Difference between bash and shell ( bash and sh ) ( #!/bin/sh and #!/bin/bash )

Bash (Bourne Again Shell ) is the free version of the Bourne shell distributed with Linux and GNU operating systems. Bash is similar to the original, but has added features such as command line editing.

Created to improve on the earlier sh shell, Bash includes features from the Korn shell and the C shell. Bash is intended to conform to the shell standard specified as part of IEEE POSIX. A command language script written for the sh shell will also run in the bash shell.

The full name is sometimes written as “Bourne Again SHell,” the capitalized “Hell” referring to the difficulty some people have with it.

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. BSDs. OpenBSD uses pdksh, a descendant of the Korn shell. FreeBSD’s sh is a descendant of the original UNIX Bourne shell.

Shebang line

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which one to use, by writing the «shebang» line.



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.

A “shell” is any software that provides an interface to an operating system. For instance, explorer.exeis the default shell in Windows (though alternatives exist), and on OS X Finder provides much of the same functionality. On Linux/*nix, the shell could be part of the desktop environment (like Gnome orKDE), or can be a separate software component sitting on top of it (like Unity or Cinnamon).

The above examples are all graphical shells that use a combination of windows, menus, icons and other such elements to provide a graphical user interface (GUI) that can be interacted with using the mouse cursor. However, in the context of software like Bash, or writing scripts, “shell” is usually taken to mean a command-line interpreter, which performs largely the same duties as a graphical shell, except is entirely text-based.

Bash is a specific example of a command-line shell, and is probably one of the most well-known ones, being the default in many Linux distributions as well as OS X. It was designed as a replacement for the Bourne shell (Bash stands for “Bourne again shell”), one of the first Unix shells.

Examples of command-line shells on Windows include cmd.exe (aka Command Prompt) andPowerShell.


Posted on June 17, 2015, in Linux (Ubuntu/CentOS). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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