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Lets say i have to test if file contains a string "mail" , what is the difference between

if grep -q "mail" "file"; then ...


if [ $( grep -l "mail" "file") ]; then ...

[ grep -l "mail" "file" ] && ..

Are there any differences in these or are they globaly the same ( like they would result in the same outcome with any condition inside or command)

  • First will succeed if return code is 0, second will succeed if there is any output from the command and the last should break and say too many args. – 123 Mar 17 '16 at 11:16
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if command; then ...

evaluates the exit status of command. 0 is success (evaluates the condition as true).

First of all: [ is (almost) identical with test, hence it expects the command string to comply with its syntax.

if [ $(command) ]; then ...

evaluates the string containing the output of command. In most cases it will not work - see the example below.

[ command ] && ..

grep -l "mail" "file" will be interpreted like this:

  • grep - a string
  • -l - unary operator returning the length of the following string
  • "mail" - a string, will be passed as an argument to the -l operator
  • "file" - a string

Depending on implementation you will get slightly different errors, because the above is asking [ to evaluate a sequence consisting of a string, a number and another string, without any operators. By default [ (as well as test) is a shell built-in, you can compare the error messages with the standalone binary (usually /bin/[ or /usr/bin/[).

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