In zsh, a subshell created via parentheses can have an rcfile sourced to use commands which may be aliases, only available when specific directories are added to PATH, etc.:

~ » /bin/zsh -c "workon"
zsh:1: command not found: workon
~ » /bin/zsh -c "source ~/.zshrc; workon"
... (expected output)

However, the same is not true with bash:

~ » /bin/bash -c "workon"
/bin/bash: workon: command not found
~ » /bin/bash -c "source ~/.bashrc; workon"
/bin/bash: workon: command not found
~ » bash
sean@helium:~$ workon
... (expected output)

Is there any way a bash subshell can source an rcfile?

To get a head-start on "X-Y problem" responses, this is for a script called in:

(source ~/.zshrc; cd $1; ${@:2})

I have a directory full of projects (using git) where I often forget if I have left anything uncommitted, so in allows me to quickly write $ in ProjectDir/ git status, rather than $ (cd ProjectDir; git status) (the former feels easier to type than the latter).

Preferably, I would like this script usable with bash (which is why I ask, even though it works currently with zsh).

  • The standard answer is to use exported functions instead of aliases, eg workon() { ...; }; export workon. Alternatively, make workon a script in one of the directories in $PATH.
    – AFH
    May 15, 2018 at 22:03
  • @AFH workon is actually an exported function, part of a Python package called virtualenvwrapper, my apologies for mislabeling it an alias. May 15, 2018 at 22:05
  • I think you don't need (…) in your in script (if you run it in bash). May 15, 2018 at 22:07
  • "Preferably, I would like this script usable with bash" – This I don't understand. You can run in from within bash if your $PATH is right, regardless of the script shebang. If it works when interpreted by zsh, why do you need to change it? May 15, 2018 at 22:12
  • I apologise: I omitted -f from the export in my definition of workon - it should have been workon() { ...; }; export -f workon. Exported functions should work in any subshell, so workon ought to be found without needing to run ~/.bashrc beforehand (PATH is exported). With this or an equivalent definition, bash -c workon should be sufficient, though I don't see why you would use bash -c at all. By the way, you do not need the brackets around the second line of in, since scripts run in a subshell (unless invoked with source), and you don't need a further level of subshell.
    – AFH
    May 15, 2018 at 23:10

1 Answer 1


In my Kubuntu the first thing .bashrc does is this:

# If not running interactively, don't do anything
case $- in
    *i*) ;;
      *) return;;

I guess your .bashrc is similar. This is why /bin/bash -c "source ~/.bashrc; …" "doesn't" source. If you used bash -i -c … then .bashrc would be sourced automatically and your source would parse it unnecessarily for the second time.

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