I've been working with bash, and I came across the --rcfile and --init-file options. Bash's man page lists these under the same section, but they seem to behave differently. Take the following scenario:

I have created a ~/.bash_profile which has the following command:

exec env -i <variables> /bin/bash <option> ~/.bashrc

for the purposes of a project which require the terminal to open with a specific configuration; it is instructed not to read /etc/bash.bashrc and instead only read from ~/.bashrc. If <option> is --init-file, ~/.bashrc is read without error. However, --rcfile in its place does not appear to source the file.

What is the difference between these two seemingly identical commands?

  • The difference? Outdated historical contingency -- they now behave the same.
    – mcint
    Apr 25 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


They are synonymous.

From the shell.c file of bash-4.3 source:

long_args[] = {
  { "init-file", Charp, (int *)0x0, &bashrc_file },
  { "rcfile", Charp, (int *)0x0, &bashrc_file },

As you can see they are defined the same way and also works the same way.

The parameter bashrc_file stores the filename.

For further assurance, the CHANGES file in the source contains:

Added a new '--init-file' invocation argument as a synonym for '--rcfile', per the new GNU coding standards.

  • But then why would it work one way but not the other? Apr 22, 2016 at 19:50
  • @BHustus They should behave in the same way, i have tested couple of times too with various possible factors but they always behave the same way for me..
    – heemayl
    Apr 22, 2016 at 19:52
  • Huh... I'll look back into it. Apr 22, 2016 at 19:57

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