shell - How to check if a variable is set in Bash?

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Top 5 Answer for shell - How to check if a variable is set in Bash?

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94

(Usually) The right way

if [ -z ${var+x} ]; then echo "var is unset"; else echo "var is set to '$var'"; fi 

where ${var+x} is a parameter expansion which evaluates to nothing if var is unset, and substitutes the string x otherwise.

Quotes Digression

Quotes can be omitted (so we can say ${var+x} instead of "${var+x}") because this syntax & usage guarantees this will only expand to something that does not require quotes (since it either expands to x (which contains no word breaks so it needs no quotes), or to nothing (which results in [ -z ], which conveniently evaluates to the same value (true) that [ -z "" ] does as well)).

However, while quotes can be safely omitted, and it was not immediately obvious to all (it wasn't even apparent to the first author of this quotes explanation who is also a major Bash coder), it would sometimes be better to write the solution with quotes as [ -z "${var+x}" ], at the very small possible cost of an O(1) speed penalty. The first author also added this as a comment next to the code using this solution giving the URL to this answer, which now also includes the explanation for why the quotes can be safely omitted.

(Often) The wrong way

if [ -z "$var" ]; then echo "var is blank"; else echo "var is set to '$var'"; fi 

This is often wrong because it doesn't distinguish between a variable that is unset and a variable that is set to the empty string. That is to say, if var='', then the above solution will output "var is blank".

The distinction between unset and "set to the empty string" is essential in situations where the user has to specify an extension, or additional list of properties, and that not specifying them defaults to a non-empty value, whereas specifying the empty string should make the script use an empty extension or list of additional properties.

The distinction may not be essential in every scenario though. In those cases [ -z "$var" ] will be just fine.

vote vote

83

To check for non-null/non-zero string variable, i.e. if set, use

if [ -n "$1" ] 

It's the opposite of -z. I find myself using -n more than -z.

You would use it like:

if [ -n "$1" ]; then   echo "You supplied the first parameter!" else   echo "First parameter not supplied." fi 
vote vote

71

Here's how to test whether a parameter is unset, or empty ("Null") or set with a value:

+--------------------+----------------------+-----------------+-----------------+ |   Expression       |       parameter      |     parameter   |    parameter    | |   in script:       |   Set and Not Null   |   Set But Null  |      Unset      | +--------------------+----------------------+-----------------+-----------------+ | ${parameter:-word} | substitute parameter | substitute word | substitute word | | ${parameter-word}  | substitute parameter | substitute null | substitute word | | ${parameter:=word} | substitute parameter | assign word     | assign word     | | ${parameter=word}  | substitute parameter | substitute null | assign word     | | ${parameter:?word} | substitute parameter | error, exit     | error, exit     | | ${parameter?word}  | substitute parameter | substitute null | error, exit     | | ${parameter:+word} | substitute word      | substitute null | substitute null | | ${parameter+word}  | substitute word      | substitute word | substitute null | +--------------------+----------------------+-----------------+-----------------+ 

Source: POSIX: Parameter Expansion:

In all cases shown with "substitute", the expression is replaced with the value shown. In all cases shown with "assign", parameter is assigned that value, which also replaces the expression.

To show this in action:

+--------------------+----------------------+-----------------+-----------------+ |   Expression       |  FOO="world"         |     FOO=""      |    unset FOO    | |   in script:       |  (Set and Not Null)  |  (Set But Null) |     (Unset)     | +--------------------+----------------------+-----------------+-----------------+ | ${FOO:-hello}      | world                | hello           | hello           | | ${FOO-hello}       | world                | ""              | hello           | | ${FOO:=hello}      | world                | FOO=hello       | FOO=hello       | | ${FOO=hello}       | world                | ""              | FOO=hello       | | ${FOO:?hello}      | world                | error, exit     | error, exit     | | ${FOO?hello}       | world                | ""              | error, exit     | | ${FOO:+hello}      | hello                | ""              | ""              | | ${FOO+hello}       | hello                | hello           | ""              | +--------------------+----------------------+-----------------+-----------------+ 
vote vote

66

While most of the techniques stated here are correct, bash 4.2 supports an actual test for the presence of a variable (man bash), rather than testing the value of the variable.

[[ -v foo ]]; echo $? # 1  foo=bar [[ -v foo ]]; echo $? # 0  foo="" [[ -v foo ]]; echo $? # 0 

Notably, this approach will not cause an error when used to check for an unset variable in set -u / set -o nounset mode, unlike many other approaches, such as using [ -z.

vote vote

59

There are many ways to do this with the following being one of them:

if [ -z "$1" ] 

This succeeds if $1 is null or unset

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