Chapter 2. Starting Off With a Sha-Bang


Shell programming is a 1950s juke box . . .

--Larry Wall

Table of Contents
2.1. Invoking the script
2.2. Preliminary Exercises

In the simplest case, a script is nothing more than a list of system commands stored in a file. At the very least, this saves the effort of retyping that particular sequence of commands each time it is invoked.

Example 2-1. cleanup: A script to clean up the log files in /var/log

# Cleanup # Run as root, of course. cd /var/log cat /dev/null > messages cat /dev/null > wtmp echo "Logs cleaned up."

There is nothing unusual here, only a set of commands that could just as easily be invoked one by one from the command line on the console or in an xterm. The advantages of placing the commands in a script go beyond not having to retype them time and again. The script becomes a tool, and can easily be modified or customized for a particular application.

Example 2-2. cleanup: An improved clean-up script

#!/bin/bash # Proper header for a Bash script. # Cleanup, version 2 # Run as root, of course. # Insert code here to print error message and exit if not root. LOG_DIR=/var/log # Variables are better than hard-coded values. cd $LOG_DIR cat /dev/null > messages cat /dev/null > wtmp echo "Logs cleaned up." exit # The right and proper method of "exiting" from a script.

Now that's beginning to look like a real script. But we can go even farther . . .

Example 2-3. cleanup: An enhanced and generalized version of above scripts.

#!/bin/bash # Cleanup, version 3 # Warning: # ------- # This script uses quite a number of features that will be explained #+ later on. # By the time you've finished the first half of the book, #+ there should be nothing mysterious about it. LOG_DIR=/var/log ROOT_UID=0 # Only users with $UID 0 have root privileges. LINES=50 # Default number of lines saved. E_XCD=66 # Can't change directory? E_NOTROOT=67 # Non-root exit error. # Run as root, of course. if [ "$UID" -ne "$ROOT_UID" ] then echo "Must be root to run this script." exit $E_NOTROOT fi if [ -n "$1" ] # Test if command line argument present (non-empty). then lines=$1 else lines=$LINES # Default, if not specified on command line. fi # Stephane Chazelas suggests the following, #+ as a better way of checking command line arguments, #+ but this is still a bit advanced for this stage of the tutorial. # # E_WRONGARGS=65 # Non-numerical argument (bad arg format) # # case "$1" in # "" ) lines=50;; # *[!0-9]*) echo "Usage: `basename $0` file-to-cleanup"; exit $E_WRONGARGS;; # aboutauthor.html aliases.html arithexp.html arrays.html asciitable.html assortedtips.html authorsnote.html awk.html bash2.html bash-options.html bashver2.html bashver3.html basic.html biblio.html colorizing.html command-line-options.html commandsub.html communications.html comparison-ops.html complexfunct.html contributed-scripts.html copyright.html credits.html dblparens.html debugging.html declareref.html devproc.html devref1.html disclaimer.html dosbatch.html endnotes.html escapingsection.html exercises.html exitcodes.html exit-status.html external.html extmisc.html filearchiv.html files.html fto.html functions.html globbingref.html gotchas.html here-docs.html histcommands.html index.html intandnonint.html internal.html internalvariables.html invoking.html io-redirection.html ioredirintro.html ivr.html list-cons.html localization.html localvar.html loopcontrol.html loops1.html loops.html mathc.html mirrorsites.html miscellany.html moreadv.html nestedifthen.html nestedloops.html numerical-constants.html operations.html opprecedence.html ops.html optimizations.html options.html othertypesv.html parameter-substitution.html part1.html part2.html part3.html part4.html part5.html portabilityissues.html prelimexer.html process-sub.html procref1.html quoting.html quotingvar.html randomvar.html recess-time.html recurnolocvar.html recursionsct.html redirapps.html redircb.html refcards.html regexp.html restricted-sh.html revisionhistory.html sample-bashrc.html scriptanalysis.html scrstyle.html securityissues.html sedawk.html sha-bang.html special-chars.html standard-options.html string-manipulation.html subshells.html sysscripts.html systemdirs.html system.html terminalccmds.html testbranch.html testconstructs.html testsandcomparisons.html tests.html testtest.html textproc.html timedate.html todolist.html toolsused.html unofficialst.html untyped.html varassignment.html variables2.html variables.html varsubn.html wherehelp.html why-shell.html winscript.html wrapper.html writingscripts.html x16044.html x16712.html x16834.html x21467.html x8885.html xrefindex.html zeros.html ) lines=$1;; # esac # #* Skip ahead to "Loops" chapter to decipher all this. cd $LOG_DIR if [ `pwd` != "$LOG_DIR" ] # or if [ "$PWD" != "$LOG_DIR" ] # Not in /var/log? then echo "Can't change to $LOG_DIR." exit $E_XCD fi # Doublecheck if in right directory, before messing with log file. # far more efficient is: # # cd /var/log || { # echo "Cannot change to necessary directory." >&2 # exit $E_XCD; # } tail -n $lines messages > mesg.temp # Saves last section of message log file. mv mesg.temp messages # Becomes new log directory. # cat /dev/null > messages #* No longer needed, as the above method is safer. cat /dev/null > wtmp # ': > wtmp' and '> wtmp' have the same effect. echo "Logs cleaned up." exit 0 # A zero return value from the script upon exit #+ indicates success to the shell.

