What's the difference between executing a script like this:


and executing a script like this:

. test.sh?

I tried a simple, two-line script to see if I could find if there was a difference:


But both . test.sh and ./test.sh returned the same information.

  • Apologies if this is a duplicate - upon further investigation, I found some pages with relevant information by searching for 'bash dot' instead of 'bash .'. – Natan Jul 25 '12 at 6:32
  • 3
    Just as test.sh is not the same as ./test.sh (the first invokes a PATH search), so are . test.sh and . ./test.sh different in the same way (the former invokes a PATH search). Many shells seem to implicitly include . at the end of PATH when doing a . path search, but this behavior is not standard. Thus, it is more accurate to compare test.sh vs . test.sh and ./test.sh vs . ./test.sh. – jw013 Jul 30 '12 at 21:13

./test.sh runs test.sh as a separate program. It may happen to be a bash script, if the file test.sh starts with #!/bin/bash. But it could be something else altogether.

. ./test.sh executes the code of the file test.sh inside the running instance of bash. It works as if the content file test.sh had been included textually instead of the . ./test.sh line. (Almost: there are a few details that differ, such as the value of $BASH_LINENO, and the behavior of the return builtin.)

source ./test.sh is identical to . ./test.sh in bash (in other shells, source may be slightly different or not exist altogether; . for inclusion is in the POSIX standard).

The most commonly visible difference between running a separate script with ./test.sh and including a script with the . builtin is that if the test.sh script sets some environment variables, with a separate process, only the environment of the child process is set, whereas with script inclusion, the environment of the sole shell process is set. If you add a line foo=bar in test.sh and echo $foo at the end of the calling script, you'll see the difference:

$ cat test.sh
$ ./test.sh
$ echo $foo

$ . ./test.sh
$ echo $foo
  • 17
    Also adding echo $$ to the script will show the difference quite clear. The $$ variable holds the PID of the current shell. – user13742 Jul 25 '12 at 10:15
  • 1
    Another usage scenario is using the . ./test.sh call from within another shell script to use functions that are described within test.sh. I mean, it is not just variables that you can set, you can also create new functions in this way which are then callable from bash, or some other script. . /usr/libexec/company/tools; custom_command "variable" – Rqomey Jul 31 '12 at 8:33

Running a script the first way runs it as a child process. Sourcing (the second way), on the other hand, runs the script as if you entered all its commands into the current shell - if the script sets a variable, it will remain set, if the script exits, your session will exit. See help . for documentation.


Another thing that I note is that if you have an alias like this:

# add into .bashrc_aliases
alias ls='ls -lht'

With ./test.sh you'll get a normal ls output (and a different PID than current shell):

auraham@pandora:~/iso$ ./test.sh 
dsl-4.4.10.iso  test.sh
3136 # PID

With . test.sh or . ./test.sh you'll get a more detailed output (and the same PID than current shell):

auraham@pandora:~/iso$ echo $$
2767 # shell PID

auraham@pandora:~/iso$ . test.sh 
total 50M
drwxrwxr-x  2 auraham auraham 4.0K Jul 30 15:41 .
-rwxrwxr-x  1 auraham auraham   32 Jul 30 15:41 test.sh
drwxr-xr-x 50 auraham auraham 4.0K Jul 30 15:30 ..
-rw-rw-r--  1 auraham auraham  50M Jul 28 17:24 dsl-4.4.10.iso
2767 # PID
  • You can include this in .bashrc if [ -f ~/.bash_aliases ]; then . ~/.bash_aliases fi Then, put your aliases in .bash_aliases. – auraham Aug 1 '12 at 1:17
  • Of course, but don't you still have to use the alias keyword? (Maybe that's just a mistake in you post -- on line 3?) – Emanuel Berg Aug 1 '12 at 10:26
  • totally correct, my mistake. Thanks @EmanuelBerg – auraham Aug 1 '12 at 18:40

The main usage to me for source (or .) is bash functions.

I have scripts with many functions and I execute all of them with my .bashrc. The functions "become" commands, which I use often.

  • I tried all three methods in .bashrc -- source, the absolute position of the script, and the name of the command (placing the script in a PATH folder) -- and all three methods worked. – Emanuel Berg Jul 31 '12 at 0:16

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