Bourne/bash shell scripts: string comparison

Brief tutorial describing how to do string comparisons. Recently updated thanks to comments from our users.

Our original tutorial needed correcting for the case if $var is null. We have updated our original article.

To determine if the value of a variable ($var) is empty (null):

if [ "$var" == "" ]
echo variable is null

To determine if the value of a variable is not empty:

if [ "$var" != "" ]
echo variable is not null

To compare the contents of a variable to a fixed string:

if [ "$var" == "value" ]
echo is the same

To determine if variable’s contents are not equal to a fixed string:

if [ "$var" != "value" ]
echo not the same

The Conversation

Follow the reactions below and share your own thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    i believe the $var needs to be in quotes, like so:

    if [ -z “$var” ];then
    echo null

    Best Regards,

    • Anonymous

      The correct solution is here a year ago. It should be corrected in the article too, so one won’t try those for 10 minutes before finding the answer here.

  • bhargav

    if [ “$var” = “value” ]
    echo not the same

  • asd

    These examples don’t work.

  • Florin

    This is the method i curently to test if a string is empty:

    if [ “X${VAR}” = “X” ]; then
    echo “Empty string”

    Testing for equality follows the same logic but without X.

  • BhupinderSingh is a layer

    You’re lying. That dosen’t work.
    test: 40: ==: unexpected operator

  • hema

    Can a variable be compared with an another variable eg : if [[ $var1 == $var2 ]]

    • Kousalya

      you can compare two string variables using
      if [ $var1 == $var2 ]

    • Kousalya

      you can compare two string variables using
      if [ $var1 == $var2 ]
      if [ $var1 = $var2 ]

      • Achu

        both the commands are not working, it throwing an error
        ./hello: [one=one]: not found

        ( var value ‘one’)

        • Daman Sternpak

          I had the same exact problem and it drove me nutty batshiat-insane. The problem: you need a space before and after the = sign.

  • Smudge

    Wow, have you geeks ever thought about getting along?

    • Chris

      > Good call. The left hemisphere of the brain is a loveless thing! Finds a wealth in division…

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comments. Somehow this article fell off our radar and I didn’t realize we had an issue with it. I really appreciate Martin for dropping me the email about the issue. The original tutorial has been updated.

  • Tolya_kashuba

    How can I compare two strings on less or greater? signs > and

    • Bermic2003

      I do this by escaping less and greater sign, and it seems to work fine :

      $> [ “a” > “b” ]
      $> echo $?
      $> [ “c” > “b” ]
      $> echo $?

  • Man1

    == never works. bloody are you kidding by posting wrong things over here?

  • Ben D.,

    A number of commenters have hinted at this but no one has expressed it with perfect clarity, so I’ll give it a whirl:

    “==” is not a valid operator in Bourne Shell.

    The string comparison operator is “=”.

    Thank you, that is all.

  • Jan H. Reiche

    Ben D. is right,
    see man test for documentation

  • harry

    Usually searching the web is pretty useful. Except in this case. Incredible. If you are looking for the real answer, type: man test
    Some more tips:
    * Only use a single = sign
    * make sure you have spaces around the = sign
    * You do not need to put quotation marks around the variable names if you are comparing strings

  • Octofinger

    This is ok in bash:
    [ $var == “hello” ]

    But in Bourne, you can’t use two = signs, thus it has to be written:
    [ $var = “hello” ]

    I believe single = works in bash too, but it’s very poor that the article writer never bother to check these things up, and even worse that the article isn’t updated.

  • kung foo man

    After ] needs to be a ;