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How to Use Functions in Bash/Shell Scripts, With Examples

This article will explain how to use functions in Bash scripts – helping you to reuse your code and simplify your scripts.

Why write code multiple times when you can write it once and re-use it?

That’s what functions let you do.

This article outlines the use of functions in Bash/Shell scripts.

What is a Function?

function is a piece of re-usable code. Functions can accept parameters, which allow them to perform the same repeatable actions on different inputs.

Functions usually perform any action, output or print results, or return a value for future use.

Why Use a Function?

As an example, you may have a script that sends an email notification that something has occurred. If you wanted to send multiple different emails to multiple recipients, you might write the same email-sending code several times in the script to send the messages.

Using a function, you’d be able to write this code only once, then call it with different recipients, subjects, and messages, with a single line function call rather than duplicated code.

Bash Function Syntax

The syntax for writing functions in Bash/Shell scripts is as follows:

name_of_function () {
    # Optional return value

Note that:

  • name_of_function is the name you want to be able to call your function using
    • Alphanumeric characters and underscores only!
  • The function name must be followed by () (standard brackets)
    • Note the spaces around the brackets! They are required!
  • The code you want the function to execute must be wrapped in {} (curly brackets)
    • Any code outside of these curly brackets is NOT part of the function and will not be executed.
  • COMMANDS can be any command that would usually be available on your Linux system
  • You can optionally return a value – see the below example for usage
    • To terminate a function early, you can also call return with no value to exit the function
    • The special $? variable will hold the returned value from the last executed command, making it available elsewhere in your script after the function has been run

Example & Explanation

Here’s an example that illustrates all of the different Bash function elements – with comments explaining what everything is doing.


# Define a global variable - available anywhere in the script as it is not defined inside a function or loop

# Define a function which does some mathematics
my_math_function () {

    # Get the parameters passed to the function 
    # Parameters are passed after the function name when calling the function, and will be named in order of appearance, starting with $1, then $2, etc
    # Below, these parameter values are assigned to local variables - available only inside the function - so that it's easier to tell what they are
    local multiplier_value=$1
    local addition_value=$2

    # Calculate the result and assign it to a local variable
    # Notice the $(( )) wrapping the calculations - this tells the script to assign the result of these calculations to the results variable, rather than assigning the calculations as a text value
    local result=$(( $initial_value * $multiplier_value + $addition_value ))

    # Print the result to the console
    # Depending on how the function is used, text output from the function can be used to read results from it
    echo $result

    # It is also possible to get output from the function using a return value
    return $result


# Call the function with different input parameters
# Parameters are passed to the function by typing them after the function separated by a space
# The function above expects two parameters - a multiplier_value and addition_value

my_math_function 2 4 # Will output 10 (2 * 3 + 4)

my_math_function 3 5 # Will output 14 (3 * 3 + 5)

# The $? is a special variable in Bash scripts which always holds the return value from the last executed command
# It can be used to get the value specified as the return value from the function.

echo $? # Will output 14

# Assign the result of the function to a variable
# This will assign any text outputted by the function (for example using the echo command) to a variable
my_result=$(my_math_function 6 7)
echo $my_result # Will output 25 (6 * 3 + 7)

What is the ‘#!’ in Linux Shell Scripts?

Want to pass values to your shell script (so you can then pass them to the functions in it)? Check out this article.

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I'm Brad, and I'm nearing 20 years of experience with Linux. I've worked in just about every IT role there is before taking the leap into software development. Currently, I'm building desktop and web-based solutions with NodeJS and PHP hosted on Linux infrastructure. Visit my blog or find me on Twitter to see what I'm up to.

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