Does Bash File Test Take Wildcards

Shell Programming

As a seasoned developer, I often find myself delving into the intricacies of Bash scripting. One common task when scripting in Bash is performing file tests using conditional expressions. These tests help in checking various attributes of files, such as existence, type, permissions, and more. However, a question that often arises is whether the Bash file test command supports the use of wildcards. Let’s explore this in detail.

Understanding the Bash File Test

In Bash, the file test command, often represented as [ ... ] or test ..., is used to perform tests on files and expressions. These tests are commonly used in conditional statements to make decisions within scripts based on the attributes of files. For example, testing if a file exists or if it is a regular file.

Wildcards and the File Test

Now, let’s address the use of wildcards, such as * and ?, within the file test command. Wildcards are used to represent or match one or more characters. In the context of the file test, it is essential to understand that wildcards are expanded by the shell before the file test command is executed. This means that when we use wildcards within the test command, the shell expands them to match the relevant file or files, and the test command receives the expanded file names.

Example: Testing for Existence with Wildcards

Consider the scenario where we want to test for the existence of any file with a .txt extension in a directory. We might be inclined to use the following command:

[ -e *.txt ]

However, due to wildcard expansion, this command does not directly test for the existence of any .txt file. Instead, the shell expands the wildcard to match all .txt files in the directory before the test is performed.

Using Wildcards within the File Test Command

Given the behavior of wildcard expansion, it’s important to note that wildcards should be used cautiously within the file test command. While the expansion of wildcards can be beneficial in certain scenarios, such as when testing multiple files with similar attributes, it may not always yield the expected results, especially when used in conjunction with conditional expressions.

Example: Testing for Existence of a Specific File

Suppose we want to test for the existence of a file named report.txt. Using a wildcard within the test command, such as:

[ -e report*.txt ]

might not yield the desired result if multiple files match the wildcard pattern. In such cases, it is advisable to specify the exact file name within the test command:

[ -e report.txt ]


In conclusion, while the Bash file test command is a powerful tool for evaluating file attributes and conditions, it’s essential to consider the implications of wildcard expansion when using wildcards within the test command. Understanding how wildcards are expanded by the shell can help in writing more precise and effective file tests within Bash scripts.