Sourcing Scripts in Linux using source command

The source command in Linux is a built-in shell command used to read and execute commands from a file.

This means that any variables or functions that are defined by the script will remain available after the script finishes executing.

Now, let’s start exploring the functionalities of the source command.



Subshells and the Source Command

When you run a script in a shell, a subshell is often spawned which creates a separate process for the execution.

This allows isolation, encapsulating variables, and functions within the spawned shell so they do not interfere with the parent environment.

In case of the source command, the shell executes the script in the current shell itself.

So, any variable, function, or alteration made will affect the current environment.


Sourcing a Script Without Parameters

Let’s consider a simple script,, with the following content:

var="Hello, World!"

We can source this script in the current shell with the source command:


After running the command, the variable var becomes available in the current shell. You can confirm this by running:

echo $var

This will output:

Hello, World!

This shows that the source command has imported the variables from into the current shell environment.


Run commands after sourcing files

The -c or --command option allows you to run a command in the current shell after sourcing the specified file.

For instance, given as before, you can source it and then immediately run a command:

source -c "echo $var"

This will output:

Hello, World!

This command sources, and then executes echo $var in the current shell.


Allow sourcing .file even if dotglob disabled

The -d or --dot option allows sourcing files that start with a dot, even if the dotglob option is disabled in your shell. Consider a file .file:

dot_var="Hidden message!"

You can source this file as follows:

source -d .file

Then, echo $dot_var will output:

Hidden message!


Read and execute commands from stdin

The -s or --stdin option allows you to read and execute commands from the standard input (stdin). You can use it as follows:

echo "stdin_var='Reading from stdin'" | source -s

Then, echo $stdin_var will output:

Reading from stdin

This shows that -s allows us to source content passed to it through a pipe.


Print a message before sourcing each file

The -v or --verbose option prints a message before sourcing each file. This can be helpful when debugging complex scripts. Consider again from earlier, if we use:

source -v

This will output:

Hello, World!

It provides a message displaying the name of the file it’s sourcing. This allows you to track the execution of multiple sourced files.


Using Positional Parameters

Positional parameters can be used when sourcing a script to pass arguments to the script. Consider a script

echo "Hello, $1!"

You can source this script with a positional parameter as follows:

source World

This will output:

Hello, World!

This shows that positional parameters can be passed to scripts when they are sourced, similar to how they are passed when scripts are run normally.


Using Special Shell Variables

Special shell variables can also be accessed from a sourced script. Let’s create

echo "Number of parameters: $#"
echo "All parameters: $@"
echo "PID of shell: $$"

Now, source

source Hello World

This will output:

Number of parameters: 2
All parameters: Hello World
PID of shell: 1260

The special shell variables $#, $@, and $$ were accessed from the sourced script and have the usual meanings: the number of parameters, all parameters, and the PID of the shell, respectively.


Using . (dot) as an alternative to source

The . (dot) command is equivalent to source in many shells. To illustrate, you can use it like this:


After running this command, echo $var will output:

Hello, World!

The . command provides a shorter alternative to source, while offering the same functionality.

Difference between source and . in different shells

In Bourne-derived shells like Bash, source and . are interchangeable. However, in the C shell (csh) and its derivatives, only the source command is available.
Moreover, some shells don’t recognize source as a command and only accept ..

So, it is generally safer to use . for compatibility.


Sourcing Scripts with Functions

Just as with variables, functions defined in a sourced script are also available in the current shell. Consider

function hello() {
  echo "Hello, function!"

You can source and then call hello:


This will output:

Hello, function!


Unsetting Variables and Functions

After sourcing a script, you may want to unset variables or functions that were defined in that script.

You can do this with the unset command. Consider unset_var and hello from earlier scripts:

unset persist_var
unset -f hello

After running these commands, echo $persist_var and hello will return nothing, indicating that the variable and function have been unset.


Safe Script Sourcing

When sourcing scripts, it’s important to consider that the script will be executed with the current shell’s permissions.

This means that the script could potentially do a lot of damage if it contains harmful commands. Always review a script’s content before sourcing it.
You should only source scripts from trusted sources.

If you’re unsure about a script, you can run it in a subshell instead, where it cannot affect the parent shell’s environment:


This runs the script in a new shell, which will not affect the current shell’s environment.


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