Bash vs Zsh [The Ultimate Comparison]

Bash and Zsh are popular Unix shell environments that provide command-line interfaces to the operating system. While they share many similarities, they also have some significant differences. With both Bash and Zsh providing compelling advantages, selecting the right shell for scripting can significantly shape your productivity, and simplify your daily tasks. This article will look at Bash vs Zsh, focusing on their features, performance, extensibility, and community support.

Watch the Ultimate Comparison on Bash vs Zsh

Basics of Bash

Bash (“Bourne Again SHell”) has been the default shell for most Unix-based systems, including Linux and macOS since 1989. It is basically a command line interpreter and scripting language for most of the Unix-like operating systems. It is known for its broad compatibility and is often used in scripting and system administration tasks.Currently running shell is BashAdvantages of Bash

There are some advantages to Bash that make it a versatile and widely used language in Unix-based operating systems. In this section, I am going to point out some advantages of Bash.

  • Highly portable across different Unix-like systems.
  • Less starting time.
  • Simple syntax and commands.
  • Writing a bash/shell script is much faster.
  • Robust job control capabilities.
  • Provides tools for debugging and error handling.

Basics of Zsh

Zsh (Z Shell) was invented after Bash, aiming to improve upon Bash while maintaining backward compatibility. Previously, Bash was the default shell for macOS however For recent versions (macOS 10.15 or later) Macs use zsh as the default shell. Zsh is also a command-line interpreter and shell scripting language that offers advanced features and customization options and is sometimes used as an alternative to the default Bash shell. Furthermore, features like arrays, associative arrays, and advanced control structures make it suitable for writing complex scripts and automating tasks.Currently running shell is zshAdvantages of Zsh

The popular Unix-like Zsh (Z Shell) shell and command-line interpreter offers several benefits over other shells. Here are some of the advantages of Zsh.

  • Powerful auto-completion: Zsh has advanced tab-completion features, such as the ability to complete commands, options, and file paths, as well as suggest corrections for mistyped commands.
  • Extensibility: Zsh is highly extensible and customizable. Zsh supports plugins, themes, and modules, making it flexible and adaptable to different workflows.
  • Improved interactive features: Interactive features in Zsh enhance the command-line experience. It includes built-in spelling correction, command history sharing across multiple shell instances, directory stack navigation, and glob qualifiers for filtering file lists based on various criteria.
  • Compatibility with Bash: Because Zsh is designed to be highly compatible with Bash, most Bash scripts can be run in Zsh without modification. This compatibility facilitates the transition from Bash to Zsh without the need to rewrite or modify existing scripts.

Differences Between Bash and Zsh

Though there are many similarities between these two shells, in this article, I am going to discuss the major differences in different categories that will help you decide which one is better when it comes to scripting.

A. Shell Configuration and Startup

Shell configuration and shell scripting are interconnected aspects of working with the shell. The configuration files define the shell’s behavior and environment, which can influence the execution and behavior of shell scripts.

Feature Bash Zsh
Creation It was released as a replacement for Bourne Shell. It is an extended version of Bash, built on top of the Bash shell but with plenty of new features.
Default Shell Default on most Unix-based systems, including Linux. Not the default, but it can be installed and set as the default.
Startup Files Uses .bashrc for interactive in non-login interactive shells and .bash_profile in login shells. Reads .zshrc in an interactive shell and .zprofile in a login shell.
Configuration Files Easy to explore. Not easy to explore.
Shellopt Shellopts run automatically while doing the startup. Shellopts do not run while doing the startup.
Environment Scripts Does not have many environment scripts. Some environment scripts of zsh are zlogin, zlogout, zprofile, zsgenv, zshrc.

B. Command Line Interface

Command Line Interface provides a platform for executing commands directly. Shell scripting harnesses this power of CLI by allowing users to write and execute scripts to automate tasks and provides you with a higher level of control and customization.

Feature Bash Zsh
Escaping Characters Uses backslash as the escape character. Uses percentage as an escape character.
Customization It doesn’t have theme customization options. It has theme customization options.
Auto-Completion It supports auto-completion but with the least functionality. Auto completion is more advanced than Bash.
Tab Completion It’s tab completion feature is basic. It has the ability to complete command names and arguments. It has more advanced tab completion, besides having the capacity to complete command names and arguments it can perform recursive searches for completions.
Command Line Editing Basic command line editing capabilities using vi-style or emac -style keybindings, but don’t have the ability to perform inline editing. Advanced command line editing and history features, and has the ability to perform inline editing of command lines.
Spelling correction Doesn’t offer spelling correction generally but can be enabled with some commands. Can identify incorrect spellings and suggest corrections.
History Management It has basic history management features, for example, the ability to recall and re-execute previously used commands. It offers more powerful history management, which includes the ability to search and edit previous commands and users have control over how long commands are stored in the history.
Tab No option of a tab is available to navigate between options. Can navigate between options using the tab.

