Unix / Linux: Maximum Character Length of Arguments In a Shell Command

What is the maximum character length of arguments in a shell command? How do I find out the maximum length of arguments for a new process under Linux or Unix like operating systems?

If you get an error that read as – command: Argument list too long due to limit for the command line length.
Tutorial details
Difficulty Easy (rss)
Root privileges No
Requirements None
Time N/A
UNIX / Linux / BSD system has a limit on how many bytes can be used for the command line argument and environment variables. You need to use the getconf command to query system configuration variable called ARG_MAX.

Fig.01: ARG_MAX, maximum length of arguments for a new process

Get maximum length of arguments for a new process

The following command will provide the upper limit for your system under Linux operating systems:
$ getconf ARG_MAX
Sample outputs:


So I can pass the 2097152 bytes worth args to any shell command. The following bash code will provide you exact number:

echo $(( $(getconf ARG_MAX) - $(env | wc -c) ))

POSIX suggests to subtract 2048 additionally so that the process may savely modify its environment:

expr `getconf ARG_MAX` - `env|wc -c` - `env|wc -l` \* 4 - 2048

Sample outputs:


Please note that the maximum length of arguments for a new process may differ among unix flavors. I recommend that you go through this web page for detailed information.

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🐧 6 comments so far... add one

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6 comments… add one
  • Filipe Oct 3, 2012 @ 12:57

    I understand that you subtract 2048 to allow process to modify env variables, I just don’t get it why you subtract byte count from env command, and line count? Could you explain it please? Thanks!

  • Jalal Hajigholamali Oct 4, 2012 @ 12:03


    Please explain why you are using env| wc …


    echo $(( $(getconf ARG_MAX) – $(env | wc -c) ))

    • 🐧 nixCraft Oct 6, 2012 @ 8:35

      You need to get the effectively usable space. You need to consider the space consumption by both argv[] (arguments) and envp[] (environment). So you’ve to decrease ARG_MAX at least by the results of “env|wc -c” and “env|wc -l * 4”. POSIX suggests to subtract 2048 additionally so that the process may savely modify its environment. See linked article at the bottom of faq for more info.

  • Stef Oct 5, 2012 @ 17:24

    My guess is that `env | wc -c` gives the size needed to store all environment variables (names and values). Envirnoment variables are not global. Each process has a fulk copy inherited from its parent process.

    `env | wc -l ` * 4 gives the number of environment variables multiplied by 4. This is probably the size needed to allocate a table of pointers (or offsets or sizes) to speedup the accesses to the environment variables.

  • mary ann smith Oct 11, 2012 @ 16:26

    how do i find java for my tablet

  • Dan Feb 2, 2017 @ 8:32

    2097152 Jelly beans is the max? Why don’t you add the units of measurement. Are we talking about bytes? Character length?

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