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Very useful in shell scripts because you can run a task nicely in the background using job-control and output progress until it completes.
Here's an example of how I use it in backup scripts to run gpg in the background to encrypt an archive file (which I create in this same way). $! is the process ID of the last run command, which is saved here as the variable PI, then sleeper is called with the process id of the gpg task (PI), and sleeper is also specified to output : instead of the default . every 3 seconds instead of the default 1. So a shorter version would be sleeper $!;
The wait is also used here, though it may not be needed on your system.
echo ">>> ENCRYPTING SQL BACKUP"
gpg --output archive.tgz.asc --encrypt archive.tgz 1>/dev/null &
PI=$!; sleeper $PI ":" 3; wait $PI && rm archive.tgz &>/dev/null
Previously to get around the $! not always being available, I would instead check for the existance of the process ID by checking if the directory /proc/$PID existed, but not everyone uses proc anymore. That version is currently the one at http://www.askapache.com/linux-unix/bash_profile-functions-advanced-shell.html but I plan on upgrading to this new version soon.
The coolest way I've found to backup a wordpress mysql database using encryption, and using local variables created directly from the wp-config.php file so that you don't have to type them- which would allow someone sniffing your terminal or viewing your shell history to see your info.
I use a variation of this for my servers that have hundreds of wordpress installs and databases by using a find command for the wp-config.php file and passing that through xargs to my function.
From time to time one forgets either thier gpg key or other passphrases. This can be very problematic in most cases. But luckily there's this script. Its based off of pwsafe which is a unix commandline program that manages encrypted password databases. For more info on pwsafe visit, http://nsd.dyndns.org/pwsafe/.
What this script does is it will help you store all your passphrases for later on and allow you to copy it to your clipboard so you can just paste it in, all with one password. Pretty neat no?
You can find future releases of this and many more scripts at The Teachings of Master Denzuko - denzuko.wordpress.com.
Requires: signing-party (on Debian).
Note: you need a working MTA on your machine.