In various shell scripts I often see two approaches for getting information from databases supported by Name Service Switch libraries like /etc/group, /etc/hosts or /etc/services. One is getent utility and other is grep or some other text processing tool. For example:

root@fw-test:~# getent passwd root

root@fw-test:~# grep root /etc/passwd


root@fw-test:~# getent hosts www.blah.com www.blah.com

root@fw-test:~# host www.blah.com
www.blah.com has address

Which of those two approaches above should be used in scripts? I mean is one of the solutions more elegant or standard than the other?

2 Answers 2


A lot of this will come down to factors stemming from the specific environment you're in, but I prefer the getent method because it looks up external users as well as local users. Specifically, it will look up the LDAP users in my environment from the LDAP server, whereas a cat /etc/passwd or similar has no idea my LDAP server even exists, much less has valid users on it. If all your users are always local, getent doesn't really buy you much aside from "no need to rewrite if we add an LDAP server in 10 years".


The getent approach would be more compatible and preferable. Those files (/etc/group, /etc/hosts, /etc/services, /etc/passwd, ...) are not always in /etc they could also be, depending on the operating system you're on, in other places. getent would anyway find the entries (if it's on the system).

Also as @John stated, getent searches trough all configured nsswitch databases. Even if you have (multiple) external sources connected, where your users are authenticated with or name resolutions via DNS-servers and so on. getent therefore is slower, because every lookup must go trough all databases.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.