What does [ -t 1 ] check?

I just found a way to start zsh when I start the bash on Windows from


It recommended to add following code at the last of .bashrc.

# Launch Zsh
if [ -t 1 ]; then
exec zsh

What does [ -t 1 ] mean?

Is it just true?

Then, can I just do this?

exec zsh
Asked By: Jin Kwon


man 1 test:

-t FD

file descriptor FD is opened on a terminal

Your example executes (replaces running process, in this case bash) with zsh on if stdout is open on a terminal (not a file/pipe/etc).

Answered By: sebasth

[] is shortcut of test command.

According to man test:

-t FD
True if FD is a file descriptor that is associated with a terminal.

So if you running bash as interactive shell (terminal – see this thread for terminology explanation), bash will be replaced by zsh.

More about .bash* files:

When bash is invoked as an interactive login shell, or as a
non-interactive shell with the –login option, it first reads and
executes commands from the file /etc/profile, if that file exists.
After reading that file, it looks for ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bash_login, and ~/.profile, in that order, and reads and executes commands from the first one that exists and is readable. The –noprofile option may be used when
the shell is started to inhibit this behavior.

When a login shell exits, bash reads and executes commands from the
files ~/.bash_logout and /etc/bash.bash_logout, if the files exists.

When an interactive shell that is not a login shell is started,
bash reads and executes commands from ~/.bashrc, if that file exists.
This may be inhibited by using the –norc option. The –rcfile file
option will force bash to read and execute commands from file instead of ~/.bashrc.

Stéphane Chazelas comment:
Note that a shell can be interactive without stdout being a terminal, and a shell can be non-interactive with a terminal on stdout (like anytime you run a script within a terminal without redirecting/piping its output), and bash can read .bashrc even when not interactive (like in ssh host cmd where bash is the login shell of the user on host, or bash --login -c 'some code'). case $- in *i*)... is the correct way to test if a shell is interactive.

Answered By: mrc02_kr

The test command [ -t 1 ] checks whether bash’s output is on a terminal. The intent of this line is clearly to run zsh when opening a terminal, without disrupting other uses of bash. But it’s done very badly.

The file .bashrc is read in three circumstances:

  • When bash is executed as an interactive shell, i.e. to run commands typed by the user rather than to execute batch commands.
  • When bash is a non-interactive shell which is run by an RSH or SSH daemon (typically because you run ssh host.example.com somecommand and bash is your login shell on host.example.com).
  • When it’s invoked explicitly, e.g. in a user’s .bash_profile (bash’s choice of startup files is a bit weird).

[ -t 1 ] is a poor way to detect interactive shells. It’s possible, but rare, to run bash interactively with standard output not going to a terminal. It’s more common to have standard output going to a terminal in a non-interactive shell; a non-interactive shell has no business running .bashrc but unfortunately bash shells invoked by SSH do. There’s a much better way: bash (and any other sh-style shell) provides a built-in, reliable method to do it.

case $- in
  *i*) echo this shell is interactive;;
  *) echo this shell is not interactive;;

So “launch zsh if this is an interactive shell” should be written

case $- in
  *i*) exec zsh;;

But even that is not a good idea: it prevents opening a bash shell, which is useful even if you use zsh. Forget about this blog post and instead simply configure your shortcut that opens a terminal to run zsh instead of bash. Don’t arrange things so that “whenever you open the Bash application on Windows, it will now start up with the Zsh shell”: when you want zsh, open the Zsh application.

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