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Is it "resource configuration", by any chance?

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See also the same question at Super User, where an answer cites the comp.unix.* FAQ. – Gilles Oct 24 '10 at 22:19
See also the corresponding Wikipedia page – Stéphane Chazelas Dec 21 '12 at 14:40
up vote 160 down vote accepted

As is often the case with obscure terms, the Jargon File has an answer:

[Unix: from runcom files on the CTSS system 1962-63, via the startup script /etc/rc] Script file containing startup instructions for an application program (or an entire operating system), usually a text file containing commands of the sort that might have been invoked manually once the system was running but are to be executed automatically each time the system starts up.

Thus, it would seem that the "rc" part stands for "runcom", which I believe can be expanded to "run commands". In fact, this is exactly what the file contains, commands that bash should run.

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I always thought it was "runtime configuration" huh, but this seems to have more evidence as to be correct. – xenoterracide Oct 24 '10 at 5:08
I tend to see it as more of a historical name than meaningful at this point. Many uses of "rc" aren't really "run commands" anymore, unless you want to be pedantic and call assignment a command; often, a program's rc file is just config parameter values. Completely correct answer though :) – Jefromi Oct 24 '10 at 5:12
@Jefromi In many software configuration is set using commands – NeDark Jul 20 '15 at 16:28
@NeDark Sure, but what I said is that in many cases (basically everything besides shells and things with built in scripting languages), the rc file doesn't contain commands at all. – Jefromi Jul 20 '15 at 16:40

Another expansion - run control

On Tue, 4 Nov 2003, goldwyn rodrigues wrote:

Does anyone know what RC (in bashrc/mailrc/... ) means or how it originated? I mean, is it an acronym? If yes, what does it stand for?

'rc' stands for 'run control' and is a a convention adopted from older Unix systems.

For more info see this: http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/taoup/html/ch10s03.html


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Interesting. In both cases the ultimate source is esr. – Steven D Oct 24 '10 at 6:18
ESR did not necessarily author the entries in the Jargon File. Especially for the older bits, they were quite possibly inherited before he took over maintainership. – Novelocrat Oct 25 '10 at 2:55
As a pedantic addendum, the link in this answer contains the following footnote of interest: "The ‘rc’ suffix goes back to Unix's grandparent, CTSS. It had a command-script feature called 'runcom'. Early Unixes used ‘rc’ for the name of the operating system's boot script, as a tribute to CTSS runcom." – trailing slash Feb 6 at 2:49

Reading the sources others mentioned (http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/R/rc-file.html and http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/taoup/html/ch10s03.html) it does seem like runcom is the origin of rc.

But I think it is used today for controlling or configuring how subsequent stuff will run. Saying that an rc file is a set of commands to run (runcom) is vague. It doesn't imply when the commands will be run or anything about their purpose. "Control" and "configure" imply initialization or setup, so I think they're more informative.

I think the answer is, "runcom" is the historical origin, but "run configuration" is what it really does.

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this seems like mostly opinion. – strugee Oct 5 '13 at 20:59
I think it is mostly my opinion, yes. – David Winiecki Oct 7 '13 at 18:18

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