I have this "script" on my Arch Linux system:

$ cat ~/scripts/foo.sh
ps -hp $$

It will simply run ps on its own PID. But the script has no shebang line. I was expecting that in the absence of a specific shebang, the system would run this either using whatever interactive shell I used to launch it, or using whatever I have set as $SHELL. However, I see that it does change depending on which shell I am running but it isn't consistent:

  1. If I launch it from a bash session, it is run by bash:

    $ ps -hp $$ 
    1267979 pts/15   Ss     0:00 /bin/bash
    $ foo.sh
    1276346 pts/15   00:00:00 bash
  2. If I launch it from a zsh session, it is run by sh (which is bash on my system):

    % ps -hp $$ 
    1279855 pts/15   S      0:00 zsh
    % foo.sh
    1280006 pts/15   S+     0:00 sh /home/terdon/scripts/foo.sh
  3. If I launch it from an sh session, it is run by sh again:

    $ ps -hp $$
    1281052 pts/15   S      0:00 sh
    $ foo.sh
    1281296 pts/15   S+     0:00 sh
  4. If I launch it from an tcsh session, it is run by sh again:

    > ps -hp $$
    1281968 pts/15   S      0:00 -csh
    > foo.sh
    1282148 pts/15   S+     0:00 /bin/sh /home/terdon/scripts/foo.sh
  5. If I launch it from a dash session, it is run by sh yet again

    $ ps -hp $$
    1282803 pts/15   S      0:00 dash
    $ foo.sh
    1283404 pts/15   S+     0:00 /bin/sh /home/terdon/scripts/foo.sh

So it looks like bash is the only shell that will run a script using itself when the script is launched from a bash session and all the others I tested will use sh instead. This isn't related to whether /bin/sh is bash or another shell. I also tested on an Ubuntu system whose /bin/sh is dash and got the same behavior: bash would run the script using itself, dash and zsh would run it using sh.

On both my Arch and the Ubuntu system mentioned above, my SHELL variable is set to /bin/bash and my user's entry in /etc/passwd has /bin/bash as my default shell.


  • Who controls this? Is it the kernel or the shell? Is this a bash feature (i.e. bash will use itself in the absence of a shebang)? Something else?
  • Why do the shells behave differently? Why do I have so many different formats in the output of ps? I see sh /home/terdon/scripts/foo.sh and sh alone, and /bin/sh /home/terdon/scripts/foo.sh. What's going on here? I realize these are all equivalent, but it's surprising to see so many different ways of launching the same essential job.
  • Apologies for the hammer, I think my answer there answers most of your questions here. Mar 17 at 13:02
  • No apology needed, @StephenKitt, it's nice to be on the receiving end for once! However, maybe I'm just being dense, but I don't see where your answer explains why launching a shebang-less script from bash makes it run in bash while all other shells seem to use sh, nor why each shell results in a different ps output with some reporting sh script.sh, others reporting sh and others reporting /bin/sh script.sh. Is it just down to how each shell launches its subprocesses? And is any of this user specific (are $SHELL or the user's passwd entry relevant) or is it always /bin/sh?
    – terdon
    Mar 17 at 13:08
  • There's some quite detailed discussion at Which shell interpreter runs a script with no shebang? Mar 17 at 13:19
  • Ah, thanks @steeldriver, that is closer to what I was looking for, I'll add it as a dupe target.
    – terdon
    Mar 17 at 13:24
  • Indeed, thanks @steeldriver, that is closer and I think it covers everything, including the ps variations. Mar 17 at 14:56


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