test (Unix)

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test is a command-line utility found in Unix-like operating systems that evaluates conditional expressions.


test expression


[ expression ]


The test command in Unix evaluates the expression parameter. In some shells (such as FreeBSD sh(1)), it is a shell builtin, even though external version may still exists. In the second form of the command, the [ ] (brackets) must be surrounded by blank spaces, this is because the /bin/ directory [ is a program and POSIX compatible shells require a space between the program name and its arguments. One must test explicitly for file names in the C shell. File-name substitution (globbing) causes the shell script to exit.


The following functions are used to construct this parameter:

-e FileName - FileName exists.

Note: All remaining functions return true if the object (file or string) exists, and the condition specified is true.

-b Filename - Returns a True exit value if the specified FileName exists
   and is a block special file.
-c FileName - FileName is a character special file.
-d FileName - FileName is a directory.

-f FileName - FileName is a regular file.
-g FileName - FileName's Set Group ID bit is set.
-h FileName - FileName is a symbolic link.
-k FileName - FileName's sticky bit is set.
-L FileName - FileName is a symbolic link.
-p FileName - FileName is a named pipe (FIFO).
-r FileName - FileName is readable by the current process.
-s FileName - FileName has a size greater than 0.
-t FileDescriptor - FileDescriptor is open and associated with a terminal.
-u FileName - FileName's Set User ID bit is set.
-w FileName - FileName's write flag is on. However, the FileName will
not be writable on a read-only file system even if test indicates true.
-x FileName - FileName's execute flag is on.
If the specified file exists and is a directory, the True exit value indicates
that the current process has permission to change (chdir) into the directory.
file1 -nt file2 - file1 is newer than file2.
file1 -ot file2 - file1 is older than file2.
file1 -ef file2 - file1 is another name for file2. (symbolic link or hard link)

String functions[edit]

Note that in Perl, these sections are reversed: eq is a string operator and == is a numerical operator, and so on for the others.

-n String1 - the length of the String1 variable is nonzero.
-z String1 - the length of the String1 variable is 0 (zero).
String1 = String2 - String1 and String2 variables are identical.
String1 != String2 - String1 and String2 variables are not identical.
String1 - String1 variable is not a null string.

Number functions[edit]

Integer1 -eq Integer2 - Integer1 and Integer2 variables are algebraically
equal. Any of the following comparisons can be used in place of -eq.
-ne (not equal)
-gt (greater than)
-ge (greater or equal)
-lt (less than)
-le (less or equal) 


These functions can be combined with the following operators:

! - Unary negation operator
-a - Binary AND operator
-o - Binary OR operator (the -a operator has higher precedence 
      than the -o operator)
\(Expression\) - Parentheses for grouping must be escaped with a backslash (\).

The -a and -o operators, along with parentheses for grouping, are XSI extensions[1] and are therefore not portable. In portable shell scripts, the same effect may be achieved by connecting multiple invocations of test together with the && and || operators and parentheses.

Exit Status[edit]

This command returns the following exit values:

0 - The Expression parameter is true.
1 - The Expression parameter is false or missing.
>1 - An error occurred.


1. To test whether a file is nonexistent or empty, type:

 if test ! -s "$1"
   echo $1 does not exist or is empty.

If the file specified by the first positional parameter to the shell procedure, $1, does not exist or is of size 0, the test command displays the message. If $1 exists and has a size greater than 0, the test command displays nothing.

Note: There must be a space between the -s function and the file name.

The quotation marks around $1 ensure that the test works properly even if the value of $1 is a null string. If the quotation marks are omitted and $1 is the empty string, the test command displays the error message:

test: argument expected.

2. To do a complex comparison, type:

 if [ $# -lt 2 -o ! -e "$1" ]

If the shell procedure is given fewer than two positional parameters or the file specified by $1 does not exist, then the shell procedure exits. The special shell variable $# represents the number of positional parameters entered on the command line that starts this shell procedure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ IEEE Std 1003.1, 2004, documentation for test