Shell Scripting Best Practices

Shell scripting is a powerful tool that can automate various tasks in Linux systems. However, it’s important to follow best practices to ensure that your scripts are efficient, maintainable, and secure. In this tutorial, we’ll discuss some best practices for shell scripting, along with examples.

1. Use a Shebang

The shebang (#!) is a special character sequence that is used to tell the operating system which interpreter should be used to execute the script. It should always be placed at the top of the script. For example, for a bash script, the shebang would be:


This tells the system to use the Bash interpreter to execute the script.



# This script prints "Hello, World!" to the console.

echo "Hello, World!"

2. Use Meaningful Variable Names

When naming variables, it’s important to use meaningful names that accurately reflect their purpose. This makes the script easier to read and understand. Avoid using single-letter variable names, as they can be confusing and difficult to understand.



# This script prints the name of the current user.


echo "The current user is $current_user."

3. Use Comments

Comments are a great way to document your code and explain what it does. Use comments to describe the purpose of the script, any assumptions made, and any limitations or known issues.



# This script prints the date and time.

# Get the date and time

# Print the date and time
echo "The date and time is: $datetime"

4. Use Quotes to Handle Spaces

If a variable or argument may contain spaces, use quotes to handle them. For example, instead of:

echo $my_variable


echo "$my_variable"

This ensures that the variable is treated as a single argument, even if it contains spaces.



# This script counts the number of lines in a file.

# Get the filename from the command-line arguments

# Count the number of lines in the file
num_lines=$(wc -l "$filename" | awk '{print $1}')

# Print the number of lines
echo "The file $filename contains $num_lines lines."

5. Check Return Codes

Commands in shell scripts may fail for various reasons. Always check the return codes of commands to ensure that they executed successfully. If a command fails, the script should exit with a non-zero exit code.



# This script checks if a file exists.

# Get the filename from the command-line arguments

# Check if the file exists
if [ -e "$filename" ]; then
    echo "The file $filename exists."
    echo "The file $filename does not exist."
    exit 1

6. Use Functions


# This script calculates the sum of two numbers.

# Define the add function
add() {
    local sum=$(($1 + $2))
    echo $sum

# Get the first number from the command-line arguments

# Get the second number from the command-line arguments

# Calculate the sum of the two numbers using the add function
result=$(add $num1 $num2)
echo "The sum of $num1 and $num2 is $result."

7. Avoid Hard-Coded Values

Avoid using hard-coded values in your scripts. Instead, use variables or arguments to make the script more flexible and easier to maintain. This also makes it easier to test and debug the script.

8. Use Command-Line Arguments

Use command-line arguments to make your script more flexible. This allows the user to pass arguments to the script, such as filenames or options. Use the getopts command to handle options.

9. Use Error Handling

Use error handling to gracefully handle errors that may occur during the execution of the script. For example, use the trap command to handle signals, such as SIGINT, to ensure that the script exits cleanly.

10. Use Version Control

Use version control, such as Git, to keep track of changes to your scripts. This allows you to easily revert to a previous version if necessary, and also makes it easier to collaborate with others on the script.

Also, see the example code shell-scripting-examples in our GitHub repository. See complete examples in our GitHub repositories.

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