I have this bash function which I am trying to use to install a command line tool if it's not already in the PATH:


  if ! type -f ncf &> /dev/null || ! which ncf &> /dev/null; then

       echo "Installing NPM package '@oresoftware/ncf' globally...";

       npm i -s -g '@oresoftware/ncf' || {
         echo -e "Could not install NPM package '@oresoftware/ncf' globally." >&2
         echo -e "Please check your permissions to install global NPM packages." >&2
         return 1;


  command ncf $@;

I have a couple of questions - is type -f ncf and which ncf redundant? Right now, I am checking to see if either of them exits with non-zero - if I either one does, I reinstall (at least that's what I think the code is doing).

My other question is - will &> work for bash versions older than 4, or other shells like sh, ksh, zsh, etc? Is there another construct I should use that's more cross platform than &>?

  • Would it not make sense to explicitly set the PATH in the script so that it includes the directory where the program ought to be found? If that directory is not in PATH, you won't be able to start it no matter how much you install it. Also, quote $@, and you don't need ; at the end of statements if there is no other statement afterwards on the same line.
    – Kusalananda
    Jun 24, 2018 at 12:23
  • @Kusalananda thanks, I have never figured out if I should quote "$@" or not. Why quote it? Jun 24, 2018 at 19:13
  • 2
    If you don't quote $@, the shell will perform word splitting and filename globbing on its individual elements. You should always quote all expansions (there only a couple of cases where you don't have to, but it's a good rule of thumb to do it everywhere).
    – Kusalananda
    Jun 24, 2018 at 20:33

1 Answer 1


which is redundant with type, except when it does the wrong thing altogether. Don't use which ever (except in ksh or zsh). Don't use type -f in portable sh, either: that's a ksh/bash extension. Just use plain type. If you want to look for an external command despite the presence of a function by the same name, you can use (unset -f ncf; type ncf).

To redirect the output away, use >/dev/null 2>&1. This can be abbreviated to &>/dev/null in ksh, bash and zsh, but not in plain sh.

  if ! type -f ncf >/dev/null 2>/dev/null; then …
  • 1
    or ... >/dev/null 2>&1 will be portable too, won't it? Jun 24, 2018 at 10:33
  • @glennjackman Yes, that works too. It's actually closer to &>/dev/null since it only opens the file once, but for /dev/null that doesn't matter. Jun 24, 2018 at 10:45
  • unset -f ncf right, not unset ncf? Jun 24, 2018 at 19:10
  • What about using command -v ncf, is that better than type -f? Jun 24, 2018 at 19:13
  • Because I am using command ncf to execute it, I would guess it makes the most sense to check if it doesn't exist by using command -v ncf? Jun 24, 2018 at 19:16

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