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I have piped line in bash script and want to check if pipe has data, before feeding program

Searching I found about test -t 0 but it doesn't work here. Always returns false. So how to be sure that pipe has data?

I'm providing example:

echo "string" | [ -t 0 ] && echo "empty" || echo "fill"
output: fill

echo "string" | tail -n+2 | [ -t 0 ] && echo "empty" || echo "fill"
output: fill

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See also unix.stackexchange.com/questions/13326/…; I'm not voting to close as a duplicate because that question focused on the case of sending email. –  Gilles Feb 29 '12 at 11:21

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There's no way to peek at the content of a pipe, nor is there a way to read a character to the pipe then put it back. The only way to know that a pipe has data is to read a byte, and then you have to get that byte to its destination.

So do just that: read one byte; if you detect an end of file, then do what you want to do when the input is empty; if you do read a byte then fork what you want to do when the input is not empty, pipe that byte into it, and pipe the rest of the data.

first_byte=$(dd bs=1 count=1 2>/dev/null | od -t o1 -A n)
if [ -z "$first_byte" ]; then
  # stuff to do if the input is empty
    printf "\\${first_byte# }"
  } | {
    # stuff to do if the input is not empty

test -t 0 has nothing to do with this; it tests whether standard input is a terminal. It doesn't say anything one way or the other as to whether any input is available.

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OK, thanks. I'll use temp file. I found in the meantime there is ifne command from moreutils deb package that does exactly that, but it's not on my system. –  zetah Feb 29 '12 at 11:28
It should be possible to write a ~10-lines C program which uses select(2) to check whether there is data available from a pipe, and use that one for the shell script. Note that this only works for named pipes though. –  radiospiel Mar 18 '14 at 20:37
@radiospiel select tells you if a pipe has data now. If the answer is no, it doesn't tell you whether data will come along later. –  Gilles Mar 18 '14 at 20:46
IIRC on some Unices (HPUX?), stat(2)/fstat(2) on a pipe gives you (in st_size) how much it contains ATM. –  Stéphane Chazelas Mar 18 '14 at 21:43

You may use test -s /dev/stdin (in an explicit subshell) as well.

# test if a pipe is empty or not
echo "string" | 
    (test -s /dev/stdin && echo 'pipe has data' && cat || echo 'pipe is empty')

echo "string" | tail -n+2 | 
    (test -s /dev/stdin && echo 'pipe has data' && cat || echo 'pipe is empty')

: | (test -s /dev/stdin && echo 'pipe has data' && cat || echo 'pipe is empty')
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Doesn't work for me. Always says pipe is empty. –  amphetamachine Dec 15 '14 at 16:53

This seems to be a reasonable ifne implementation in bash if you're ok with reading the whole first line

ifne () {
        read line || return 1
        (echo "$line"; cat) | eval "$@"

echo hi | ifne xargs echo hi =
cat /dev/null | ifne xargs echo should not echo
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