Bash scripting vs PowerShell

In this article we will talk about differences between Bash scripting vs PowerShell. Bash is the command interpreter for Linux systems and is well known as a tool that can be used for automation and repetitive tasks via Bash scripts. PowerShell serves the same purpose, but for Windows systems.

With so much overlap in their functionalities, and with both being installable on a variety of operating systems, the inevitable questions of “which one is better” and “what are the differences” around bound to come up.

In this tutorial, you will learn about some of the differences between Bash scripting and the PowerShell scripting, as we compare the two across a few key areas.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • Bash scripting vs PowerShell, what are the differences?
Bash scripting vs PowerShell
Bash scripting vs PowerShell
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Any Linux distro
Software Bash shell (installed by default), PowerShell
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

Bash Scripting vs PowerShell

We will compare Bash scripting and PowerShell scripting across a few key areas below.

Main differences

Category Bash PowerShell
System Native on Linux. Usable on Windows, MacOS, Unix, BSD. Native on Windows. Usable on Linux, MacOS.
Purpose User shell and command line interpreter Task automation and configuration management for Windows
I/O Treats everything as plain text Treats everything as an object
Best suited for Linux environments and servers Microsoft environments and programs – Active Directory, SQL, etc
Syntax Uses GNU programs and built in Linux commands Uses cmdlets and built in Windows commands
Availability Installed by default on Linux, nothing to download Installed by default on Windows, can be extended with third party cmdlets and APIs

The table above highlights the main differences. You can keep reading if you want to get a more in depth idea of key differences between Bash scripting and PowerShell scripting.

System compatibility

Let’s start with an obvious, but very important one.

Most people think Bash scripting is for Linux. And that is true. But Bash is also available on Unix, BSD, and MacOS. Even Microsoft has made Bash easily available on Windows, through installation of Windows Subsystem for Linux. Therefore, you can certainly run Bash scripts on a variety of different operatings systems.

However, it remains most common and most practical on Linux. BSD, MacOS, and Windows do not use Bash by default. It is safe to say that if you are learning Bash scripting, you will be using it on Linux.

PowerShell is similar, except that it is native to Windows systems. It is still officially supported on Linux distros and MacOS.

Porting your Windows PowerShell scripts to function on Linux systems can be awkward, to say the least. The same goes for porting Bash scripts over to Windows. Sure, you can get some tasks done this way, but you are much better off using each operating system’s respective tool.

Bash can interact directly with the processes running on a Linux system. With proper permissions, you can start or stop any service and completely control all system functions. On Windows, Bash is very limited and cannot directly influence the applications running.

With PowerShell, you can create scripts that deploy Windows, manage Active Directory, and lots more. But on Linux, PowerShell is confined to a simple scripting language and sandbox, much the same way Bash is on Windows.

Core functionalities

Bash and PowerShell are both command line interpreters and user shells. You can use either of them all day without ever actually making a Bash or PowerShell script. However, there is one big difference in how they treat the output of their commands.

Bash treats everything as plain text, which makes it simple to use, but somewhat limited in its scope. Typically, you need to graduate to a more in depth programming language like Python if you plan to make scripts that require object oriented programming or many lines of code on Linux.

PowerShell treats output as objects. That means it is able to take the output from one cmdlet and pass it into another. PowerShell can handle complex data this way.

Bash is nice for its simplicity, and if you are automating tasks on Linux, Bash scripts work well for this job. PowerShell can handle some bigger challenges but is most useful on Windows, especially in administrative tasks, since most other things are simply handled in the GUI.

Closing Thoughts

In this tutorial, you learned about the principal differences between Bash scripting and PowerShell scripting. What it boils down to is that Bash is great for administration and automation on Linux, and PowerShell fills that same gap but on Windows systems. They both have some crossover, yet are at their peak on their native systems.

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