Can Wildcard Be Nothing Bash

Shell Programming

As a content creator, I often find myself delving into the intricacies of Bash scripting. One common question that arises is whether a wildcard can represent nothing in Bash. Let’s explore this concept and unravel the mysteries of Bash wildcards.

The Basics of Wildcards in Bash

In Bash, wildcards are used to represent one or more characters in a file or directory name. The asterisk (*) is a popular wildcard that matches any string of characters, while the question mark (?) matches a single character. These wildcards are incredibly useful for performing operations on multiple files at once, such as copying, moving, or deleting.

Understanding the Question: Can a Wildcard be Nothing?

Now, diving into the question at hand – can a wildcard represent nothing in Bash? The answer is both yes and no, and it all depends on how the wildcard is utilized in a particular context.

Wildcard as Nothing in Globbing

When using wildcards in globbing – the process of expanding wildcard patterns into a list of matching file names – the asterisk wildcard can indeed represent nothing. For example, if I were to list all text files starting with “report” in my current directory, I could use the wildcard pattern report*. This would match “report.txt”, “report-2022.txt”, and even just “report” if it were a file with no file extension.

Wildcard as Literal Asterisk

On the other hand, when a wildcard is used within a specific string or command, it is treated as a literal asterisk if it does not match any file or directory names. For instance, if I were to search for a file named “document*” and there were no files matching that pattern, the wildcard would be interpreted as the literal string “document*“.

The Impact of Nullglob

In Bash, there’s a shell option called nullglob which, when enabled, causes the pattern to expand to an empty string if there are no matching files. This essentially allows the asterisk wildcard to represent “nothing” in certain scenarios. However, it’s important to exercise caution when using nullglob to avoid unexpected behavior.


So, to answer the question definitively, a wildcard can effectively represent nothing in Bash when considering the behavior of nullglob and the process of globbing. It’s fascinating to unravel the nuances of Bash wildcards and how they can impact our scripting endeavors.