Let's say I have this simple code:

echo "Are there any arguments?"
if [ $# -eq 0 ]; then
    echo "false"
    echo "true"

As you can see it would be better to just have opportunity to directly print condition result, but I don't know how to do it.

It would be something like:

echo "$([ $# -eq 0 ])"

But it doesn't work that way. Can we do this without if?

  • You can try zsh. Zsh will change PS1 color (command prompt color) according to $?(the return value of the last command). imgur.com/a/yBz2H – Weekend Aug 10 '17 at 16:04

In this case you can use the list control operators && and || instead:

[[ $# -eq 0 ]] && echo false || echo true
[[ $# -eq 0 ]] && { echo false; } || { echo true; }

The { } group a list of commands, you don't need them for just a single command, but they often make such constructions more readable (though a list also requires a terminating ; or newline).

As noted by @Kusalananda, this works for simple code (like echo) where commands return 0 ("true"): despite the lexical similarity the above does not have the same semantics as a short-circuited evaluation in C does, i.e.:

(argc==1) && printf("false\n") || printf("true\n");

A workaround where the command(s) might return a non-zero status is:

[[ $# -eq 0 ]] && { echo false;:; } || { echo true; }

where the extra ":" null command at the end of the first list ensures that it returns a 0 (true) status (the return status of a list is the exit status of the last command executed in the list).

When you have two (or another defined number of states), you can also use an array with a computed index, as shown in Stéphane's answer:

declare -a bool=([1]=true [0]=false)
echo ${bool[ (($# == 0)) ]}


declare -a porridge=([1]="too hot" [2]="just right" [3]="too cold")
echo ${porridge[ (( temperature >= 75 ? 1 :
                    temperature <= 68 ? 3 : 2 )) ]}

This uses arithmetic expressions within (( )), where 0 is false, opposite to the usual shell convention.

  • 1
    But note that the semantics of the statements are slightly altered by this. The last command will be executed if either of the previous commands returned a non-zero exit status. This means that using ... && ... || ... is not generally a good replacement for if ...; then ...; else ...; fi. – Kusalananda Feb 24 '19 at 8:32

You can use $? that keeps the exit code of the last executed command:

echo "Are there any arguments?"
[ $# -eq 0 ]
echo $?

You can do something like:

bool=(false true)
echo "${bool[$# != 0]}"

(assuming ksh93, bash or zsh in ksh emulation).

In any POSIX shell,

echo "$(($# != 0))"

will output 1 for true and 0 for false.


Since I can't post comments yet (insufficient rep), I'll point out in a new answer that mr-spuratic's solution also works with single brackets, like so:

[ $# -eq 0 ] && { echo false; } || { echo true; }

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