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when comparing two integers in bash, do we have to put double quotes ? In the official document I can read that double quotes should appear every time... But what is the differences in the following examples:

[ "$VAR" -eq "1" ]
[ $VAR -eq "1" ]
[ "$VAR" -eq 1 ]
[ $VAR -eq 1 ]

As I am curious, a took a look at Ubuntu init scripts in /etc/init.d and there are many usage of arithmetic comparison in it, at least [ "$VAR" -eq "1" ] and [ $VAR -eq 1 ] are used... but it seems no one really "knows" what is the official way to do it.

Thanks !

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You need to quote $VAR if it could possibly be empty/unset (so you should probably always quote it).

If you don't quote it and it's empty, the statement results in:

[ -eq 1 ]

which is a syntax error. Quoting the 1 doesn't gain anything though.

(Also look at bash conditional expressions (things with [[ ... ]]), a more "modern" version of the test command that has less quirks.)

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As far as I know [ invokes the test-command, while [[ is a it might not be an option. – Bobby Nov 29 '12 at 10:44
I know, that's why it's added as a note (and that's also why it doesn't have the same quirks). Question is tagged bash though, so I believe it's relevant. – Mat Nov 29 '12 at 10:45
Thanks ! It answers my question :) – Martin Nov 29 '12 at 11:14
[ is a bash builtin -- see type \[ – glenn jackman Nov 29 '12 at 11:56
Quoting an undefined variable still throws an error (integer expression expected) since its trying to compare an empty string with an integer... – Jason Zhu May 19 '14 at 15:24

If you want to arithmetic comparison, use the arithmetic conditional construct (documented here):

(( VAR == 1 ))
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It's true that I learned (about ten years ago) to handle arithmetics comparison with "[" bash bultin , so it's not easy to let it go ^^ – Martin Dec 4 '12 at 9:17

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