Home » What is the difference between sourcing (‘.’ or ‘source’) and executing a file in bash?

What is the difference between sourcing (‘.’ or ‘source’) and executing a file in bash?


./test.sh runs test.sh as a separate program. It may happen to be a bash script, if the file test.sh starts with #!/bin/bash. But it could be something else altogether.

. ./test.sh executes the code of the file test.sh inside the running instance of bash. It works as if the content file test.sh had been included textually instead of the . ./test.sh line. (Almost: there are a few details that differ, such as the value of $BASH_LINENO, and the behavior of the return builtin.)

source ./test.sh is identical to . ./test.sh in bash (in other shells, source may be slightly different or not exist altogether; . for inclusion is in the POSIX standard).

The most commonly visible difference between running a separate script with ./test.sh and including a script with the . builtin is that if the test.sh script sets some environment variables, with a separate process, only the environment of the child process is set, whereas with script inclusion, the environment of the sole shell process is set. If you add a line foo=bar in test.sh and echo $foo at the end of the calling script, you’ll see the difference:

$ cat test.sh
$ ./test.sh
$ echo $foo

$ . ./test.sh
$ echo $foo

Running a script the first way runs it as a child process. Sourcing (the second way), on the other hand, runs the script as if you entered all its commands into the current shell – if the script sets a variable, it will remain set, if the script exits, your session will exit. See help . for documentation.

Another thing that I note is that if you have an alias like this:

# add into .bashrc_aliases
alias ls="ls -lht"

With ./test.sh you’ll get a normal ls output (and a different PID than current shell):

auraham@pandora:~/iso$ ./test.sh 
dsl-4.4.10.iso  test.sh
3136 # PID

With . test.sh or . ./test.sh you’ll get a more detailed output (and the same PID than current shell):

auraham@pandora:~/iso$ echo $$
2767 # shell PID

auraham@pandora:~/iso$ . test.sh 
total 50M
drwxrwxr-x  2 auraham auraham 4.0K Jul 30 15:41 .
-rwxrwxr-x  1 auraham auraham   32 Jul 30 15:41 test.sh
drwxr-xr-x 50 auraham auraham 4.0K Jul 30 15:30 ..
-rw-rw-r--  1 auraham auraham  50M Jul 28 17:24 dsl-4.4.10.iso
2767 # PID

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