What is the difference between ~/.profile and ~/.bash_profile?

The .profile was the original profile configuration for the Bourne shell (a.k.a., sh). bash, being a Bourne compatible shell will read and use it. The .bash_profile on the other hand is only read by bash. It is intended for commands that are incompatible with the standard Bourne shell.

The original sh sourced .profile on startup.

bash will try to source .bash_profile first, but if that doesn't exist, it will source .profile1.

Note that if bash is started as sh (e.g. /bin/sh is a link to /bin/bash) or is started with the --posix flag, it tries to emulate sh, and only reads .profile.


  1. Actually, the first one of .bash_profile, .bash_login, .profile

See also:

  • Bash Reference Manual - Startup Files
  • UNIX sh man page - Invocation

You know many shells exist in the UNIX world, but most of them are:

  • Bourne shell: /bin/sh (Inventor: Stephen Bourne)
  • BASH (Bourne Again Shell): /bin/bash (Inventor: Brian Fox, under GNU project) (powerful shell)
  • C shell: /bin/csh (Inventor: Bill Joy, Inventor of TCP/IP Stack)
  • Korn shell: /bin/ksh (Inventor: David Korn under Bell Labs)
  • Z shell: /bin/zsh (Powerful shell)
  • TENEX C shell: /bin/tcsh (derived from C Shell)
  • Debian Almquist shell: /bin/dash (Derived from Almquist shell (ash under NetBSD project)) (Dash born from lenny)

But your question is about ~/.bash_profile and ~/.profile:

When you you log in to a UNIX machine, it redirects to your home directory, according to the shell chosen by an administrator in the last field of /etc/passwd such as :

mohsen:x:1000:1000:Mohsen Pahlevanzadeh,,,:/home/mohsen:/bin/bash

Your shell runs, and by default each shell has a set file for login and logout. When you log in on bash, ~/.profile is run and when you logout, ~/.bash_logout is run. ~/.bash_history file keeps your input command.

Initialization file in each shell

TENEX C shell

  • ~/.login When you login
  • ~/.logout When you logout
  • ~/.tcshrc same as ~./bashrc in bash

You can set variable $histfile as name of history file and variable $history as number of commands to keeping.

Z shell

Indeed it's powerful shell and if you get free time, be sure migrate to it.

Except of other shell, Z shell has many configuration file and initialization files, just i write:


Note: if $ZDOTDIR unset, home set.

C shell

Note: TENEX C shell was forked from C shell. C shell supports by BSD. If you are familiar with C language programing, you should be comfortable since its syntax is similar.


Note: csh is old. Use tcsh instead.

Korn Shell

  • ~/.profile
  • rc file: user defined
  • logout file: N/A

Bourne Again SHell (BASH)

It's very very powerful shell and born under GNU project and forked by Bourne Shell.


When you login, bash runs ~/.bash_profile and ~/.bash_profile runs ~/.bashrc. Indeed ~/.bashrc isn't bash initialization file, because bash doesn't run it.

Bourne shell

It dead. Even when you use man sh, you see manual of dash. [Editor's note: the bit about dash only applies to Debian and Debian-based distros like Ubuntu.]

Your Answer

~/.bash_profile work under bash, but ~/.profile work under Bourne and Korn shell.