How can I redirect the output of 'time' to a variable or file?

Bash's time keyword uses special trickery, so that you can do things like

   time find ... | xargs ...

and get the execution time of the entire pipeline, rather than just the simple command at the start of the pipe. (This is different from the behavior of the external command time(1), for obvious reasons.)

Because of this, people who want to redirect time's output often encounter difficulty figuring out where all the file descriptors are going. It's not as hard as most people think, though -- the trick is to call time in a different shell or block, and redirect stderr of that shell or block (which will contain time's results). If you need to redirect the actual command's stdout or stderr, you do that inside the inner shell/block. For example:

   bash -c "time ls" 2>time.output
   ( time ls ) 2>time.output
   { time ls; } 2>time.output
   # The general case:
   { time some command >stdout 2>stderr; } 2>time.output

   foo=$( bash -c "time ls" 2>&1 )       # Captures *everything*.

   # Keep stdout unmolested.
   exec 3>&1
   foo=$( { time bar 1>&3; } 2>&1 )      # Captures stderr and time.
   exec 3>&-

   # Keep both stdout and stderr unmolested.
   exec 3>&1 4>&2
   foo=$( { time bar 2>&4; } 2>&1 1>&3)  # Captures time only.
   exec 3>&- 4>&-