Is there a way to find the length of the array *(files names) in zsh without using a for loop to increment some variable?

I naively tried echo ${#*[@]} but it didn't work. (bash syntax are welcome as well)

  • 1
    By "length of the array" do you mean its number of elements? And do you want to get this without actually defining this array (* suggest you want to use shell globing mechanism here)? – jimmij Feb 9 at 1:36
  • Oops, you're right i should have asked the other way around, I'll edit it. – Cristiano Feb 9 at 1:48
  • @Cristiano: zsh doesn't have anything to do with it. * is not an array in the way you are using it, it is a shell glob. Arrays have nothing to do with your question unless you create an array as Jeff did in his answer. Your question is "How do I find how many files are in the current directory" – Jesse_b Feb 9 at 1:49
  • @Jess_b But it acts like an array don't you think? echo *[0] in zsh prints the 1st file name... – Cristiano Feb 9 at 2:07
  • @Cristiano: I believe that is a zsh specific glob qualifier but still doesn't make the glob an array – Jesse_b Feb 9 at 2:15

${#*[@]} would be the length of the $* array also known as $@ or $argv, which is the array of positional parameters (in the case of a script or function, that's the arguments the script or function received). Though you'd rather use $# for that.

* alone is just a glob pattern. In list context, that's expanded to the list of files in the current directory that match that pattern. As * is a pattern that matches any string, it would expand to all file names in the current directory (except for the hidden ones).

Now you need to find a list context for that * to be expanded, and then somehow count the number of resulting arguments. One way could be to use an anonymous function:

() {echo There are $# non hidden files in the current directory} *(N)

Instead of *, I used *(N) which is * but with the N (for nullglob) globbing qualifier which makes it so that if the * pattern doesn't match any file, instead of reporting an error, it expands to nothing at all.

The expansion of *(N) is then passed to that anonymous function. Within that anonymous function, that list of file is available in the $@/$argv array, and we get the length of that array with $# (same as $#argv, $#@, $#* or even the awkward ksh syntax like ${#argv[@]}).

  • Would you actually call $* an array at all? A "string" would be a better word for it, IMHO. Maybe it's different in zsh? – Kusalananda Feb 10 at 7:58
  • @Kusalananda how could it be a string if the elements it's made of are words/strings themselves? When $* is used inside double quotes, the words it's made of ($1, $2, ...) will be joined by the first char of IFS without its elements being split on IFS or spaces before that: (set -- 'a/b' 'a b'; IFS=:/; echo "<$*>") (this latter digression is to illustrate that $* is not somehow a string split an then rejoined in this particular syntax). – mosvy Feb 10 at 10:05
  • @mosvy I know he mentions $* and $@ unquoted, but "$*" is at least clearly a string whereas "$@" is not a single string. Calling $* an array and saying another name for it is $@ seems to confuse the purpose of these two variables. – Kusalananda Feb 10 at 10:11
  • @Kusalananda, it's the array of positional parameters. zsh and yash have real arrays and arrays whose indice start at 1, so they can represent that array as a normal array variable. That array goes by the *, @ and argv names in zsh. Except that $@ is special inside double quotes on list contexts like it was in the Bourne shell. $* inside double quotes expands to the concatenation of the elements like $argv or $argv[*] (or even $*[*]) do, but that doesn't make it less that $argv is an array variable, not a scalar variable. – Stéphane Chazelas Feb 17 at 18:02
printf 'There are %d files\n' "${#files[@]}"


set -- *
printf 'There are %d files\n' "$#"

You have to name the array first (as I did above with files) or use the built-in array $@ by populating it with the wildcard, as I did in the second example. In the former, the "length" (number of files) of the array is done with the ${#arrayname[@]} syntax. The number of elements inn the built-in array is in $#.

  • So the * acts as a regex expression? I thought that it was a special array... although surprise me that there is no such array... – Cristiano Feb 9 at 1:59
  • wait, in zsh *[0] or *[1] gives me some file name... now I'm puzzled. – Cristiano Feb 9 at 2:02
  • The array is $@... $* equals a single string with each argument separated by $IFS (usually space). ZSH and Bash doesn't handle usage of an "index" in space-delimited strings the same way. – svin83 Feb 9 at 3:19
  • Cristiano, the *[0] in zsh would expand to filenames that start with anything (or nothing) followed by any of the following characters: 0. The square brackets designates a set of characters in that position. You likely have files that end with a zero in your current directory. To tell zsh to give you back the first element of a * wildcard, you'd use parenthesis for array syntax: print -l *([1]) -- noting that zsh arrays start at 1 unless you set $KSH_ARRAYS – Jeff Schaller Feb 9 at 17:14

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