When do we need curly braces around shell variables?

In this particular example, it makes no difference. However, the {} in ${} are useful if you want to expand the variable foo in the string


since "$foobar" would instead expand the variable identified by foobar.

Curly braces are also unconditionally required when:

  • expanding array elements, as in ${array[42]}
  • using parameter expansion operations, as in ${filename%.*} (remove extension)
  • expanding positional parameters beyond 9: "$8 $9 ${10} ${11}"

Doing this everywhere, instead of just in potentially ambiguous cases, can be considered good programming practice. This is both for consistency and to avoid surprises like $foo_$bar.jpg, where it’s not visually obvious that the underscore becomes part of the variable name.

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