Appendix D. Exit Codes With Special Meanings

Table D-1. "Reserved" Exit Codes

Exit Code NumberMeaningExampleComments
1Catchall for general errorslet "var1 = 1/0"Miscellaneous errors, such as "divide by zero"
2Misuse of shell builtins (according to Bash documentation) Seldom seen, usually defaults to exit code 1
126Command invoked cannot execute Permission problem or command is not an executable
127"command not found" Possible problem with $PATH or a typo
128Invalid argument to exitexit 3.14159exit takes only integer args in the range 0 - 255 (see footnote)
128+nFatal error signal "n"kill -9 $PPID of script$? returns 137 (128 + 9)
130Script terminated by Control-C Control-C is fatal error signal 2, (130 = 128 + 2, see above)
255*Exit status out of rangeexit -1exit takes only integer args in the range 0 - 255

According to the above table, exit codes 1 - 2, 126 - 165, and 255 [1] have special meanings, and should therefore be avoided for user-specified exit parameters. Ending a script with exit 127 would certainly cause confusion when troubleshooting (is the error code a "command not found" or a user-defined one?). However, many scripts use an exit 1 as a general bailout upon error. Since exit code 1 signifies so many possible errors, this probably would not be helpful in debugging.

There has been an attempt to systematize exit status numbers (see /usr/include/sysexits.h), but this is intended for C and C++ programmers. A similar standard for scripting might be appropriate. The author of this document proposes restricting user-defined exit codes to the range 64 - 113 (in addition to 0, for success), to conform with the C/C++ standard. This would allot 50 valid codes, and make troubleshooting scripts more straightforward.

All user-defined exit codes in the accompanying examples to this document now conform to this standard, except where overriding circumstances exist, as in Example 9-2.


Issuing a $? from the command line after a shell script exits gives results consistent with the table above only from the Bash or sh prompt. Running the C-shell or tcsh may give different values in some cases.



Out of range exit values can result in unexpected exit codes. An exit value greater than 255 returns an exit code modulo 256. For example, exit 3809 gives an exit code of 225 (3809 % 256 = 225).