C. Plugin and Module Ecosystem

Plugin and module ecosystems complement shell scripting by providing additional functionalities, customization options, and community-driven collaboration.

Feature Bash Zsh
Plugin Ecosystem Doesn’t have plug-in support. Has plenty of plug-in support.
Modules All features are built-in into the shell and do not have a modular architecture. It has a modular architecture and the capability of loading and unloading modules that add features and functionality.

D. Job Control and Scripting

Job control features integrated into shell scripts allow users to perform complex process management, monitor background tasks, handle signals, and create control structures for efficient automation and control of running processes.

Feature Bash Zsh
Job Control Basic job control features with &, fg, bg and it allows users to run and manage multiple processes in the background and manage multiple processes simultaneously. Enhanced job control with more intuitive features such as ability to display the hierarchy of a process and to perform job control operations directly on processes within the hierarchy.
Command Aliases Doesn’t have prefix or suffix command aliases. It contains prefix and suffix command aliases.

E. Performance and Efficiency

The overall startup time and execution priority have an indirect impact on shell scripting. But to know which shell is greater in performance and efficiency, I have included the comparison here.

Feature Bash Zsh
Startup Time Faster than Zsh. Slower.
Execution Priority No execution priority as all commands are executed with the same priority. It has the ability to define execution priority using nice and nohup commands.

Bash or Zsh, Which One is Better?

Zsh, in my opinion, appears to be more efficient because it is a newer shell designed to be an extended version of Bash. Zsh adds some features that are well-executed and well-liked by the majority of users. As a result, it was bound to gain the popularity that it now enjoys. Zsh has more features than Bash, such as advanced globbing, different startup file configurations, and so on.

Again, If you are new to scripting, Bash might be a good starting point due to its widespread adoption and compatibility. However, if you intend to use Zsh, I encourage you to investigate these differences. However, because Linux users can use both shells, it is up to you to decide which is best for your task, so your opinion may differ.


Finally, these differences should assist you in understanding the distinctions between Zsh and Bash. Remember that, regardless of the choice, both shells provide a solid foundation for scripting tasks. if you need your scripts to run on various platforms without modification, Bash, being the default shell on many systems, provides compatibility and portability advantages, making it a solid choice for scripting. Please leave a comment if you found this article helpful in deciding whether to use bash or zsh.

People Also Ask

What is the difference between Zsh and Bash?

The main differences is that Zsh is more interactive and customizable than Bash. For example, Zsh has floating-point support, hash data structures, and more advanced completion features than Bash. Additionally, Zsh has a more customizable prompt look than Bash. Another difference is that Bash is more widely used and supported than Zsh Bash is the default shell for most Linux distributions, while Zsh is not. However, Zsh is gaining popularity among developers due to its advanced features and customization options.

Should I use zsh or bash on Mac?

It is preferable to use zsh rather than bash. It’s also a good idea to install a framework with zsh because it makes dealing with configuration, plugins, and themes much easier.

Which is faster bash or zsh?

In general, the speed and performance of Bash and Zsh are comparable, and the speed difference between the two is usually negligible.  But still, Among Bash and zsh shell, zsh is faster.

Why use zsh on Linux?

Zsh is more customizable and provides more options for creating fancy user prompts. Zsh’s parameter expansion is more powerful than Bash’s. There are numerous plugins, themes, and frameworks available for Zsh, including the popular Oh My Zsh. It enables you to obtain a fancy terminal with useful features.

Why is Apple using zsh?

One of the primary reasons Apple switched to zsh is that it is more similar to the functionality of standard bash. If you are familiar with the standard bash prompt, you will be relieved to know that Apple ZSH prompts look similar to the ones found in Microsoft Outlook.

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Lamisa Musharrat

Hello there. My name is Lamisa Musharat, and I'm an Linux Content Developer Executive at SOFTEKO. I earned a bachelor's degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).I learned Linux out of my curiosity and now I find it useful as automation is easier using Linux. I take great pleasure in assisting others with Linux-related issues. I really want you to enjoy and benefit from my efforts.Read Full Bio

2 thoughts on “Bash vs Zsh [The Ultimate Comparison]”

  1. This post loses all credibility with me in the first couple of paragraphs when the author states, “Bash (“Bourne Again SHell”) is the default shell for most Unix-based systems, including Linux and macOS.”

    ‘bash’ is NOT the default shell for macOS — not since 2019 when ‘zsh’ became the default login shell. Too, the ‘bash’ shipped with macOS, v3.2.57, is woefully out of date with the current bash release being v5.2.9.

    If one wants to publish the ULTIMATE post on anything, one should start by getting the basic facts right.

    • Thanks for your suggestions though we had already stated the current scenario of the default shell of macOS in the following segments of the article.


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