sha-bang in Scripts

The sha-bang ( #!) 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 [1] 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. [2]

#!/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. [3] 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 [4] 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.

#! 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. [5] Note again that #!/bin/sh invokes the default shell interpreter, which defaults to /bin/bash on a Linux machine.

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