We use && operator to run a command after previous one finishes.

update-system-configuration && restart-service

but how do I run a command only if previous command is unsuccessful ?

For example, if I have to update system configuration and if it fails I need to send a mail to system admin?

Edit: Come on this is not a duplicate question of control operators. This will help users who are searching for specifically this, I understand that answer to control operators will answer this question too, but people searching specifically for how to handle unsuccessful commands won't reach there directly, otherwise I would have got there before asking this question.


2 Answers 2


&& executes the command which follow only if the command which precedes it succeeds. || does the opposite:

update-system-configuration || echo "Update failed" | mail -s "Help Me" admin@host


From man bash:

AND and OR lists are sequences of one of more pipelines separated by the && and || control operators, respectively. AND and OR lists are executed with left associativity. An AND list has the form

command1 && command2

command2 is executed if, and only if, command1 returns an exit status of zero.

An OR list has the form

command1 || command2

command2 is executed if and only if command1 returns a non-zero exit status. The return status of AND and OR lists is the exit status of the last command executed in the list.


When with "successful" you mean it returns 0, then simply test for it:

if ! <command>; then
    <ran if unsuccessful>

The reason this works, is because as a standard, programs should return nonzero if something went wrong, and zero if successful.

Alternatively, you could test for the return variable $?:

if [ $? -ne 0 ]; then
    <ran if unsuccessful>

$? saves the return code from the last command.

Now, if is usually a shell built-in command. So, depending what shell you're using, you should check the man page of your shell for that.

  • 2
    You got the first case wrong, it's if command; then echo successful; fi, and if ! command; then echo unsuccessful; fi. The condition for if when checking exit codes is reversed.
    – lcd047
    Jun 11, 2015 at 4:17
  • 1
    0 is when program exits successfully. Non zero is errors or failures. adding ! helped, thanks @lcd047 for suggesting. Jun 11, 2015 at 5:21
  • @lcd047 Right, I forgot the !. Thanks for noticing.
    – polemon
    Jun 11, 2015 at 12:22

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