26

I was looking at coreutils and found this as one of the files included as part of coreutils: /usr/bin/[. What is [ and what does it do?

It is an executable. I just don't know what it does or how to use it.

$ file /usr/bin/[
/usr/bin/[: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked (uses shared libs), for GNU/Linux 2.6.15, stripped

When I try to run it, I think it is defaulting to the bash built in line expansion. Instead of actually running the file.

$ "/usr/bin/["
/usr/bin/[: missing ]' $ /usr/bin/\[
/usr/bin/[: missing
]'

33

It's an equivalent of the command test. (See info test.) Generally you use it in scripts in conditional expressions like:

if [ -n "$1" ]; then
    echo $1
fi

The closing bracket is required to enclose the conditional. (Well, it looks like its required just to look nicer in the code. Does anybody know any other practical reason for it?)

  • 3
    Note that [ is both a shell built-in and a external program with the same (or similar) usage. In bash, when you run [ or test you are invoking the built-in. – grawity Sep 12 '11 at 7:29
  • It's required because if it were optional the syntax would be ambiguous in certain situations. – Random832 Sep 12 '11 at 11:57
20

It is equivalent to the test command.

Instead of

if /usr/bin/test -z "$VAR"
then
    echo VAR not set
fi

You can use:

if /usr/bin/[ -z "$VAR" ]
then
    echo VAR not set
fi

It can be used in loops too:

i=0
while [ $i -lt 10 ]
do
   echo $i
   ((i++))
done

You can also use them in one-liners like this:

[ -z "$VAR" ] && echo VAR not set && exit

[ -f foo.txt ] && cat foo.txt
  • 2
    nice examples of how to use it. "if /usr/bin/[" – nelaaro Sep 12 '11 at 11:38

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.