How to Handle Error with “trap ERR” in Bash? [Easy Steps]

Handling errors is one of the most important aspects of writing reliable and robust scripts. Errors can happen for a variety of reasons, including invalid user inputs, unexpected conditions, and failed command executions. Fortunately, bash provides powerful error-handling tools to help us handle errors and execute scripts smoothly. One of these tools is trap ERR. To use the trap ERR command, ensure you set the trap before any commands that might potentially fail. In this article, you’ll look at how to use the trap ERR command for your scripts’ error handling.

What is “trap” Command in Bash?

In Bash scripting, developers utilize the trap command to set up and manage signal handlers, determining actions when the shell or script receives specific signals. These signals denote various events like process termination, user interrupts, or errors. Employing the trap command enables specifying custom actions for handling these signals, facilitating the implementation of error management, cleanup routines, or other desired behaviors within scripts.

The general syntax of the trap command is:

trap [COMMAND] [SIGNALS] ...

In Bash, the trap command associates with various signals, enabling you to specify actions when receiving these signals. Here are some common signals utilized with the trap command:

Signal Description
EXIT Triggered when the shell or script exits.
SIGINT Interrupt signal, usually generated by pressing CTRL+C.
SIGTERM Termination signal, often used to request graceful termination of a process.
ERR Signal is raised when a command returns a non-zero exit status, indicating an error.
SIGHUP Hangup signal, sent when a controlling terminal is closed.
SIGQUIT Quit signal, typically sent by pressing CTRL+.

Steps to Handle Error with “trap ERR” Command in Bash

The trap ERR command in Bash enables to setting up of a signal handler that catches the ERR signal, triggered whenever a command returns a nonzero exit status. By utilizing trap ERR, you can intercept errors as they occur during script execution and execute custom error-handling logic.

Here’s how to use the bash trap ERR command with steps:

  1. Define the Error Handler Function: Start by creating a function to handle the error situation. This function can perform various actions, like logging the error, cleaning up resources, or notifying the user about the line of error.
    function handle_error() {
      # Get information about the error
      local error_code=$?
      local error_line=$BASH_LINENO
      local error_command=$BASH_COMMAND
      # Log the error details
      echo "Error occurred on line $error_line: $error_command (exit code: $error_code)"
      # Optionally exit the script
      # exit 1
  2. Set the trap command: Now, set the trap command to associate the handle_error function with the ERR signal. This means that the function will execute whenever one of the commands in your script returns a non-zero output:
    trap handle_error ERR
  3. Execute Commands in your bash script: Now, any command that fails (returns a non-zero exit code) will trigger the handle_error function. You can test this by deliberately running a command that doesn’t exist:
    # This command will fail
    # ... other script logic here …

Here is a full bash code describing the error handling by using the bash trap ERR command:


# Define error handler function
function handle_error() {
  # Get information about the error
  local error_code=$?
  local error_line=$BASH_LINENO
  local error_command=$BASH_COMMAND

  # Log the error details
  echo "Error occurred on line $error_line: $error_command (exit code: $error_code)"

  # Optionally exit the script gracefully
  exit 1

# Set the trap for any error (non-zero exit code)
trap handle_error ERR

# Example commands that might fail
echo "Trying to access a non-existent file:"
cat /path/to/nonexistent_file

# This part of the script won't execute if any of the above commands fail
echo "Script completed successfully!"

This Bash script sets up an error handler function named handle_error using the function keyword. This function retrieves information about the error, such as the exit code, the line number where the error occurred ($BASH_LINENO), and the command that caused the error ($BASH_COMMAND). It then logs these error details using echo and prints a message indicating the line number, the command, and the exit code of the failed command.

The script establishes a trap using the trap command, specifying that the handle_error function should be invoked whenever an error occurs.

Then the script adds a line cat /path/to/nonexistent_file that might fail. When the line fails, the error handler function activates, logging the error details and exiting the script with an exit status of 1.

The final echo statement after the potentially failing commands indicates that this part of the script will only execute if all previous commands are completed successfully, providing a message indicating successful script completion.

Handle Error with “trap ERR” Command in BashAs the image shows, the trap handle_error ERR line triggers the handle_error function as soon as it finds an error. As you see, there is an error in line 22 with exit code 1, meaning that code line 22 failed to execute successfully.

