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“Missing argument at index 2” in fish

My default shell is fish. I find it very pleasant and easy to use, and it was very friendly when I was first learning the shell. The downside is that it seems to have a relatively small user base, and so you can’t always just do a Google search when you hit an error message.

Here’s a rather odd one I came across this evening: running cd would throw up a “test: Missing argument” message, but any other command was fine:

$ cd ~/bin
test: Missing argument at index 2

$ pwd

Googling this error message turns up just four results, and none of them were particularly useful in solving my problem. This is where I was hitting a problem, and how I fixed it.

I started with the usual – restarting the shell, rebooting, and switching from iTerm2 to Terminal – to no avail. I didn’t seriously expect either of those to work, but you have to try.

The next place to look was my (the configuration file for fish, similar to a .bash_profile or .zshrc). I quickly traced it to a script that I was loading:

# . ~/bin/virtualfish/
. ~/bin/virtualfish/
# . ~/bin/virtualfish/

These scripts are loading Adam Brenecki’s virtualfish to integrate virtualenv with my shell. Initially I was confused, because nothing had changed – I hadn’t updated fish, virtualfish or anything else.

But peeking inside turned up the instance of test that was throwing this error, and why it was upset:

new_virtualenv_name (cat "$activation_root/$VIRTUALFISH_ACTIVATION_FILE")
if test $new_virtualenv_name != ""

The new_virtualenv_name is reading a .venv file in the current tree. This file normally contains the name of a virtualenv, and when you enter that directory, virtualfish automatically activates it (and deactivates it when you leave). This is usually set up with the vf connect command, and it’s incredibly convenient.

It was confused because, for reasons unknown, I had an empty .venv file in my home directory. When it tried to see which virtualenv it should be loaded, it got an empty string. The test was only getting two arguments, not three, and hence the error.

Deleting the empty .venv file makes the message go away.

This seems fairly obscure, and I don’t know whether anybody else will hit this exact problem, but I hope it’s useful to somebody – even if that is just my future self.