My code looks something like this:


while [ -z "$VAR" ]; do
  VAR=$( command | grep "important_string" )

So I want to poll the output of command, until the important_string appears and put into $VAR.

Is there any functional difference between [ -z "$VAR" ] and [ "$VAR" = "" ]?

  • 3
    == is incorrect syntax, but works in many shells (presumably because it's muscle memory to anyone using other languages). You should be using =. – l0b0 Jul 6 '15 at 11:42
  • @l0b0 copied the == from somewhere. My mistake. – Minix Jul 6 '15 at 11:47

Yes they ( [ -z "$VAR" ] and [ "$VAR" = "" ] ...) are equivalent. Both are testing for emptiness of $VAR (e.g. when it is not bound, or set to an empty string).

As commented by Celada, bad things might happen when using [ "$VAR" = "" ] if VAR is some valid test (e.g. if VAR is -z), in particular when [ (or test) is not a shell builtin. But on bash or zsh the [ is a builtin and that does not seem to be an issue. You could use [ "x$VAR" = "x" ] for your test. See test(1)

Of course, I am assuming some POSIX shell or something similar.

Perhaps -z might be slightly faster (but you should not care about microseconds in shell scripts) and you might find = to perhaps be more readable.

  • 5
    I though for sure that [ "$VAR" = "" ] was wrong because if the contents of $VAR were to start with a hyphen then it would lead to a syntax error, for example if $VAR contains -z then it would expand to [ -z = "" ] — would that test if = is empty (which it isn't) and then treat "" as an extraneous argument? But I cannot seem to make it fail that way now that I try it after reading your answer! I've been using contructs like [ "x$VAR" = "xfoo" ] to guard against special characters in $VAR for decades, perhaps unnecessarily! – Celada Jul 6 '15 at 12:09
  • @Celada: I think your point is true for the rare shells where test is not a builtin. – Basile Starynkevitch Jul 6 '15 at 12:17
  • 1
    I think that regarding expansions shell built-ins should behave the same way as external commands. Did not you confuse it with keywords like [[ in bash? They are really different. --- I do not observe any special behaviour regarding the variable expansion with the test build-in of bash. – pabouk Jul 6 '15 at 15:42
  • I tested with zsh – Basile Starynkevitch Jul 6 '15 at 18:02
  • @Celada actually, you are right, there are just so many things that could go wrong using [ "$VAR" = "" ] that is safer to use -z instead. – Braiam Jul 6 '15 at 19:15

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