Bash Script – Conditional Error Handling

When it comes to writing Bash scripts, handling errors is like putting on a safety net. It ensures that even if something goes wrong, your script won’t crash and burn. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of error handling in Bash scripting, and don’t worry, we’ll keep it simple.

Imagine you’re writing a script to automate a task on your computer. Everything seems to be going well until, suddenly, something unexpected happens—maybe a file is missing, a command fails, or there’s an input error. Without proper error handling, your script might just give up and leave you scratching your head.

That’s where error handling comes in. We’ll show you how to use ‘if’ statements to check for errors, how to make your script respond differently based on what went wrong, and even some advanced techniques to handle tricky situations. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to create robust Bash scripts that can gracefully handle errors, making your scripting journey a lot smoother. So, let’s jump right in!

Using if Statements to Check for Errors

In the world of Bash scripting, the “if” statement is your trusty detective. It helps you investigate whether things went as planned or if something went awry. Let’s dive into how this fundamental tool can help you with error checking.

How ‘if’ Statements Work

The “if” statement allows your script to make decisions based on conditions. In error handling, it’s often used to examine something called an “exit code” or “return code” from a command. These exit codes are like secret messages that tell you if the command succeeded or encountered a problem.

  • If the exit code is 0, it means the command executed successfully.
  • If the exit code is not 0, it means something went wrong.

Script Example: Checking for Success and Failure: Let’s say you want to check if a file exists before you do something with it. Here’s how you can use the “if” statement:

if [ -e "myfile.txt" ]; then
    echo "The file exists."
    echo "The file does not exist."

In this script:

  • We use [ -e "myfile.txt" ] to check if the file “myfile.txt” exists.
  • If it exists (exit code 0), the script prints “The file exists.”
  • If it doesn’t exist (exit code not 0), the script prints “The file does not exist.”

You see, the “if” statement helps us decide what action to take based on the result of the file existence check. This is just one example; you can use “if” statements to check for all sorts of conditions in your scripts.

Conditional Branching Based on Exit Codes

In the world of Bash scripting, error handling isn’t just about finding problems; it’s also about knowing what to do when you encounter them. Conditional branching using “if,” “elif,” and “else” statements is like having a roadmap to guide your script when things don’t go as planned. Let’s see how this works and dive into some practical examples.

Using ‘if,’ ‘elif,’ and ‘else’ Statements

Conditional branching is all about making choices in your script based on conditions. You can think of it like this:

  • if: If a certain condition is true, do this.
  • elif: If the first condition is not true but another condition is, do this instead.
  • else: If none of the previous conditions were met, do this as a last resort.

Script Example: Handling Different Error Scenarios

Let’s say you’re writing a script to delete files, and you want to handle different error scenarios gracefully. Here’s how you can do it:

if [ -e "myfile.txt" ]; then
    rm "myfile.txt"   # If the file exists, delete it.
    echo "File deleted successfully."
elif [ -e "mybackup.txt" ]; then
    mv "mybackup.txt" "myfile.txt"   # If a backup file exists, restore it.
    echo "File restored from backup."
    echo "File does not exist."

In this script:

  • The first “if” statement checks if “myfile.txt” exists. If it does, it deletes the file.
  • The “elif” statement checks if “mybackup.txt” exists. If it does, it restores “myfile.txt” from the backup.
  • If neither condition is met, the “else” statement runs, indicating that the file doesn’t exist.

This script demonstrates how you can use conditional branching to handle different error scenarios. It gracefully manages situations where the file may or may not exist, ensuring your script takes the appropriate action each time.

Handling Different Error Scenarios with Conditional Logic

In the world of Bash scripting, errors come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a file isn’t where you expect it, other times you lack the permission to perform an action, and occasionally, users provide unexpected input. The good news is that you can use conditional logic to tackle these common error scenarios head-on. Let’s explore how to do that with some real-world examples.

Common Error Scenarios in Bash Scripting

Before we dive into the solutions, let’s identify a few common errors:

  1. File Not Found: You’re trying to do something with a file, but it’s not there.
  2. Permission Denied: You don’t have the necessary permissions to perform an action.
  3. Invalid Input: The user provides input that doesn’t make sense for your script.

Using Conditional Logic to Address Specific Errors

To handle these errors, we can use conditional logic, such as “if” statements. Here’s a simple example:

# Scenario 1: File Not Found
if [ ! -e "myfile.txt" ]; then
    echo "File not found."

# Scenario 2: Permission Denied
if [ ! -w "myfile.txt" ]; then
    echo "Permission denied. You can't write to this file."

# Scenario 3: Invalid Input
read -p "Enter a number: " userInput
if ! [[ "$userInput" =~ ^[0-9]+$ ]]; then
    echo "Invalid input. Please enter a number."

In this script:

  • For Scenario 1, we check if “myfile.txt” exists and respond accordingly.
  • For Scenario 2, we check if we have write permission for “myfile.txt.”
  • For Scenario 3, we prompt the user for input and check if it’s a valid number using a regular expression.

Real-World Script Examples

Consider a real-world scenario: you’re writing a backup script. You want to handle cases where the backup directory doesn’t exist or where there’s not enough disk space. Here’s how you can do it:

# Scenario 1: Backup Directory Not Found
if [ ! -d "$backupDir" ]; then
    echo "Backup directory not found. Creating it..."
    mkdir -p "$backupDir"

# Scenario 2: Not Enough Disk Space
requiredSpace=1000000  # 1 GB in bytes
availableSpace=$(df -P "$backupDir" | awk 'NR==2 {print $4}')
if [ "$availableSpace" -lt "$requiredSpace" ]; then
    echo "Not enough disk space for the backup."

