It seems that either I don't understand what these options mean, or bash behaves the same (as interactive shell that reads standard input) without any options anyway. When would I want to use these options explicitly?

  • 5
    Reading INVOCATION part of man bash would be useful
    – Esref
    Jul 11, 2015 at 10:37
  • 3
    Did you read the man page? What part you don't understand?
    – Braiam
    Jul 11, 2015 at 10:57
  • 1
    I asked this question exactly after reading the man page, and I described what I don't understand in the question.
    – Max Yankov
    Jul 11, 2015 at 10:59
  • 1
    Jeez Braiam.... Can't you read the question? What part you don't understand? If you don't want to answer what are you doing here ?
    – Tele
    Feb 16, 2021 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


A different way to look at Bash invocation

The reference manual has a pretty detailed description on how to invoke Bash. I prefer to document it slightly differently though:

bash <options> <script_file> [<arguments>]
bash <options> -c <command_string> [<arguments>]
bash <options> [-s [<arguments>]

The first two are non-interactive, and hence don't have the associated features (prompt, job control, command history,...); However, if you need those features, you can enforce them with the -i flag.

The third one is interactive, and the optional -s flag is justified in the paragraphs below...

Specifying arguments

Example 1: Basic

The -s option can be used to specify arguments:

bash -s a b c

starts a shell... In this shell we can check arguments:

echo $1 $2 $2

reflects the arguments from the bash command:

a b c

Without the '-s' option, the first positional argument would be interpreted as a file name:

bash a b c


bash: a: No such file or directory

Example 2: Using a heredoc

The previous use of the -s option can be used to provide arguments to a heredoc (when you don't want to use a file to embed the commands):

bash -s a b c <<'EOC'
echo $1 $2 $3


a b c

Note that the bash command executes the commands in the heredoc, and then exits; This brings you back to the shell where you invoked the bash command.

Example 3: Pipelining

Consider embedding bash in a pipeline (when you need to implement some inline scripting), again the opportunity to provide arguments can be exploited

echo 'echo HELLO $1' | bash -s WORLD



This is a contrived example, but for some more complex scripting (with a heredoc!), this can come in handy...

  • how to use nohup with bash -i ?
    – rose
    Nov 17, 2022 at 12:29

From what I can understand it seems to be used for testing purposes. A startup file can use this to test the state as well as a shell script.

By default when you invoke a bash shell, it uses -i and -s so I am assuming for testing purposes you can invoke the shell explicitly with these options via the script or file to test the state that a normal login bash shell would provide.

I found that information from the man page under invocation Esref stated in the comments. It may not be so easily understood though, as it doesnt seem to be something a person would do normally.

  • "you can invoke the shell explicitly with these options via the script or file to test the state that a normal login bash shell would provide" — but I can also just run bash and get exactly the same behavior as I would with these flags, so it still doesn't make sense to use them explicitly.
    – Max Yankov
    Jul 11, 2015 at 11:31
  • Only via a script to test that its working as you intend. In a lot of cases people add debugging info and other stuff in a script and automate the testing part. EDIT: Think of it another way, they can write a script that runs the bash shell explicitly and then test it against hundreds of different systems automatically, instead of logging in manually to every system to test.
    – dakka
    Jul 11, 2015 at 11:35

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