Shell scripting standards and style guidelines


GitLab consists of many various services and sub-projects. The majority of their backend code is written in Ruby and Go. However, some of them use shell scripts for automation of routine system administration tasks like deployment, installation, etc. It’s being done either for historical reasons or as an effort to minimize the dependencies, for instance, for Docker images.

This page aims to define and organize our shell scripting guidelines, based on our various experiences. All shell scripts across GitLab project should be eventually harmonized with this guide. If there are any per-project deviations from this guide, they should be described in the or file for such a project.

Avoid using shell scripts

Caution: This is a must-read section.

Having said all of the above, we recommend staying away from shell scripts as much as possible. A language like Ruby or Python (if required for consistency with codebases that we leverage) is almost always a better choice. The high-level interpreted languages have more readable syntax, offer much more mature capabilities for unit-testing, linting, and error reporting.

Use shell scripts only if there’s a strong restriction on project’s dependencies size or any other requirements that are more important in a particular case.

Scope of this guide

According to the GitLab installation requirements, this guide covers only those shells that are used by supported Linux distributions, that is:

Shell language choice

  • When you need to reduce the dependencies list, use what’s provided by the environment. For example, for Docker images it’s sh from alpine which is the base image for most of our tool images.
  • Everywhere else, use bash if possible. It’s more powerful than sh but still a widespread shell.

Code style and format

This section describes the tools that should be made a mandatory part of a project’s CI pipeline if it contains shell scripts. These tools automate shell code formatting, checking for errors or vulnerabilities, etc.


We’re using the ShellCheck utility in its default configuration to lint our shell scripts.

All projects with shell scripts should use this GitLab CI/CD job:

shell check:
  image: koalaman/shellcheck-alpine:stable
  stage: test
    - shellcheck --version
    - shellcheck scripts/**/*.sh # path to your shell scripts
Tip: By default, ShellCheck will use the shell detection to determine the shell dialect in use. If the shell file is out of your control and ShellCheck cannot detect the dialect, use -s flag to specify it: -s sh or -s bash.


It’s recommended to use the shfmt tool to maintain consistent formatting. We format shell scripts according to the Google Shell Style Guide, so the following shfmt invocation should be applied to the project’s script files:

shfmt -i 2 -ci -w scripts/**/*.sh

In addition to the Linting GitLab CI/CD job, all projects with shell scripts should also use this job:

  image: mvdan/shfmt:v3.1.0-alpine
  stage: test
    - shfmt -version
    - shfmt -i 2 -ci -d scripts # path to your shell scripts
Tip: By default, shfmt will use the shell detection similar to one of ShellCheck and ignore files starting with a period. To override this, use -ln flag to specify the shell dialect: -ln posix or -ln bash.


Note: This is a work in progress.

It is an ongoing effort to evaluate different tools for the automated testing of shell scripts (like BATS).

Code Review

The code review should be performed according to:

However, the recommended course of action is to use the aforementioned tools and address reported offenses. This should eliminate the need for code review.

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