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According to this page, $@ and $* do pretty much the same thing:

The $@ holds list of all arguments passed to the script. 
The $* holds list of all arguments passed to the script.

After searching all the top hits in google, I'm not able to find any explanation why there would be 2 seemingly duplicate syntaxes.

They appear to work the same in my scripts.

cat foo.sh
#!/bin/bash
echo The parameters passed in are $@
echo The parameters passed in are $*

./foo.sh herp derp
The parameters passed in are herp derp
The parameters passed in are herp derp
  1. Is one preferred over the other?
  2. Why are there 2 builtin variables to do the exact same thing?

Additional sources
bash.cyberciti.biz

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marked as duplicate by glenn jackman, Braiam, manatwork, Karlson, Patrick May 12 at 16:40

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
    
    
This does appear to be a duplicate. Strange that I couldn't find that other question when I searched for it. –  spuder May 12 at 16:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

They aren't the same. $* is a single string, whereas $@ is an actual array. To see the difference, execute the following script like so:

 > ./test.sh one two "three four"

The script:

#!/bin/bash

echo "Using \"\$*\":"
for a in "$*"; do
    echo $a;
done

echo -e "\nUsing \$*:"
for a in $*; do
    echo $a;
done

echo -e "\nUsing \"\$@\":"
for a in "$@"; do
    echo $a;
done

echo -e "\nUsing \$@:"
for a in $@; do
    echo $a;
done              

The four cases are:

Using "$*":
one two three four

Here, the parameters are regarded as one long quoted string. Unquoted:

Using $*:
one
two
three
four

The string is broken into words by the for loop.

Using "$@":
one
two
three four

This treats each element of $@ as a quoted string.

Using $@:
one
two
three
four

This treats each element as an unquoted string, so the last one is again split by what amounts to for three four.

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The difference comes in how they are expanded.

$* expands to a single argument with all the elements delimited by spaces (actually the first character of $IFS).
$@ expands to multiple arguments.

For example

#!/bin/bash
echo "With *:"
for arg in "$*"; do echo "<$arg>"; done
echo
echo "With @:"
for arg in "$@"; do echo "<$arg>"; done

 

$ /tmp/test.sh 1  2 "3  4"
With *:
<1 2 3  4>

With @:
<1>
<2>
<3  4>
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The OP want to know difference between $* and $@, not "$*" and "$@". –  Gnouc May 12 at 16:26

You can review Bash Beginners Guide for more information. These to do pretty much the same thing with the difference of how it's separated:

$* - Expands to the positional parameters, starting from one. When the expansion occurs within double quotes, it expands to a single word with the value of each parameter separated by the first character of the IFS special variable.

$@ - Expands to the positional parameters, starting from one. When the expansion occurs within double quotes, each parameter expands to a separate word.

But unless you set IFS to value other then default it could look identical.

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Is one preferred over the other?

A short answer is "$@".

If you use them without double quote, they are the same. There is no one preferred over the other in this case. But I suggest you to always use them with double quote, except you know what exactly you want.

Why are there 2 builtin variables to do the exact same thing?

There are no difference between $* and $@, but "$@" and "$*" have.

You can see my answer in this post to see how are they different.

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