From Bash Manual

Invoked as an interactive login shell, or with --login

When Bash is invoked as an interactive login shell, or as a non-interactive shell with the --login option, it first reads and executes commands from the file /etc/profile, if that file exists. After reading that file, it looks for ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bash_login, and ~/.profile, in that order, and reads and executes commands from the first one that exists and is readable. The --noprofile option may be used when the shell is started to inhibit this behavior.

When an interactive login shell exits, or a non-interactive login shell executes the exit builtin command, Bash reads and executes commands from the file ~/.bash_logout, if it exists.

Invoked as an interactive non-login shell


Invoked non-interactively

When Bash is started non-interactively, to run a shell script, for example, it looks for the variable BASH_ENV in the environment, expands its value if it appears there, and uses the expanded value as the name of a file to read and execute. Bash behaves as if the following command were executed:

if [ -n "$BASH_ENV" ]; then . "$BASH_ENV"; fi

but the value of the PATH variable is not used to search for the filename.

As noted above, if a non-interactive shell is invoked with the --login option, Bash attempts to read and execute commands from the login shell startup files.

Which case does a noninteractive login shell belong to, the first case, or the third case?

The first case "Invoked as an interactive login shell, or with --login" contains the scenario of "non-interactive shell with the --login option", so I deduce that

  • the first case is for login shells regardless of being interactive or noninteractive, and

  • the third case is for noninteractive nonlogin shells.

Am I correct?


1 Answer 1


No, you’re not correct. Bash behaves as documented:

  • the first section applies to interactive login shells, and to non-interactive shells started with the --login flag;
  • the third section applies to non-interactive shells, including non-interactive login shells not started with the --login flag.

A shell can be a login shell without the --login flag. If you look at /proc/$$/cmdline from a Bash shell started by SSH on a Linux system, you’ll see it was started as -bash — the leading hyphen is the usual way of starting a login shell, and isn’t covered by the first section if it ends up being non-interactive. However if one wanted a non-interactive login shell for whatever reason, one would typically use --login to get it.

  • Thanks. What kinds of "non-interactive shells" does the third section refer to? Are "non-interactive shells started with the --login flag" still noninteractive shells? Are "non-interactive shells started with the --login flag" login shells?
    – Tim
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:37
  • See the description of the non-interactive shell in your quote: “to run a shell script, for example”. A non-interactive shell is non-interactive, yes, and a shell started with --login is a login shell, yes. I gave you all the tools you need to verify this for yourself, I encourage you to use them... Apr 4, 2018 at 22:41
  • Thanks. So "non-interactive shells started with the --login flag" are noninteractive login shells. Does the third section apply to all non-interactive login shells except those which are "non-interactive shells started with the --login flag"?
    – Tim
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:42
  • This is getting seriously theoretical, there isn’t a practical, common way of starting a non-interactive login shell except by using the --login option. Apr 4, 2018 at 22:43
  • 1
    @JdeBP for some value of “practical”... Apr 4, 2018 at 23:13

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