Monday, 1 November 2021

Chaining IF and && with CMD

An interesting bug cropped up the other day in a dub configuration file which made me realise I wasn’t consciously aware of the precedence of && when used in an IF statement with cmd.exe.

Batch File Idioms

I’ve written a ton of batch files over the years and, with error handling being a manual affair, the usual pattern is to alternate pairs of statement + error check, e.g.

mkdir folder
if %errorlevel% neq 0 exit /b %errorlevel%

It’s not uncommon for people to explicitly leave off the error check in this particular scenario so that (hopefully) the folder will exist whether not it already does. However it then masks a (not uncommon) failure where the folder can’t be created due to permissions and so I tend to go for the more verbose option:

if not exist "folder" (
  mkdir folder
  if !errorlevel! neq 0 exit /b !errorlevel!

Note the switch from %errorlevel% to !errorlevel!. I tend to use setlocal EnableDelayedExpansion at the beginning of every batch file and use !var! everywhere by convention to avoid forgetting this transformation as it’s an easy mistake to make in batch files.

Chaining Statements

In cmd you can chain commands with & (much like ; in bash) with && being used when the previous command succeeds and || for when it fails. This is useful with tools like dub which allow you to define “one liners” that will be executed during a build by “shelling out”. For example you might write this:

mkdir bin\media && copy media\*.* bin\media

This works fine first time but it’s not idempotent which might be okay for automated builds where the workspace is always clean but it’s annoying when running the build repeatedly, locally. Hence you might be inclined to fix this by changing it to:

if not exist "bin\media" mkdir bin\media && copy media\*.* bin\media

Sadly this doesn’t do what the author intended because the && is part of the IF statement “then” block – the copy is only executed if the folder doesn’t exist. Hence this was the aforementioned bug which wasn’t spotted at first as it worked fine for the automated builds but failed locally.

Here is a canonical example:

> if exist "C:\" echo A && echo B

> if not exist "C:\" echo A && echo B

As you can see, in the second case B is not printed so is part of the IF statement happy path.

Parenthesis to the Rescue

Naturally the solution to problems involving ordering or precedence is to introduce parenthesis to be more explicit.

If you look at how parenthesis were used in the second example right back at the beginning you might be inclined to write this thinking that the parenthesis create a scope somewhat akin to {} in C style languages:

> if not exist "C:\" (echo A) && echo B

But it won’t work as the parenthesis are still part of the “then” statement. (They are useful to control evaluation when mixing compound conditional commands that use, say, || and & [1].)

Hence the correct solution is to use parenthesis around the entire IF statement:

> (if not exist "C:\" echo A) && echo B

Applying this to the original problem, it’s:

(if not exist "bin\media" mkdir bin\media) && copy media\*.* bin\media


[1] Single line with multiple commands using Windows batch file

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