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C.1.5 Signal Handling

Portable handling of signals within the shell is another major source of headaches. This is worsened by the fact that various different, mutually incompatible approaches are possible in this area, each with its distinctive merits and demerits. A detailed description of these possible approaches, as well as of their pros and cons, can be found in this article.

Solaris 10 /bin/sh automatically traps most signals by default; the shell still exits with error upon termination by one of those signals, but in such a case the exit status might be somewhat unexpected (even if allowed by POSIX, strictly speaking):

$ bash -c 'kill -1 $$'; echo $? # Will exit 128 + (signal number).
$ /bin/ksh -c 'kill -15 $$'; echo $? # Likewise.
$ for sig in 1 2 3 15; do
>   echo $sig:
>   /bin/sh -c "kill -$s \$\$"; echo $?
> done
signal 1:
signal 2:
signal 3:
signal 15:

This gets even worse if one is using the POSIX “wait” interface to get details about the shell process terminations: it will result in the shell having exited normally, rather than by receiving a signal.

$ cat > foo.c <<'END'
#include <stdio.h>    /* for printf */
#include <stdlib.h>   /* for system */
#include <sys/wait.h> /* for WIF* macros */
int main(void)
  int status = system ("kill -15 $$");
  printf ("Terminated by signal: %s\n",
          WIFSIGNALED (status) ? "yes" : "no");
  printf ("Exited normally: %s\n",
          WIFEXITED (status) ? "yes" : "no");
  return 0;
$ cc -o foo foo.c
$ ./a.out # On GNU/Linux
Terminated by signal: no
Exited normally: yes
$ ./a.out # On Solaris 10
Terminated by signal: yes
Exited normally: no

Various shells seem to handle SIGQUIT specially: they ignore it even if it is not blocked, and even if the shell is not running interactively (in fact, even if the shell has no attached tty); among these shells are at least Bash (from version 2 onwards), Zsh 4.3.12, Solaris 10 /bin/ksh and /usr/xpg4/bin/sh, and AT&T ksh93 (2011). Still, SIGQUIT seems to be trappable quite portably within all these shells. OTOH, some other shells doesn’t special-case the handling of SIGQUIT; among these shells are at least pdksh 5.2.14, Solaris 10 and NetBSD 5.1 /bin/sh, and the Almquist Shell

Some shells (especially Korn shells and derivatives) might try to propagate to themselves a signal that has killed a child process; this is not a bug, but a conscious design choice (although its overall value might be debatable). The exact details of how this is attained vary from shell to shell. For example, upon running perl -e 'kill 2, $$', after the perl process has been interrupted AT&T ksh93 (2011) will proceed to send itself a SIGINT, while Solaris 10 /bin/ksh and /usr/xpg4/bin/sh will proceed to exit with status 130 (i.e., 128 + 2). In any case, if there is an active trap associated with SIGINT, those shells will correctly execute it.

Some Korn shells, when a child process die due receiving a signal with signal number n, can leave in ‘$?’ an exit status of 256+n instead of the more common 128+n. Observe the difference between AT&T ksh93 (2011) and bash 4.1.5 on Debian:

$ /bin/ksh -c 'sh -c "kill -1 \$\$"; echo $?'
/bin/ksh: line 1: 7837: Hangup
$ /bin/bash -c 'sh -c "kill -1 \$\$"; echo $?'
/bin/bash: line 1:  7861 Hangup        (sh -c "kill -1 \$\$")

This ksh behavior is allowed by POSIX, if implemented with due care; see this Austin Group discussion for more background. However, if it is not implemented with proper care, such a behavior might cause problems in some corner cases. To see why, assume we have a “wrapper” script like this:

# Ignore some signals in the shell only, not in its child processes.
trap : 1 2 13 15
wrapped_command "$@"
exit $ret

If wrapped_command is interrupted by a SIGHUP (which has signal number 1), ret will be set to 257. Unless the exit shell builtin is smart enough to understand that such a value can only have originated from a signal, and adjust the final wait status of the shell appropriately, the value 257 will just get truncated to 1 by the closing exit call, so that a caller of the script will have no way to determine that termination by a signal was involved. Observe the different behavior of AT&T ksh93 (2011) and bash 4.1.5 on Debian:

$ cat
sh -c 'kill -1 $$'
echo $ret
exit $ret
$ /bin/ksh; echo $? line 2: 12479: Hangup
$ /bin/bash; echo $? line 2: 12487 Hangup        (sh -c 'kill -1 $$')

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