Limitations of “trap ERR”

While “trap ERR” is a handy tool for catching errors in Bash scripts, it’s not without its flaws. Here’s a quick rundown of its limitations:

  • Limited Scope: It only catches errors for commands within the current shell process, not for child processes spawned within it.
  • Non-specific error handling: It triggers for any non-zero exit code, meaning it doesn’t distinguish between different types of errors.
  • Potential infinite loops: If the error within the trap ERR block itself causes more non-zero exit codes. Thus, it can create an infinite loop of error handling.
  • Limited control flow: It can only execute a single command or a simple script block. So it limits its ability to perform complex error handling or recovery actions.
  • Masking underlying issues: Catching all errors with trap ERR can make it harder to debug specific issues as the original error messages might be hidden.
  • Unable to handle function error: As the trap ERR command is associated with a customized function to handle the error, it has limitations. The trap ERR doesn’t catch the error within the error function unless the set -E command is specified at the beginning of the code. In this case, the script will stop its execution if it finds any error and will not provide the added information that the trap ERR provides.

The trap ERR is a useful tool for basic error handling. However, it’s important to understand its limitations and consider more advanced techniques for complex error management.


In conclusion, knowing how to use trap ERR in bash scripting will give you the power to improve the bash error handling capabilities. By setting up trap ERR in advance, scripts can smoothly respond to unexpected circumstances, making them more resilient and reliable. I hope this article will work as an easy guide for your error-handling capability. However, if you have any questions relevant to this article, feel free to comment below. Thank you!

People Also Ask

How to use bash trap err in a single line?

To use trap ERR in a single line in a Bash script, place the following code line at the beginning of your code (after #!/bin/bash shebang line):

trap 'echo "Error occurred on line $LINENO: $BASH_COMMAND (exit code: $?)" && exit 1' ERR

This single-line command sets up a trap for any error (non-zero exit code) that occurs during script execution. When an error occurs, the specified inline command is executed, which echoes an error message containing the line number ($LINENO), the command that caused the error ($BASH_COMMAND), and the exit code of the failed command ($?). Finally, it exits the script with an exit status of 1.

What is the use of exit in bash?

The exit command is used to terminate the current shell session or script. It allows you to specify an exit status code. By default, if no exit status code is provided, exit assumes a successful completion with an exit status of zero. However, you can specify a different exit status code ranging from 0 to 255 to indicate various types of errors, abnormal terminations, or specific outcomes of the script execution. Upon encountering the exit command, the shell immediately halts execution. Further, it returns control to its parent process or the calling environment, along with the specified exit status code.

What is the difference between “ERR” and “EXIT” in Bash trap?

The main difference between the “ERR” signal and the “EXIT” action in the Bash trap lies in their triggering conditions and purposes:

Aspect ERR Signal EXIT Action
Trigger Condition Triggered when a command within the script exits with a non-zero exit status. Triggered when the script or shell session exits, irrespective of the exit status (zero or non-zero).
Purpose Enables defining custom error-handling logic to manage error conditions during script execution. Facilitates specifying cleanup tasks or finalization actions before script termination.
Typical Usage Handling errors gracefully, logging error messages, performing cleanup tasks, and terminating script execution if necessary. Executing cleanup functions, closing files, releasing resources, and performing necessary cleanup operations.
Example trap 'echo "An error occurred: $BASH_COMMAND"; exit 1' ERR    trap 'cleanup_function' EXIT

In summary, ERR handles errors during script execution, while EXIT performs cleanup tasks before script termination, regardless of the exit status.

What is exit 2 in bash?

In Bash, “exit 2” refers to the exit code returned by a script or program when it terminates due to invalid usage of a built-in command. This generally means you provided incorrect options or missing arguments to a built-in command like echo, cd, or pwd.

While the specific meaning might vary slightly depending on the specific built-in command and situation, here are some common reasons for exit 2 in bash:

  1. Missing arguments: You didn’t provide all the required arguments for the command.
  2. Invalid options: You used an option that doesn’t exist or is incompatible with the command.
  3. Incorrect syntax: You made a mistake in the way you wrote the command.
  4. Permissions issues: The command doesn’t have the necessary permissions to complete the action.

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Mohammad Shah Miran

Hey, I'm Mohammad Shah Miran, previously worked as a VBA and Excel Content Developer at SOFTEKO, and for now working as a Linux Content Developer Executive in LinuxSimply Project. I completed my graduation from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). As a part of my job, i communicate with Linux operating system, without letting the GUI to intervene and try to pass it to our audience.

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