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There are two syntaxes for command substitution: with dollar-parentheses and with backticks. Running top -p $(pidof init) and top -p `pidof init` gives the same output. Are these two ways of doing the same thing, or are there differences?

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See also: BashFAQ/082. –  Dennis Williamson Jan 13 '11 at 16:38
For a second there I thought this was a jQuery question. –  David Murdoch Jan 13 '11 at 20:42
The result might depend on the shell - some support both. –  artdanil Feb 15 '11 at 22:33

5 Answers 5

up vote 258 down vote accepted

The old-style backquotes ` ` do treat backslashes and nesting a bit different. The new-style $() interprets everything in between ( ) as a command.

echo $(uname | $(echo cat))

echo `uname | `echo cat``
bash: command substitution: line 2: syntax error: unexpected end of file
echo cat

works if the nested backquotes are escaped:

echo `uname | \`echo cat\``

backslash fun:

echo $(echo '\\')

echo `echo '\\'`

The new-style $() applies to all POSIX-conformant shells.
As mouviciel pointed out, old-style ` ` might be necessary for older shells.

Apart from the technical point of view, the old-style ` ` has also a visual disadvantage:

  • Hard to notice: I like $(program) better than `program`
  • Easily confused with a single quote: '`'`''`''`'`''`'
  • Not so easy to type (maybe not even on the standard layout of the keyboard)

(and SE uses ` ` for own purpose, it was a pain writing this answer :)

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The only thing I would add, is that I call '(' a paren, not a bracket (which is '['). –  Kendall Helmstetter Gelner Jan 13 '11 at 18:09
You deserve all kinds of upvotes simply for managing to type so many backticks. –  Jefromi Jan 13 '11 at 18:39
@Jefromi: ...and, he got them. :) –  Jander Jan 13 '11 at 20:16
@Kendall: and here I thought '{' was the left bracket for all those years... –  SamB Jan 13 '11 at 20:32
@Sam: { } is usually called "curly brackets" or "braces" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braces_(punctuation)#Braces –  Jørn Schou-Rode Jan 13 '11 at 21:35

Obvious difference I observe is that you cannot nest backticks while you can nest $(). Maybe both exist for legacy reasons. Similarly, the . and source commands are synonyms.

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Some Bourne-derived shells don't recognize source. Dash is one example. –  Dennis Williamson Jan 13 '11 at 16:40
That's not true. You can nest backtick to any level, just more painfully. Note that both $(...) and `...` are standard (the latter being deprecated) while . is standard but not source –  Stéphane Chazelas Oct 25 '12 at 10:17
Correction, only in (t)csh can they not be nested. (t)csh don't support $(...) though. They do support source (and not .) though. –  Stéphane Chazelas Aug 1 '14 at 12:28

$() does not work with old Bourne shell. But it has been years since I worked with old Bourne shell.

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Another note, $() will use more system resource than using backticks, but is slightly faster.

In Mastering Unix shell scripting, Randal K. Michael had done a test in a chapter named "24 Ways to Process a File Line-by-Line".

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The $() syntax will not work with the old bourne shell.
With newer shells ` ` and $() are equivalent but $() is much more convenient to use when you need to nest multiple commands.

For instance :

echo $(basename $(dirname $(dirname /var/adm/sw/save )))

is easier to type and debug than :

echo `basename \`dirname \\\`dirname /var/adm/sw/save \\\`\``
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