shell - Difference between sh and Bash

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Top 5 Answer for shell - Difference between sh and Bash

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What is sh?

sh (or the Shell Command Language) is a programming language described by the POSIX standard. It has many implementations (ksh88, Dash, ...). Bash can also be considered an implementation of sh (see below).

Because sh is a specification, not an implementation, /bin/sh is a symlink (or a hard link) to an actual implementation on most POSIX systems.

What is Bash?

Bash started as an sh-compatible implementation (although it predates the POSIX standard by a few years), but as time passed it has acquired many extensions. Many of these extensions may change the behavior of valid POSIX shell scripts, so by itself Bash is not a valid POSIX shell. Rather, it is a dialect of the POSIX shell language.

Bash supports a --posix switch, which makes it more POSIX-compliant. It also tries to mimic POSIX if invoked as sh.

sh = bash?

For a long time, /bin/sh used to point to /bin/bash on most GNU/Linux systems. As a result, it had almost become safe to ignore the difference between the two. But that started to change recently.

Some popular examples of systems where /bin/sh does not point to /bin/bash (and on some of which /bin/bash may not even exist) are:

  1. Modern Debian and Ubuntu systems, which symlink sh to dash by default;
  2. Busybox, which is usually run during the Linux system boot time as part of initramfs. It uses the ash shell implementation.
  3. BSD systems, and in general any non-Linux systems. OpenBSD uses pdksh, a descendant of the KornShell. FreeBSD's sh is a descendant of the original Unix Bourne shell. Solaris has its own sh which for a long time was not POSIX-compliant; a free implementation is available from the Heirloom project.

How can you find out what /bin/sh points to on your system?

The complication is that /bin/sh could be a symbolic link or a hard link. If it's a symbolic link, a portable way to resolve it is:

% file -h /bin/sh /bin/sh: symbolic link to bash 

If it's a hard link, try

% find -L /bin -samefile /bin/sh /bin/sh /bin/bash 

In fact, the -L flag covers both symlinks and hardlinks, but the disadvantage of this method is that it is not portable — POSIX does not require find to support the -samefile option, although both GNU find and FreeBSD find support it.

Shebang line

Ultimately, it's up to you to decide which one to use, by writing the «shebang» line as the very first line of the script.



will use sh (and whatever that happens to point to),


will use /bin/bash if it's available (and fail with an error message if it's not). Of course, you can also specify another implementation, e.g.


Which one to use

For my own scripts, I prefer sh for the following reasons:

  • it is standardized
  • it is much simpler and easier to learn
  • it is portable across POSIX systems — even if they happen not to have bash, they are required to have sh

There are advantages to using bash as well. Its features make programming more convenient and similar to programming in other modern programming languages. These include things like scoped local variables and arrays. Plain sh is a very minimalistic programming language.

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TL;DR: Bash is a superset of sh with a more elegant syntax and more functionality. It is safe to use a Bash shebang line in almost all cases as it's quite ubiquitous on modern platforms.

NB: in some environments, sh is Bash. Check sh --version.

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This question has frequently been nominated as a canonical for people who try to use sh and are surprised that it's not behaving the same as bash. Here's a quick rundown of common misunderstandings and pitfalls.

First off, you should understand what to expect.

  • If you run your script with sh scriptname, or run it with scriptname and have #!/bin/sh in the shebang line, you should expect POSIX sh behavior.
  • If you run your script with bash scriptname, or run it with scriptname and have #!/bin/bash (or the local equivalent) in the shebang line, you should expect Bash behavior.

Having a correct shebang and running the script by typing just the script name (possibly with a relative or full path) is generally the preferred solution. In addition to a correct shebang, this requires the script file to have execute permission (chmod a+x scriptname).

So, how do they actually differ?

The Bash Reference manual has a section which attempts to enumerate the differences but some common sources of confusion include

  • [[ is not available in sh (only [ which is more clunky and limited). See also Difference between single and double square brackets in Bash
  • sh does not have arrays.
  • Some Bash keywords like local, source, function, shopt, let, declare, and select are not portable to sh. (Some sh implementations support e.g. local.)
  • Bash has many C-style syntax extensions like the three-argument for((i=0;i<=3;i++)) loop, += increment assignment, etc. The $'string\nwith\tC\aescapes' feature is tentatively accepted for POSIX (meaning it works in Bash now, but will not yet be supported by sh on systems which only adhere to the current POSIX specification, and likely will not for some time to come).
  • Bash supports <<<'here strings'.
  • Bash has *.{png,jpg} and {0..12} brace expansion.
  • Bash has extended globbing facilities like ** (globstar) for recursing subdirectories, and extglob for using a different, more versatile wildcard syntax.
  • ~ refers to $HOME only in Bash (and more generally ~username to the home directory of username).This is in POSIX, but may be missing from some pre-POSIX /bin/sh implementations.
  • Bash has process substitution with <(cmd) and >(cmd).
  • Bash has Csh-style convenience redirection aliases like &| for 2>&1 | and &> for > ... 2>&1
  • Bash supports coprocesses with <> redirection.
  • Bash features a rich set of expanded non-standard parameter expansions such as ${substring:1:2}, ${variable/pattern/replacement}, case conversion, etc.
  • Bash has significantly extended facilities for shell arithmetic (though still no floating-point support). There is an obsolescent legacy $[expression] syntax which however should be replaced with POSIX arithmetic $((expression)) syntax. (Some legacy pre-POSIX sh implementations may not support that, though.)
  • Several built-in commands have options which are not portable, like type -a, printf -v, and the perennial echo -e.
  • Magic variables like $RANDOM, $SECONDS, $PIPESTATUS[@] and $FUNCNAME are Bash extensions.
  • Syntactic differences like export variable=value and [ "x" == "y" ] which are not portable (export variable should be separate from variable assignment, and portable string comparison in [ ... ] uses a single equals sign).
  • Many, many Bash-only extensions to enable or disable optional behavior and expose internal state of the shell.
  • Many, many convenience features for interactive use which however do not affect script behavior.

