Check number of arguments passed to a Bash script

Just like any other simple command, [ ... ] or test requires spaces between its arguments.

if [ "$#" -ne 1 ]; then
    echo "Illegal number of parameters"


if test "$#" -ne 1; then
    echo "Illegal number of parameters"


When in Bash, prefer using [[ ]] instead as it doesn’t do word splitting and pathname expansion to its variables that quoting may not be necessary unless it’s part of an expression.

[[ $# -ne 1 ]]

It also has some other features like unquoted condition grouping, pattern matching (extended pattern matching with extglob) and regex matching.

The following example checks if arguments are valid. It allows a single argument or two.

[[ ($# -eq 1 || ($# -eq 2 && $2 == <glob pattern>)) && $1 =~ <regex pattern> ]]

For pure arithmetic expressions, using (( )) to some may still be better, but they are still possible in [[ ]] with its arithmetic operators like -eq, -ne, -lt, -le, -gt, or -ge by placing the expression as a single string argument:

[[ 'A + 1' -eq 2 ]] && echo true  ## Prints true.

That should be helpful if you would need to combine it with other features of [[ ]] as well.

Take note that [[ ]] and (( )) are keywords which have same level of parsing as if, case, while, and for.

Also as Dave suggested, error messages are better sent to stderr so they don’t get included when stdout is redirected:

echo "Illegal number of parameters" >&2

Exiting the script

It’s also logical to make the script exit when invalid parameters are passed to it. This has already been suggested in the comments by ekangas but someone edited this answer to have it with -1 as the returned value, so I might as well do it right.

-1 though accepted by Bash as an argument to exit is not explicitly documented and is not right to be used as a common suggestion. 64 is also the most formal value since it’s defined in sysexits.h with #define EX_USAGE 64 /* command line usage error */. Most tools like ls also return 2 on invalid arguments. I also used to return 2 in my scripts but lately I no longer really cared, and simply used 1 in all errors. But let’s just place 2 here since it’s most common and probably not OS-specific.

if [[ $# -ne 1 ]]; then
    echo "Illegal number of parameters" >&2
    exit 2


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