In this script:

  • For Scenario 1, we check if the backup directory exists and create it if it doesn’t.
  • For Scenario 2, we calculate the available disk space and compare it to the required space, issuing an error message if it’s insufficient.

Advanced Error Handling Techniques

In the world of Bash scripting, sometimes you need a more sophisticated approach to error handling, especially when dealing with unexpected errors or resource cleanup. One advanced technique that comes to the rescue is the “trap” command. Let’s delve into what this command is all about and see how it can make your error handling more robust.

Introducing the ‘trap’ Command

The “trap” command is like a safety net for your script. It allows you to set up specific actions to take when certain conditions, like errors or signals, occur during script execution. This enables you to gracefully handle unexpected situations and ensure that your script cleans up after itself.

How ‘trap’ Works

The “trap” command is often used to catch signals and errors. It has a syntax like this:

trap 'command' SIGNAL

'command' is the action or command you want to execute when the specified SIGNAL occurs.

SIGNAL is the condition or event you’re trapping, like “EXIT,” “ERR” (error), or a custom signal.

Script Example: Using ‘trap’ for Error Handling and Cleanup

Imagine you’re writing a script that processes files, and you want to ensure that even if an error occurs, the script cleans up temporary files. Here’s how you can use ‘trap’:



# Function to clean up temporary files
cleanup() {
    echo "Cleaning up..."
    rm -f "$tempFile"

# Set up 'trap' to call the 'cleanup' function on script exit or error
trap 'cleanup' EXIT ERR

# Generate an error by trying to read a non-existent file
cat "$tempFile"

# Rest of your script here...

In this script:

  • We define a cleanup function to remove the temporary file.
  • We use ‘trap’ to call the cleanup function when the script exits (EXIT) or encounters an error (ERR).
  • We intentionally generate an error by trying to read a non-existent file (cat "$tempFile").

When the script finishes or encounters an error, the ‘trap’ command ensures that the cleanup function is called, cleaning up resources even in error scenarios.

Best Practices for Error Handling

When it comes to error handling in Bash scripts, there are some tried-and-true best practices that can make your scripts more robust and easier to maintain. Let’s explore these practices and tips to help you become a pro at handling errors effectively.

Logging Errors for Debugging and Monitoring

  • Use logging to keep a record of what happens in your script, especially errors.
  • Logging helps you understand what went wrong and where.
  • You can use simple echo statements to log errors to a file:
# Log errors to a file
echo "Error: Something went wrong" >> "$errorLog"

Clear and Informative Error Messages

  • Error messages should be concise and clear.
  • Include relevant information about the error.
  • Provide guidance on how to resolve the issue or what the user should do next.
# Clear and informative error message
echo "Error: The file 'myfile.txt' does not exist. Please check the file path."

Making Error Handling Code Modular and Reusable

  • Isolate error-handling code in functions for modularity.
  • Reuse error-handling functions across multiple scripts.
  • Create custom functions for common error scenarios.
# Modular error handling function
handle_error() {
    local errorMessage="$1"
    echo "Error: $errorMessage"
    # Additional error-handling logic here...

# Usage
if [ ! -e "myfile.txt" ]; then
    handle_error "The file 'myfile.txt' does not exist."

Graceful Exit and Cleanup

  • When errors occur, exit the script gracefully (e.g., using exit 1 to indicate an error).
  • Ensure that critical resources are cleaned up.
# Exit script with an error code
if [ ! -e "myfile.txt" ]; then
    echo "Error: The file 'myfile.txt' does not exist."
    exit 1

# Ensure cleanup in 'trap' for unexpected errors
trap 'cleanup' EXIT ERR

Testing and Error Scenarios

  • Test your script with various error scenarios to ensure it handles them correctly.
  • Cover cases like file not found, permission issues, and invalid inputs.
  • Include unit tests for error-handling functions.

By following these best practices, you can build Bash scripts that not only work smoothly but also handle errors gracefully. Error handling isn’t just about dealing with problems—it’s about making your scripts more reliable, maintainable, and user-friendly.


In the world of Bash scripting, mastering error handling is like having a superpower. It turns you into a script superhero, ready to tackle unexpected challenges with grace and confidence. Here’s what we’ve learned in this article:

  • ‘if’ Statements are your trusty sidekick for checking if things went as planned or if errors crept in.
  • Conditional Branching with ‘if,’ ‘elif,’ and ‘else’ lets you steer your script in different directions based on the types of errors you encounter.
  • Conditional Logic helps you address specific error scenarios, whether it’s a missing file, permission problems, or unexpected user input.
  • ‘trap’ Command is your secret weapon for advanced error handling. It catches signals and errors, allowing you to clean up resources and respond effectively to the unexpected.
  • Best Practices are your guiding principles. Logging errors, clear messages, modularity, and graceful exits all contribute to making your scripts reliable and user-friendly.

Remember, error handling isn’t just about finding problems; it’s about making your scripts robust and dependable. So, the next time you’re scripting in Bash, don’t fear errors—embrace them as opportunities to shine as a scripting superhero. With the skills you’ve gained, your scripts will navigate the twists and turns of the scripting world with confidence and poise. Happy scripting!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is error handling in Bash scripting?

Error handling in Bash scripting is the practice of anticipating and managing unexpected situations or errors that may occur while a script is running. It involves techniques to detect errors, take appropriate actions, and maintain the script’s reliability.

Why is error handling important in Bash scripting?

How can I check for errors in Bash scripts?

What is the ‘trap’ command, and how does it work in error handling?

What are some best practices for error handling in Bash scripting?

Can I use error handling techniques in my own scripts?

What are some common error scenarios that Bash scripts may encounter?

How can I test my Bash script’s error handling?

Are there tools or libraries available for Bash error handling?

What’s the main takeaway from this article on error handling in Bash scripting?


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