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I want to retrieve the total number of files within a folder.

I would do this with ls | wc -l. My code is:

cd /home/user/myfolder
num=$("ls | wc -l")

But I understand this opens a new shell which doesn't know that the working directory was changed. How can I execute the ls | wc -l command within the same shell?

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Your command doesn't work merely because you quoted it, actually the action of bash Command Substitution does take place in the current working directory. However, as you should avoid parsing the output of ls I recommend a different approach.

I like using find for things like that:

find . -maxdepth 1 -type f -printf . | wc -c

This prints a . (-printf .) for every file (-type f) in the current directory (. and -maxdepth 1), wc then just counts the bytes in the output.

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