Since you may not wish to wipe out the entire system log, this version of the script keeps the last section of the message log intact. You will constantly discover ways of fine-tuning previously written scripts for increased effectiveness.

The sha-bang ( #!) [1] at the head of a script tells your system that this file is a set of commands to be fed to the command interpreter indicated. The #! is actually a two-byte [2] magic number, a special marker that designates a file type, or in this case an executable shell script (type man magic for more details on this fascinating topic). Immediately following the sha-bang is a path name. This is the path to the program that interprets the commands in the script, whether it be a shell, a programming language, or a utility. This command interpreter then executes the commands in the script, starting at the top (line following the sha-bang line), ignoring comments. [3]

#!/bin/sh #!/bin/bash #!/usr/bin/perl #!/usr/bin/tcl #!/bin/sed -f #!/usr/awk -f

Each of the above script header lines calls a different command interpreter, be it /bin/sh, the default shell (bash in a Linux system) or otherwise. [4] Using #!/bin/sh, the default Bourne shell in most commercial variants of UNIX, makes the script portable to non-Linux machines, though you sacrifice Bash-specific features. The script will, however, conform to the POSIX [5] sh standard.

Note that the path given at the "sha-bang" must be correct, otherwise an error message -- usually "Command not found." -- will be the only result of running the script. [6]

#! can be omitted if the script consists only of a set of generic system commands, using no internal shell directives. The second example, above, requires the initial #!, since the variable assignment line, lines=50, uses a shell-specific construct. [7] Note again that #!/bin/sh invokes the default shell interpreter, which defaults to /bin/bash on a Linux machine.


This tutorial encourages a modular approach to constructing a script. Make note of and collect "boilerplate" code snippets that might be useful in future scripts. Eventually you will build quite an extensive library of nifty routines. As an example, the following script prolog tests whether the script has been invoked with the correct number of parameters.

E_WRONG_ARGS=65 script_parameters="-a -h -m -z" # -a = all, -h = help, etc. if [ $# -ne $Number_of_expected_args ] then echo "Usage: `basename $0` $script_parameters" # `basename $0` is the script's filename. exit $E_WRONG_ARGS fi

Many times, you will write a script that carries out one particular task. The first script in this chapter is an example of this. Later, it might occur to you to generalize the script to do other, similar tasks. Replacing the literal ("hard-wired") constants by variables is a step in that direction, as is replacing repetitive code blocks by functions.



Also seen in the literature as she-bang or sh-bang. This derives from the concatenation of the tokens sharp (#) and bang (!).


Some flavors of UNIX (those based on 4.2 BSD) allegedly take a four-byte magic number, requiring a blank after the ! -- #! /bin/sh. According to Sven Mascheck this is probably a myth.


The #! line in a shell script will be the first thing the command interpreter (sh or bash) sees. Since this line begins with a #, it will be correctly interpreted as a comment when the command interpreter finally executes the script. The line has already served its purpose - calling the command interpreter.

If, in fact, the script includes an extra #! line, then bash will interpret it as a comment.
#!/bin/bash echo "Part 1 of script." a=1 #!/bin/bash # This does authorsnote.html endnotes.html launch a new script. echo "Part 2 of script." echo $a # Value of $a stays at 1.


This allows some cute tricks.

#!/bin/rm # Self-deleting script. # Nothing much seems to happen when you run this... except that the file disappears. WHATEVER=65 echo "This line will never print (betcha!)." exit $WHATEVER # Doesn't matter. The script will not exit here. # Try an echo $? after script termination. # You'll get a 0, not a 65.

Also, try starting a README file with a #!/bin/more, and making it executable. The result is a self-listing documentation file. (A here document using cat is possibly a better alternative -- see Example 18-3).


Portable Operating System Interface, an attempt to standardize UNIX-like OSes. The POSIX specifications are listed on the Open Group site.


To avoid this possibility, a script may begin with a #!/bin/env bash sha-bang line. This may be useful on UNIX machines where bash is not located in /bin


If Bash is your default shell, then the #! isn't necessary at the beginning of a script. However, if launching a script from a different shell, such as tcsh, then you will need the #!.