarName/url:Default Value/url}.


When variables are assigned values containing newlines, usually through script output or heredoc syntax, the newlines are converted to the characters “\n”. When output as /raw, these are converted back into actual newlines. This allows contents to be used as part of a Bunch. Say for example you had a text file containing a list of options, perhaps dynamically generated:

Option 1 => Value 1
Option 2 => Value 2

The contents of this file can be inserted into a dialog using the /raw transform:

my_menu = $ cat ~/scripts/menu_options.txt

result = ?{${my_menu/raw}}

When performing /url transforms, “\n” is first converted to actual newlines, and then the newlines are percent encoded.

When performing /shell transforms, “\n” is left as is, and not double-escaped. Output with echo -e, this results in an actual newline being echoed.

Tip: If you want to use a variable containing newlines in a shell command, you can use $'${variable_name}' to have the shell (/bin/sh) respect the newlines as part of the argument. So if your variable contains one\ntwo, you could use $ say $'${variable/shell}' and you would get the expected results (your Mac would say “one two”).

When performing /typed transforms, “\n” is converted to \\n, so that a Bunch keystroke command (e.g. - [${VarName/typed}]) will send a carriage return in its place.

As a shortcut to the /url transform, you can use a percent symbol (%) instead of a dollar sign ($):


Default Values

You can (and generally should) define a default value for a placeholder. This will be used if the key is empty by the time the placeholder is reached. Add default values after a colon within the placeholder:

${myvariable:Default Value}

This is especially useful within a main Bunch, allowing the Bunch to function normally when called directly, but changing its functionality when it’s called from other Bunches or via the URL handler.

Tips and Tricks

Getting the Clipboard

You can get the contents of your clipboard into a variable using the pbpaste command. Bunch will automatically strip any newlines from the beginning and end of the contents, so you can simply run:

var_name = $ pbpaste

Now you can use the contents of your clipboard in a snippet, e.g. to pass to a URL handler or test as a condition with tests like if starts with or if contains.

Getting the Date

Bunch doesn’t have built-in date placeholders, but you can achieve them in a variable using the UNIX date command. This command uses strftime placeholders and can generate just about any format of date/time string you need. See this article for examples and a list of placeholders.

var_name = $ date '+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M'

Additional Text Transforms

Variables are processed in document order, so you can use any variable that has been assigned in a preceding line as part of a command.

You can use UNIX commands like tr and sed to perform text manipulation, or shell out to your preferred scripting language like Python, Perl, or Ruby with one-liners.

project = ?[Bunch,nvUltra,Marked] "What are you working on?"

uppercase = $ echo "${project}" | tr '[:lower:]' '[:upper:]'
subbed = $ echo "${uppercase}" | sed -E 's/^B/BR/i'
concatenated = "${project} -> ${subbed}"
escaped = $ echo "${concatenated}" | /usr/bin/env ruby -rshellwords -e 'print Shellwords.escape('