POSIX compatible:

command -v <the_command>

Example use:

if ! command -v COMMAND &> /dev/null
    echo "COMMAND could not be found"

For Bash specific environments:

hash <the_command> # For regular commands. Or...
type <the_command> # To check built-ins and keywords


Avoid which. Not only is it an external process you're launching for doing very little (meaning builtins like hash, type or command are way cheaper), you can also rely on the builtins to actually do what you want, while the effects of external commands can easily vary from system to system.

Why care?

  • Many operating systems have a which that doesn't even set an exit status , meaning the if which foo won't even work there and will always report that foo exists, even if it doesn't (note that some POSIX shells appear to do this for hash too).
  • Many operating systems make which do custom and evil stuff like change the output or even hook into the package manager.

So, don't use which. Instead use one of these:

$ command -v foo >/dev/null 2>&1 || { echo >&2 "I require foo but it's not installed.  Aborting."; exit 1; }
$ type foo >/dev/null 2>&1 || { echo >&2 "I require foo but it's not installed.  Aborting."; exit 1; }
$ hash foo 2>/dev/null || { echo >&2 "I require foo but it's not installed.  Aborting."; exit 1; }

(Minor side-note: some will suggest 2>&- is the same 2>/dev/null but shorter – this is untrue. 2>&- closes FD 2 which causes an error in the program when it tries to write to stderr, which is very different from successfully writing to it and discarding the output (and dangerous!))

If your hash bang is /bin/sh then you should care about what POSIX says. type and hash's exit codes aren't terribly well defined by POSIX, and hash is seen to exit successfully when the command doesn't exist (haven't seen this with type yet). command's exit status is well defined by POSIX, so that one is probably the safest to use.

If your script uses bash though, POSIX rules don't really matter anymore and both type and hash become perfectly safe to use. type now has a -P to search just the PATH and hash has the side-effect that the command's location will be hashed (for faster lookup next time you use it), which is usually a good thing since you probably check for its existence in order to actually use it.

As a simple example, here's a function that runs gdate if it exists, otherwise date:

gnudate() {
    if hash gdate 2>/dev/null; then
        gdate "$@"
        date "$@"

Alternative with a complete feature set

You can use scripts-common to reach your need.

To check if something is installed, you can do:

checkBin <the_command> || errorMessage "This tool requires <the_command>. Install it please, and then run this tool again."