Shell: How to determine the exit status of Linux and UNIX command

by on February 11, 2006 · 17 comments· LAST UPDATED June 1, 2008

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Q. Can you explain the exit status of shell and commands under Linux / UNIX operating system?

A. All UNIX and Linux command has a several parameters or variables that can be use to find out the exit status of command. Please note that these parameters or variables may only be referenced assignment to them is not allowed. You can use $? to find out the exit status of command. $? always expands to the status of the most recently executed foreground command or pipeline. For example, you run the command cal:
$ cal
Now to see exit status of cal command type following command:
$ echo $?
Output:

0

Zero means command executed successfully, if exit status returns non-zero value then your command failed to execute. For example run command called cyberciti
$ cyberciti
Output:

bash: cyberciti: command not found

Display exit status of the command:
$ echo $?
Output:

127

Value 127 (non-zero) indicates command cyberciti failed to execute. You can use exit status in shell scripting too. You can store result of exit status in variable. Consider following shell script:

#!/bin/bash
echo -n "Enter user name : "
read USR
cut -d: -f1 /etc/passwd | grep "$USR" > /dev/null
OUT=$?
if [ $OUT -eq 0 ];then
   echo "User account found!"
else
   echo "User account does not exists in /etc/passwd file!"
fi
 

Save and execute the script as follows:
$ chmod +x script.sh
$ ./script.sh

Output:

Enter user name : jradmin
User account does not exists in /etc/passwd file

Try it one more time:
$ ./script.sh
Output:

Enter user name : vivek
User account found

As you can see, I have used grep command to find out user name stored in USR variable. If grep command finds user name in /etc/passwd command output it would return exit status of zero. This is stored in OUT variable. Next, if command makes decision based upon exit status stored in OUT variable.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rob April 3, 2007 at 6:54 pm

Mate, I followed your script and it says “can’t execute binaries?

Don’t know seem pretty good, but doesn’t quite get there for me.
I am running Ubuntu Dapper Drake Linux.

Keep it coming, it is good stuff.

Rob

Reply

2 Rob April 3, 2007 at 6:59 pm

G’day again,

Nope, I was wrong the script works I didn’t copy it properly. I left out the #!/bin/bash.

Thanks,

Love your work.

Rob

Reply

3 moheb April 5, 2008 at 3:55 pm

thank you

it seems very useful for my search
great job

Reply

4 powerpleb June 1, 2008 at 10:27 am

Thanks a lot. Useful info and explained well!

Reply

5 mike July 18, 2008 at 4:54 am

im a newbie in AIX platform. Just want to ask how to execute this command: #!/bin/bash

Reply

6 Poonam August 5, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Can you tell me what ist he difference between return status of 1 and 8. I tries to search but could not find it on web….

Reply

7 nixCraft August 5, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Exit status is depend upon program or command. Read man page to find out meaning of return status 1 and 8.

Reply

8 Poonam August 20, 2008 at 8:22 am

I tried to find out, but did not find anything. We are using bourne shell….If in my shell script I am exiting with return status of 1 or 8, what difference will it make…

Reply

9 chris neale July 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm

$ ./cyberciti; echo $?
-bash: ./cyberciti: No such file or directory
127

$ ssh localhost “./cyberciti; echo $?”
bash: ./cyberciti: No such file or directory
0

???

Reply

10 tuh July 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Maybe Chris will see this, or maybe not. Anyway…

The reason you get an exit code of “0” on that last one is that ssh was successful in connecting to localhost and executing your command. The command itself failed. But ssh worked. So, ssh returns zero in that instance. Exit codes don’t call back from internal commands. Look at this for instance:
$ ls filenotfound.txt; echo $?
ls: cannot access filenotfound.txt…
2
$ ls filenotfound.txt &
ls: cannot access filenotfound.txt…
echo $?
0
[2]+ Exit 2 ls filenotfound.txt

Same thing happens when you fork off a process. You successfully submitted the job, so you get a zero exit code.

Reply

11 M P November 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Very helpful. Thanks very much.

Reply

12 saravanakumar June 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Very useful…thanks a lot…its makes me to understand about “$?”.

Reply

13 wjuarezq October 27, 2011 at 8:11 am

The script has a bug: If your acount is “vivek” and you type “viv” that say you “User account found”, you can solve it with this:
[…]
cut -d: -f1 /etc/passwd | grep “^””$USR””$” > /dev/null
[…]

Reply

14 Toby Ho February 6, 2012 at 4:15 am

Thanks! That helped.

Reply

15 Thayananth September 20, 2012 at 11:23 am

Hi,
I need to know the return values which we get after executing the run command in UNIX.
I know only 0 for successful. What are the other values present.
Also, could anyone tell me about the description of those errors.

Thanks,
Thayananth

Reply

16 Rahul Jawale December 17, 2012 at 11:55 am

You are doing good work. Thank you!!

Reply

17 davb March 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Actually, rather than grep “^””$USR””$”, just use grep -w $USR ….easy!

Reply

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