Bash builtins help

Updated: 02/27/2019 by Computer Hope
Illustration of a command terminal and a toolbox, representing builtin commands.

Bash is the default shell of many Linux operating systems, and the Windows Subsystem for Linux in Windows 10. It has its own set of builtin commands, listed below.

Inherited and special builtin commands

Some of these commands are inherited from the original Bourne shell (sh). Commands marked as "inherited" below also work in the Bourne shell.

Some of the commands are designated as special commands under the POSIX standard. If bash is running in POSIX mode (e.g., set -o posix), they have these special behaviors:

  • When you run a special command, it is guaranteed to run first, before other commands with the same name.
  • If the command returns an error, and the shell was started in non-interactive mode, the shell will exit.
  • Variable assignments that precede a special builtin command stays in effect after the special command is completed.

Index of bash builtin commands

Builtin command Inherited Special Description
: (a colon) Yes Yes Returns an exit status of zero.
. (a period) Yes Yes The same as source. Takes a file name as an argument, and executes the commands found in that file.
[ Yes The same as test. Evaluate a conditional expression, and a return a value of true or false.
alias Define, or display, the shell's command aliases.
bg Resume a suspended job so that it runs in the background.
bind Define, or display, the shell's key and function bindings.
break Yes Yes Exit from a for, while, or select loop.
builtin Run a builtin command, even if there is a bash function with the same name.
caller Return the context (execution frame) of a running subroutine. Useful for performing examining the stack when debugging a bash script.
cd Yes Change the working directory.
command Run an external or builtin command, even if there is a bash function with the same name.
compgen Generate auto-completion matches for the specified command.
complete Specify how arguments should be auto-completed.
compopt Modify or display options for auto-completion.
continue Yes Yes Skip to the next, or to another, iteration in a for, while, until, or select loop.
declare The same as typeset. Declare, display, or assign attributes to variables.
dirs Display the shell's directory stack, which contains remembered directories.
disown Remove specified jobs from the current shell.
echo Write a string to the standard output.
enable Enable or disable builtin shell commands. Useful when other commands on the system share a builtin command name.
eval Yes Yes Evaluate arguments and execute them as a command.
exec Yes Yes Execute a command which replaces the current shell, without creating a new process.
exit Yes Yes Exit the shell with an optional numeric exit status.
export Yes Yes Designate that shell variables or functions should be passed to child processes.
fc Edit, or execute a range of, commands from the history list.
fg Move a job to the foreground, making it the shell's current job.
getopts Yes Parse arguments passed to a shell script.
hash Yes Forget, determine, or display the remembered locations of command executables.
help Display brief help information about what the shell builtin commands are, and how to use them.
history Display or modify the history list.
jobs Display the status of all jobs.
kill Send a signal to a process.
let Evaluate arithmetic expressions.
local Declare a variable with local scope in a bash function.
logout Exit a login shell with an optional exit status.
mapfile Read lines from a file or from standard input, and map each line to an element in an array.
popd Remove directories from the shell's directory stack.
printf Print formatted text to standard output.
pushd Add directories to the shell's directory stack.
pwd Yes Print the absolute path name of the current working directory.
read Read a line from a file or from standard input, split it into words, and assign each word to a variable.
readarray Same as mapfile: read lines from a file or stdin, and assign each line to an array element.
readonly Yes Yes Designate function or variables as read-only, so they cannot be changed.
return Yes Yes Exit a bash function and return a value.
set Yes Yes Modify the options of the current shell, changing its behavior. Display the names and values of shell functions and variables.
shift Yes Yes Shift the positional parameters of the current command to the left.
shopt Modify certain bash shell options.
source Same as . (a period). Read commands from a file, and execute them.
test Yes Test file attributes and compare numeric values.
times Yes Display the user and system CPU times of the shell process.
trap Yes Yes Specify a signal trap, to be executed when the shell receives a specific signal.
type Determine how the shell will interpret a name: as an alias, function, builtin, file, or keyword.
typeset The same as declare. Declare, display, or assign attributes to variables.
ulimit Assign limits to the resources available to processes started by the shell.
umask Yes Set the file creation mask for files created by the shell.
unalias Remove aliases.
unset Yes Yes Remove variable or function names.
wait Yes Wait for a process to exit, then display its return value.

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