Get started with exit command in Bash Scripts

Exiting from a Bash script properly is important for carrying the outcome of your script to the system and to other scripts or processes that might depend on its results. The exit command is used to terminate a Bash script and to return a status code to the calling environment. Status codes are integers from 0 to 255, where a 0 status code usually signifies success, while any non-zero status code indicates an error or specific exit condition.

The syntax of exit command is:

exit [n]
  • n is an optional exit status (a number) that the script returns to the calling process.

  • Without n, the script exits with the exit status of the last executed command.

Exiting with an Implicit Success Status

If your script has completed successfully and you don't need to specify a particular exit status, you can simply use exit without an argument. This will exit with a status of 0, indicating success.

For testing purposes you can use the virtual machine provisioned by Vagrant:
echo "Script executed successfully."

Exiting with a Specific Status

To indicate a specific outcome or error, you can exit with a non-zero status. You should document what each status code means for your script.

if [ ! -f "/path/to/your/file" ]; then
  echo "File not found!"
  exit 1  # Exits with a status of 1 to indicate the error.
  echo "File found."
  exit 0  # Exits with a status of 0 to indicate success.

File found:

Using exit in Functions

You can use exit within a function to terminate the script from that point, not just the function.


function check_file {
  if [ ! -f "$1" ]; then
    echo "File not found!"
    exit 2  # Exits the entire script with status 2.

check_file "/path/to/your/file"
echo "This line will not be executed if the file is not found."

File found:

Capturing Exit Status of Commands

You can capture the exit status of a command using $? and use it to make decisions or exit based on that status.

grep "someText" someFile.txt

if [ $? -ne 0 ]; then
  echo "Text not found."
  exit 3
  echo "Text found."

Text found:

Exiting from a Script with the Status of the Last Command

You can exit a script and automatically return the exit status of the last command executed in the script using exit $?.

cp /source/file /destination/file
echo "Status of the last executed command:" $?
exit $?  # Exits with the status of the `cp` command.

Best Practices

  • Always document what each exit status code means if you use specific codes.

  • Use exit status codes consistently across your scripts for maintainability.

  • Remember that exiting from a script in a subshell (e.g., within $(...) or backticks) will not exit the parent script.

  • Use the set -e command at the beginning of your script, which causes the script to exit immediately if any command exits with a non-zero status. This helps to avoid situations when your last command exits successfully but your previous commands have failed.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your Bash scripts exit gracefully and meaningfully, making them more robust and easier to integrate with other scripts and system processes.

Difference between exit and return commands

In Bash scripts, both exit and return statements are used to exit from a block of code, but they serve different purposes and are used in different contexts:

exit Statement

  • Purpose: The exit statement is used to terminate the current shell session. When used in a script, it causes the script to end and returns control to the parent process (usually the shell or another script that called it).

  • Usage: You specify exit followed by an optional exit status (an integer from 0 to 255), where 0 typically indicates success, and any non-zero value indicates an error. If no exit status is specified, exit returns the status of the last command executed.

  • Scope: When exit is used in a script, it terminates the entire script, regardless of where it is called (main body or within a function).


function cleanup {
  echo "Cleaning up."
  exit 0  # Exits the script with a success status.
echo "Starting script."
echo "This line will not be executed."

return Statement

  • Purpose: The return statement is used to exit from a function and optionally return a value to the calling section of the script. It is similar to the return statement in other programming languages used within functions or methods.

  • Usage: Within a function, you specify return followed by an optional exit status. This status can be captured by the caller if the function is called in a subshell or used in a conditional expression.

  • Scope: The return statement only exits from the function in which it is called. The script continues executing from the point where the function was called.


function divide {
  if [ $2 -eq 0 ]; then
    echo "Division by zero error."
    return 1  # Returns from the function with an error status.
    result=$(( $1 / $2 ))
    echo "Result: $result"
    return 0  # Returns from the function with a success status.

divide 10 2
echo "Function returned with status $?"

divide 10 0
echo "Function returned with status $?"

Key Differences

  • Context: exit is used to terminate the script, while return is used to exit from a function.

  • Effect: Using exit stops the script execution entirely, whereas return only stops the execution of the current function and returns control to the calling code.

  • Return Value: Both exit and return can specify an exit status, but the context in which this status is used or relevant differs.

The choice between exit and return depends on whether you want to terminate the entire script or just exit from a function. Understanding these differences is crucial for proper control flow and error handling in Bash scripting.



  2. How to Exit Bash Scripts Effectively: Linux Shell Guide

  3. How To Exit Bash Shell Properly

  4. A Comprehensive Guide to Exiting on Errors in Bash Scripts

  5. How To End Bash Shell Script Properly