Remember, this is an abridged listing. Refer to the reference manual for the full scoop, and for many good workarounds; and/or try which warns for many Bash-only features.

A common error is to have a #!/bin/bash shebang line, but then nevertheless using sh scriptname to actually run the script. This basically disables any Bash-only functionality, so you get syntax errors e.g. for trying to use arrays. (The shebang line is syntactically a comment, so it is simply ignored in this scenario.)

Unfortunately, Bash will not warn when you try to use these constructs when it is invoked as sh. It doesn't completely disable all Bash-only functionality, either, so running Bash by invoking it as sh is not a good way to check if your script is properly portable to ash/dash/POSIX sh or variants like Heirloom sh

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Shell is an interface between a user and OS to access to an operating system's services. It can be either GUI or CLI (Command Line interface).

sh (Bourne shell) is a shell command-line interpreter, for Unix/Unix-like operating systems. It provides some built-in commands. In scripting language we denote interpreter as #!/bin/sh. It was one most widely supported by other shells like bash (free/open), kash (not free).

Bash (Bourne again shell) is a shell replacement for the Bourne shell. Bash is superset of sh. Bash supports sh. POSIX is a set of standards defining how POSIX-compliant systems should work. Bash is not actually a POSIX compliant shell. In a scripting language we denote the interpreter as #!/bin/bash.


  • Shell is like an interface or specifications or API.
  • sh is a class which implements the Shell interface.
  • Bash is a subclass of the sh.

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Post from UNIX.COM

Shell features

This table below lists most features that I think would make you choose one shell over another. It is not intended to be a definitive list and does not include every single possible feature for every single possible shell. A feature is only considered to be in a shell if in the version that comes with the operating system, or if it is available as compiled directly from the standard distribution. In particular the C shell specified below is that available on SUNOS 4.*, a considerable number of vendors now ship either tcsh or their own enhanced C shell instead (they don't always make it obvious that they are shipping tcsh.


                                     sh   csh  ksh  bash tcsh zsh  rc   es Job control                          N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    N    N Aliases                              N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    N    N Shell functions                      Y(1) N    Y    Y    N    Y    Y    Y "Sensible" Input/Output redirection  Y    N    Y    Y    N    Y    Y    Y Directory stack                      N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    F    F Command history                      N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    L    L Command line editing                 N    N    Y    Y    Y    Y    L    L Vi Command line editing              N    N    Y    Y    Y(3) Y    L    L Emacs Command line editing           N    N    Y    Y    Y    Y    L    L Rebindable Command line editing      N    N    N    Y    Y    Y    L    L User name look up                    N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    L    L Login/Logout watching                N    N    N    N    Y    Y    F    F Filename completion                  N    Y(1) Y    Y    Y    Y    L    L Username completion                  N    Y(2) Y    Y    Y    Y    L    L Hostname completion                  N    Y(2) Y    Y    Y    Y    L    L History completion                   N    N    N    Y    Y    Y    L    L Fully programmable Completion        N    N    N    N    Y    Y    N    N Mh Mailbox completion                N    N    N    N(4) N(6) N(6) N    N Co Processes                         N    N    Y    N    N    Y    N    N Builtin artithmetic evaluation       N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    N    N Can follow symbolic links invisibly  N    N    Y    Y    Y    Y    N    N Periodic command execution           N    N    N    N    Y    Y    N    N Custom Prompt (easily)               N    N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y Sun Keyboard Hack                    N    N    N    N    N    Y    N    N Spelling Correction                  N    N    N    N    Y    Y    N    N Process Substitution                 N    N    N    Y(2) N    Y    Y    Y Underlying Syntax                    sh   csh  sh   sh   csh  sh   rc   rc Freely Available                     N    N    N(5) Y    Y    Y    Y    Y Checks Mailbox                       N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    F    F Tty Sanity Checking                  N    N    N    N    Y    Y    N    N Can cope with large argument lists   Y    N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y Has non-interactive startup file     N    Y    Y(7) Y(7) Y    Y    N    N Has non-login startup file           N    Y    Y(7) Y    Y    Y    N    N Can avoid user startup files         N    Y    N    Y    N    Y    Y    Y Can specify startup file             N    N    Y    Y    N    N    N    N Low level command redefinition       N    N    N    N    N    N    N    Y Has anonymous functions              N    N    N    N    N    N    Y    Y List Variables                       N    Y    Y    N    Y    Y    Y    Y Full signal trap handling            Y    N    Y    Y    N    Y    Y    Y File no clobber ability              N    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    N    F Local variables                      N    N    Y    Y    N    Y    Y    Y Lexically scoped variables           N    N    N    N    N    N    N    Y Exceptions                           N    N    N    N    N    N    N    Y 

Key to the table above.

Y Feature can be done using this shell.

N Feature is not present in the shell.

F Feature can only be done by using the shells function mechanism.

L The readline library must be linked into the shell to enable this Feature.

Notes to the table above

  1. This feature was not in the original version, but has since become almost standard.
  2. This feature is fairly new and so is often not found on many versions of the shell, it is gradually making its way into standard distribution.
  3. The Vi emulation of this shell is thought by many to be incomplete.
  4. This feature is not standard but unofficial patches exist to perform this.
  5. A version called 'pdksh' is freely available, but does not have the full functionality of the AT&T version.
  6. This can be done via the shells programmable completion mechanism.
  7. Only by specifying a file via the ENV environment variable.

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