I am writing a bash script for the installation of an environment manager but it means that I have to install something within multiple directories. See my other question for more details. But this led me to rethink my approach.

I was now thinking of making it 3 separate bash scripts. Then the one will just call the other. Here is the thing: I need to some how source .bash_profile within the parent shell. The question is, would a bash script that has been called within a bash script be running in a new shell or the parent shell or would it be in a new shell within the host bash script shell within the parent shell?

'shell-ception' I know its cooking my brain. i would really like to automate this process and this is the wall I am facing.

2 Answers 2


If you execute a command in a shell it is always executed as a child process to this shell unless

  1. it is a shell builtin (like cd)
  2. it is sourced (. /path/to/file, source /path/to/file)
  3. it is executed via exec

You can easily check that with ps -e -o pid,ppid,user,args.

source .bash_profile influences subshells only if the variables have been marked for export (see declare -x).

  • In most shells (cmd) (where cmd is not builtin) doesn't fork an additional process. More generally in (cmd1; ...; cmdn), cmdn is executed by the subshell process (exception to that (for most shells) is when a trap is set in the subshell). Commented May 30, 2013 at 12:12
  • @StephaneChazelas Strange; I must have wrongly remembered that. I had a look at that situation a few days ago. But maybe something was different then and I misinterpreted the special case for the general one. Good that someone proofreads... Commented May 30, 2013 at 12:18

This are the practical differences:

  • Running a command makes the shell to create a child process. Any environment variable previously defined in the child is lost to the parent process.

  • Using source the script is forced to run in the current process (within the parent process). Then, the environment variables in the script will remain.

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