What is the Difference Between /bin/sh and /bin/bash?


Understanding the difference between /bin/sh and /bin/bash is crucial for any Linux user, system administrator or developer who works with shell scripting. This topic is especially important since there are many scripts and commands that are written using one shell, but executed on another. It’s also equally important to choose the right shell for your project because some features may not be available in one or the other.

The Importance of Understanding the Difference Between /bin/sh and /bin/bash

/bin/sh and /bin/bash are two different shells that come with most Unix-based systems. While they share some similarities, they have several differences that can make a significant impact on your scripts or commands.

For instance, if you write a script using Bash-specific features, such as arrays or command substitution, and then executes it on a system where only the POSIX-compliant version of sh is available, it will fail to run. By understanding these differences, you can avoid these kinds of compatibility issues while writing scripts.

Brief Overview of What /bin/sh and /bin/bash Are

/bin/sh is an executable file that serves as the default command language interpreter on many Unix systems, including Linux. It was originally written by Ken Thompson in 1969 for the original version of Unix.

In contrast, Bash (/bin/bash) stands for “Bourne-again shell” and was created as a free software replacement for the Bourne shell (sh) in 1989. Both shells provide an environment where users can interact with their operating system via text commands entered into a terminal window/command prompt/terminal emulator/etc.

What is /bin/sh?

/bin/sh is a Unix shell, or command-line interpreter, that provides the user with a simple and efficient way to interact with the operating system. It is the default shell for many Unix-based systems, including Linux and macOS. The “sh” in /bin/sh stands for “shell,” which refers to how it allows users to issue commands or instructions to the computer via a command-line interface.

Definition and History of /bin/sh

The original version of /bin/sh was written by Stephen Bourne in 1977 for Version 7 Unix. It was created as an improvement over earlier shells like the Thompson shell and Almquist shell, which were used in earlier versions of Unix.

Since then, /bin/sh has become one of the most widely used shells in Unix-like systems. In its current form, /bin/sh is a POSIX-compliant shell that adheres to standards set by IEEE and other organizations.

Features and Limitations of /bin/sh

One of the main features of /bin/sh is its simplicity. It has a relatively small feature set compared to other shells like Bash or Zsh, which can make it easier for new users to learn.

Another advantage is that scripts written for /bin/sh are more likely to be portable across different Unix systems due to its standardization. However, this simplicity also comes with limitations.

For example, there are fewer built-in functions available compared to other shells like Bash or Zsh. Additionally, some advanced scripting tasks may not be possible without resorting to external utilities or implementing workarounds.

Examples of When to Use /bin/sh

/bin/sh can be suitable for simple scripts that do not require advanced functionality provided by other shells such as Bash. For example: – Simple scripts that require only basic input/output operations.

– Scripts that need to work across different Unix systems without modification. – Scripts that do not require advanced features like arrays, functions, or regular expressions.

In general, it’s advisable to use /bin/sh if you are unsure which shell is available on the system or if your script must work on a wide range of Unix-based systems. However, more complex scripts or those requiring advanced functionality may require the use of another shell.

What is /bin/bash?

/bin/bash is the GNU Bourne-Again SHell, which is an enhanced version of the traditional Bourne shell (/bin/sh). It was created by Brian Fox for the GNU Project as a free software replacement for the original Bourne shell.

Definition and history of /bin/bash

Bash was first released in 1989, and it quickly became one of the most popular shells on Unix-based systems. It has since become the default shell on many Linux distributions, including Ubuntu and CentOS.

Bash is a command language interpreter that executes commands read from input, typically from a user’s keyboard or from a script. It provides advanced features such as command-line editing, job control, and support for variables and functions.

Features and advantages of /bin/bash over /bin/sh

The main advantage of Bash over /bin/sh is its advanced features that make it more powerful and flexible. Bash supports tab completion, enabling users to type just a few characters of a command or filename and then press tab to complete it automatically.

It also allows variables to be set with more advanced options than sh does. Bash supports arrays that can be used to store multiple values in one variable.

This can be very useful when writing complex scripts that require storing multiple values in memory at once. Additionally, bash has job control features such as process management which allows users to run programs in the background without having to wait for them to finish before running other tasks.

Examples of when to use /bin/bash

Bash should be used when writing complex scripts that require more advanced features than sh provides out-of-the-box. For example, if you need to create scripts that manipulate strings or work with arrays or perform complex arithmetic operations then bash is the way to go.

One example of this is when you need to automate repetitive tasks, such as making backups of a large number of files. Bash provides a more efficient way to do this than sh because it allows you to use loops and other advanced features that can greatly simplify your script and make it more powerful.

Differences between /bin/sh and /bin/bash

Syntax Differences Between the Two Shells

One of the primary differences between /bin/sh and /bin/bash is syntax. While both shells share a lot of the same syntax, some subtle differences exist that can cause compatibility issues. For example, command substitution is accomplished differently in each shell.

In /bin/sh, it’s done using backticks (`command`) whereas in /bin/bash, it’s done using parentheses ((command)). Similarly, string manipulation and expansion also differ slightly between the two shells.

Compatibility Issues with Scripts Written for One Shell but Executed on the Other Shell

Another significant difference between these two shells is compatibility issues. Scripts written for one shell might not work correctly or at all if executed on the other shell.

For example, if you write a script that uses Bash-specific syntax and tries to execute it on a system where only /bin/sh is available, your script may fail to run as expected. Therefore, it’s essential to verify which shell your script will be running on in advance.

Performance Differences Between the Two Shells

While both /bin/sh and /bin/bash are generally speedy when executing commands or scripts, there are performance differences between them. Some users report that Bash executes certain commands faster than Dash (the default implementation of /bin/sh on many systems).

On some older systems with limited resources or slower CPUs, Dash may perform better than Bash due to its lower resource consumption. Ultimately, choosing which shell to use depends largely on what you’re trying to accomplish with your scripts or commands.

If you’re writing simple scripts with no advanced features or functionality required beyond basic command execution — such as running cron jobs — then using Dash (/bin/sh) should suffice. However, if you need more advanced features and functionality, such as arrays, regular expressions, or command-line editing capabilities, Bash (/bin/bash) is the better choice.


In this solution article, we’ve explored the differences between /bin/sh and /bin/bash. We started by defining what each shell is, their respective features and limitations, and examples of when to use them. Then, we delved into the key differences between the two shells, including syntax variations, compatibility issues with scripts written for one shell but executed on another shell, and performance differences.

Why Choosing the Right Shell for your Script or Command is Important

Choosing the right shell for your script or command can have a significant impact on its stability, performance, and functionality. It’s important to take into consideration why you need to run a particular script or command before selecting which shell it should use.

If you’re writing scripts that are meant to run on multiple systems or distributions with different default shells installed (like different versions of Linux), it’s best to use more compatible shells like /bin/sh. However, if you need advanced features like improved string manipulation functions or extended globbing capabilities for pattern matching in file names, then you may want to use /bin/bash.

Call-to-Action: Learn More About Shell Scripting Best Practices

With modern computing environments requiring increasingly complex automation through scripting languages like Bash scripting language (or any other), it pays off to learn about best practices in Shell scripting. By regularly learning about new techniques and tools for organizing code efficiently and effectively debugging scripts quickly – among other things – developers can save time while creating high-quality automation solutions that solve business problems reliably.

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