How can I check whether a directory is empty or not? How do I check for any *.mpg files, or count how many there are?

In Bash, you can count files safely and easily with the nullglob and dotglob options (which change the behaviour of globbing), and an array:

   1 # Bash
   2 shopt -s nullglob dotglob
   3 files=(*)
   4 (( ${#files[*]} )) || echo directory is empty
   5 shopt -u nullglob dotglob

See ArithmeticExpression for explanations of arithmetic commands.

Of course, you can use any glob you like instead of *. E.g. *.mpg or /my/music/*.mpg works fine.

Bear in mind that you need read permission on the directory, or it will always appear empty.

Some people dislike nullglob because having unmatched globs vanish altogether confuses programs like ls. Mistyping ls *.zip as ls *.zpi may cause every file to be displayed (for such cases consider setting failglob). Setting nullglob in a SubShell avoids accidentally changing its setting in the rest of the shell, at the price of an extra fork(). If you'd like to avoid having to set and unset shell options, you can pour it all into a SubShell:

   1 # Bash
   2 if (shopt -s nullglob dotglob; f=(*); ((! ${#f[@]}))); then
   3     echo "The current directory is empty."
   4 fi

The other disadvantage of this approach (besides the extra fork()) is that the array is lost when the subshell exits. If you planned to use those filenames later, then they have to be retrieved all over again.

Both of these examples expand a glob and store the resulting filenames into an array, and then check whether the number of elements in the array is 0. If you actually want to see how many files there are, just print the array's size instead of checking whether it's 0:

   1 # Bash
   2 shopt -s nullglob dotglob
   3 files=(*)
   4 echo "The current directory contains ${#files[@]} things."

You can also avoid the nullglob if you're OK with putting a non-existing filename in the array should no files match (instead of an empty array):

   1 # Bash
   2 shopt -s dotglob
   3 files=(*)
   4 if [[ -e ${files[0]} || -L ${files[0]} ]]; then
   5     echo "The current directory is not empty.  It contains:"
   6     printf '%s\n' "${files[@]}"
   7 fi

Without nullglob, if there are no files in the directory, the glob will be added as the only element in the array. Since * is a valid filename, we can't simply check whether the array contains a literal *. So instead, we check whether the thing in the array exists as a file. The -L test is required because -e fails if the first file is a dangling symlink.

If you don't care how many matching files there are and don't want to store the results in an array, you can use bash's compgen command. Unfortunately, due to a bug, you need to use a hack to make it recognize dotglob:

   1 # Bash
   2 if (shopt -s dotglob; : *; compgen -G '*' >/dev/null); then
   3     echo "The current directory is not empty."
   4 else
   5     echo "The current directory is empty."
   6 fi

Or you can use an extended glob:

   1 # Bash
   2 # The subshell may be avoided by enabling extglob for the whole script.
   3 # Doing so should be safe.
   4 if (shopt -s extglob; compgen -G '@(*|.[!.]*|..?*)' >/dev/null); then
   5     echo "The current directory is not empty."
   6 else
   7     echo "The current directory is empty."
   8 fi

You may also use failglob:

   1 # Bash
   2 if ( shopt -s dotglob failglob; : ./* ) 2>/dev/null; then
   3     echo "The current directory is not empty."
   4 else
   5     echo "The current directory is empty."
   6 fi

But, if you use failglob, note that the subshell is required; the following code does not work because failglob will raise a shell error that will cause bash to stop running the current command (including the if command, any outer compound command, and the entire function that ran this code if it is part of a function), so this will only work in the true case, the else branch will never run:

   1 # BROKEN!
   2 shopt -s dotglob failglob
   3 if { : ./* ;} 2> /dev/null; then
   4     echo "The current directory is not empty."
   5 else
   6     echo "The current directory is empty."
   7 fi

If you really want to avoid using the subshell and want to set failglob globally, you can either "catch" the shell error using command eval, or you can write a function that expands the glob indirectly:

   1 shopt -s dotglob failglob
   2 if command eval ': ./*' 2> /dev/null; then
   3     echo "The current directory is not empty."
   4 else
   5     echo "The current directory is empty."
   6 fi
   7 # or
   8 shopt -s dotglob failglob
   9 any_match () { local IFS=; { : $@ ;} 2> /dev/null ;}
  10 if any_match './*'; then
  11     echo "The current directory is not empty."
  12 else
  13     echo "The current directory is empty."
  14 fi

If your script needs to run with various non-Bash shell implementations, you can try using an external program like python, perl, or find; or you can try one of these. Note the "magic 3 globs"1 as POSIX does not have the dotglob option.

   1 # POSIX
   2 # Clobbers the positional parameters, so make sure you don't need them.
   3 set -- * .[!.]* ..?*
   4 for f in "$@"; do
   5   if test -e "$f" || test -L "$f"; then
   6     echo "directory is non-empty"
   7     break
   8   fi
   9 done

At this stage, the positional parameters have been loaded with the contents of the directory, and can be used for processing.

If you just want to count files:

   1 # POSIX
   2 n=0
   3 for f in * .[!.]* ..?*; do
   4   if test -e "$f" || test -L "$f"; then n=$((n+1)); fi
   5 done
   6 printf "There are %d files.\n" "$n"

In the Bourne shell, it's even worse, because there is no test -e or test -L:

   1 # Bourne
   2 # (Of course, the system must have printf(1).)
   3 if test "`printf '%s %s %s' .* *`" = '. .. *' && test ! -f '*'
   4 then
   5     echo "directory is empty"
   6 fi

Of course, that fails if * exists as something other than a plain file (such as a directory or FIFO). The absence of a -e test really hurts.

Here is another solution using find:

   1 # POSIX
   2 # Print a single `.' for each file and count the number of characters printed.
   3 # This one will recurse.  If that is not desired, see below.
   4 n=$(find . -type f -exec printf %.0s. {} + | wc -m)
   5 printf "There are %d files.\n" "$n"

If you want it not to recurse, then you need to tell find not to recurse into directories. This gets really tricky and ugly. GNU find has a -maxdepth option to do it. With standard POSIX find, you're stuck with -prune. This is left as an exercise for the reader.

Never try to parse ls output. Even ls -A solutions can break (e.g. on HP-UX, if you are root, ls -A does the exact opposite of what it does if you're not root -- and no, I can't make up something that incredibly stupid).

In fact, one may wish to avoid the direct question altogether. Usually people want to know whether a directory is empty because they want to do something involving the files therein, etc. Look to the larger question. For example, one of these find-based examples may be an appropriate solution:

   1 # Bourne / POSIX
   2 find "$somedir" -type f -exec echo Found unexpected file {} \;
   3 find "$somedir" -prune -empty -exec printf '%s is empty.\n' {} \;  # GNU/BSD
   4 find "$somedir" -type d -empty -exec cp /my/configfile {} \;   # GNU/BSD

Most commonly, all that's really needed is something like this:

   1 # Bourne / POSIX
   2 for f in ./*.mpg; do
   3     test -f "$f" || continue
   4     mympgviewer "$f"
   5 done

In other words, the person asking the question may have thought an explicit empty-directory test was needed to avoid an error message like mympgviewer: ./*.mpg: No such file or directory when in fact no such test is required.

Support for a nullglob-like feature is inconsistent. In ksh93 it can be done on a per-pattern basis by prefixing with ~(N)2:

   1 # ksh93
   2 for f in ~(N)*; do
   3     ....
   4 done


BashFAQ/004 (last edited 2023-03-28 07:52:15 by emanuele6)