What Is Command in Shell Scripting?


Larry Thompson

Shell scripting is a powerful tool that allows you to automate repetitive tasks and perform complex operations in the command line. One of the fundamental concepts in shell scripting is the command. In this article, we will explore what a command is and how it works in shell scripting.

What is a Command?

A command in shell scripting refers to a specific instruction or action that you give to the shell interpreter. It can be a built-in command provided by the shell itself or an external command provided by an executable file.

Commands are at the heart of any shell script. They can perform various actions such as manipulating files, executing programs, managing processes, and more. Understanding how commands work is essential for writing effective shell scripts.

Built-in Commands

Built-in commands are commands that are directly implemented within the shell interpreter itself. They are available for immediate use without requiring any external executable files.

Examples of common built-in commands include:

  • cd: Change directory
  • echo: Print text or variables
  • pwd: Print current working directory
  • read: Read input from the user
  • export: Set environment variables

Built-in commands are generally faster and more efficient than external commands since they don’t require spawning new processes. However, their functionality may be limited compared to external commands.

External Commands

External commands, also known as system commands or executables, are separate programs stored in executable files that are located in directories listed in the system’s PATH variable.

You can run external commands by simply typing their name in the shell. The shell searches for the command in the directories specified by the PATH variable and executes it if found.

Examples of external commands include:

  • ls: List directory contents
  • grep: Search text using patterns
  • awk: Text processing and pattern matching
  • sed: Stream editor for filtering and transforming text
  • chmod: Change file permissions

External commands provide a wide range of functionality and can be used to perform complex operations in shell scripts.

Using Commands in Shell Scripts

To use a command in a shell script, you simply type the command followed by any required arguments or options. The shell interpreter then executes the command and performs the specified action.

For example, let’s say you want to create a shell script that prints “Hello, World!”. You can achieve this using the echo command as follows:


echo "Hello, World!"

In this example, the #!/bin/bash line at the beginning is called a shebang. It tells the system that this script should be interpreted using the bash shell.

You can run this script by saving it to a file (e.g., hello.sh) and making it executable using the chmod +x hello.sh command. Then, execute it by typing ./hello.sh in the terminal.


The +x option in the chmod command is used to grant execute permissions to the file.

Commands can also be combined and used together in shell scripts to perform more complex tasks. You can use control structures like loops and conditionals to control the flow of the script and execute commands based on certain conditions.


In shell scripting, commands are essential for performing various actions and automating tasks. They can be built-in commands provided by the shell or external commands stored in executable files. Understanding how commands work and how to use them effectively is key to writing powerful shell scripts.

Now that you have a better understanding of what a command is in shell scripting, you can start exploring different commands and their functionalities to enhance your scripting skills. Keep practicing, and soon you’ll become proficient in creating efficient shell scripts!

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