Write shell scripts in OpenWrt

The default shell provided with OpenWrt is the Almquist shell, which is better known as the ash shell and is also the default Busybox shell. Most Linux distros, such as Ubuntu or Debian, will use the Bash shell, which is much bigger and more complex than ash. For example, a typical bash implementation requires approximately 1 MB of disk space, which is an extravagant waste of memory/space in an embedded device.

By contrast, BusyBox fits in less than 512 KB of space, and, in addition to providing the ash shell, it also provides many other tools you will need to manage your OpenWrt device. Some examples of the other very useful tools provided by BusyBox include awk, grep, sed, and vi/vim. Note that the stock (i.e. factory) firmware that ships with many routers also uses BusyBox for the reasons outlined here.

OpenWrt firmware uses BusyBox because it is extremely efficient with respect to 1) the size required to install it and run it in RAM, and 2) the amount of functionality it provides. Please be aware that many of the BusyBox implementations of common Linux/Unix tools might be more limited than their full desktop counterparts. However, Bash and Busybox shell are similar enough for the majority of daily use cases. If your script is using the POSIX features of the Bash shell, then it will work in the Ash shell, too.

Q: Can I install a full version of Bash or other Linux CLI tools, including my favorite editor?

A: Yes! (but there is a catch)

If your router supports USB storage and you choose to install and configure a USB drive with your OpenWrt device, you will have much more storage space for installing programs. If you choose to go this route, then you can install the bash package very easily. Also, OpenWrt contains many packages for installing the full versions of core Linux shell utilities, such as basename, cat, rm, sort, or sleep. To get an idea of the full list of available CLI packages, visit the web page for the OpenWrt packages in the Utilities category and search for all packages that start with coreutils. Also, OpenWrt contains many full sized versions of popular Linux editors such as nano and vim (see vim, vim-full, vim-fuller).


To illustrate the reason for this warning, as of v19.0x, the vim-fuller package binary is ~2.8 MB, and it will be even larger when installed.

Scripts in OpenWrt should have #!/bin/sh at the first line, #!/bin/bash will not work. For more information, refer to the shebang operator.

The short answer is “yes”, but this practice is not recommended.

WARNING: If you update /etc/passwd to change the root account's default shell to anything other than #!/bin/sh, there is a good chance you will be unable to log in to your router via SSH.

If you've installed the OpenWrt bash package on your router and then changed your default shell to #!/bin/bash, you will be able to login to your device via SSH. However, the risk in doing so is that you may still lock yourself out of your device inadvertently, for example, by upgrading. The working assumption for OpenWrt is that ash will be the default shell. If you want to use the bash shell regularly, then simply run the bash command each time you login to your device.

In the event you are having difficulty accessing your device via SSH, refer to the OpenWrt failsafe process.

Write your bash scripts with #!/bin/sh first line in https://www.shellcheck.net/ and it will check for features you cannot use in OpenWrt shell. see the https://github.com/koalaman/shellcheck/blob/master/README.md#portability

You may need to install additional command line tools in OpenWrt, as the default installation is very minimal. A Desktop PC Linux like Ubuntu has much more command line tools in default install.

Check if a tool is available by writing type tool-name and it will answer you where this tool is, or an error if there is no such tool installed. Use the package table or index (Packages link in the sidebar to the left of this article) to find the package with the tool you need.

# type time
time is /usr/bin/time

See also: Configuration in scripts

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  • Last modified: 2020/08/10 18:24
  • by dadillac