EXECVE(2)                  Linux Programmer's Manual                 EXECVE(2)

       execve - execute program

       #include <unistd.h>

       int execve(const char *pathname, char *const argv[],
                  char *const envp[]);

       execve() executes the program referred to by pathname.  This causes the
       program that is currently being run by the calling process to be
       replaced with a new program, with newly initialized stack, heap, and
       (initialized and uninitialized) data segments.

       pathname must be either a binary executable, or a script starting with
       a line of the form:

           #! interpreter [optional-arg]

       For details of the latter case, see "Interpreter scripts" below.

       argv is an array of argument strings passed to the new program.  By
       convention, the first of these strings (i.e., argv[0]) should contain
       the filename associated with the file being executed.  envp is an array
       of strings, conventionally of the form key=value, which are passed as
       environment to the new program.  The argv and envp arrays must each
       include a null pointer at the end of the array.

       The argument vector and environment can be accessed by the called
       program's main function, when it is defined as:

           int main(int argc, char *argv[], char *envp[])

       Note, however, that the use of a third argument to the main function is
       not specified in POSIX.1; according to POSIX.1, the environment should
       be accessed via the external variable environ(7).

       execve() does not return on success, and the text, initialized data,
       uninitialized data (bss), and stack of the calling process are
       overwritten according to the contents of the newly loaded program.

       If the current program is being ptraced, a SIGTRAP signal is sent to it
       after a successful execve().

       If the set-user-ID bit is set on the program file referred to by
       pathname, then the effective user ID of the calling process is changed
       to that of the owner of the program file.  Similarly, when the set-
       group-ID bit of the program file is set the effective group ID of the
       calling process is set to the group of the program file.

       The aforementioned transformations of the effective IDs are not
       performed (i.e., the set-user-ID and set-group-ID bits are ignored) if
       any of the following is true:

       *  the no_new_privs attribute is set for the calling thread (see

       *  the underlying filesystem is mounted nosuid (the MS_NOSUID flag for
          mount(2)); or

       *  the calling process is being ptraced.

       The capabilities of the program file (see capabilities(7)) are also
       ignored if any of the above are true.

       The effective user ID of the process is copied to the saved set-user-
       ID; similarly, the effective group ID is copied to the saved set-group-
       ID.  This copying takes place after any effective ID changes that occur
       because of the set-user-ID and set-group-ID mode bits.

       The process's real UID and real GID, as well its supplementary group
       IDs, are unchanged by a call to execve().

       If the executable is an a.out dynamically linked binary executable
       containing shared-library stubs, the Linux dynamic linker ld.so(8) is
       called at the start of execution to bring needed shared objects into
       memory and link the executable with them.

       If the executable is a dynamically linked ELF executable, the
       interpreter named in the PT_INTERP segment is used to load the needed
       shared objects.  This interpreter is typically /lib/ld-linux.so.2 for
       binaries linked with glibc (see ld-linux.so(8)).

       All process attributes are preserved during an execve(), except the

       *  The dispositions of any signals that are being caught are reset to
          the default (signal(7)).

       *  Any alternate signal stack is not preserved (sigaltstack(2)).

       *  Memory mappings are not preserved (mmap(2)).

       *  Attached System V shared memory segments are detached (shmat(2)).

       *  POSIX shared memory regions are unmapped (shm_open(3)).

       *  Open POSIX message queue descriptors are closed (mq_overview(7)).

       *  Any open POSIX named semaphores are closed (sem_overview(7)).

       *  POSIX timers are not preserved (timer_create(2)).

       *  Any open directory streams are closed (opendir(3)).

       *  Memory locks are not preserved (mlock(2), mlockall(2)).

       *  Exit handlers are not preserved (atexit(3), on_exit(3)).

       *  The floating-point environment is reset to the default (see

       The process attributes in the preceding list are all specified in
       POSIX.1.  The following Linux-specific process attributes are also not
       preserved during an execve():

       *  The prctl(2) PR_SET_DUMPABLE flag is set, unless a set-user-ID or
          set-group ID program is being executed, in which case it is cleared.

       *  The prctl(2) PR_SET_KEEPCAPS flag is cleared.

       *  (Since Linux 2.4.36 / 2.6.23) If a set-user-ID or set-group-ID
          program is being executed, then the parent death signal set by
          prctl(2) PR_SET_PDEATHSIG flag is cleared.

       *  The process name, as set by prctl(2) PR_SET_NAME (and displayed by
          ps -o comm), is reset to the name of the new executable file.

       *  The SECBIT_KEEP_CAPS securebits flag is cleared.  See

       *  The termination signal is reset to SIGCHLD (see clone(2)).

       *  The file descriptor table is unshared, undoing the effect of the
          CLONE_FILES flag of clone(2).

       Note the following further points:

       *  All threads other than the calling thread are destroyed during an
          execve().  Mutexes, condition variables, and other pthreads objects
          are not preserved.

       *  The equivalent of setlocale(LC_ALL, "C") is executed at program

       *  POSIX.1 specifies that the dispositions of any signals that are
          ignored or set to the default are left unchanged.  POSIX.1 specifies
          one exception: if SIGCHLD is being ignored, then an implementation
          may leave the disposition unchanged or reset it to the default;
          Linux does the former.

       *  Any outstanding asynchronous I/O operations are canceled
          (aio_read(3), aio_write(3)).

       *  For the handling of capabilities during execve(), see

       *  By default, file descriptors remain open across an execve().  File
          descriptors that are marked close-on-exec are closed; see the
          description of FD_CLOEXEC in fcntl(2).  (If a file descriptor is
          closed, this will cause the release of all record locks obtained on
          the underlying file by this process.  See fcntl(2) for details.)
          POSIX.1 says that if file descriptors 0, 1, and 2 would otherwise be
          closed after a successful execve(), and the process would gain
          privilege because the set-user-ID or set-group_ID mode bit was set
          on the executed file, then the system may open an unspecified file
          for each of these file descriptors.  As a general principle, no
          portable program, whether privileged or not, can assume that these
          three file descriptors will remain closed across an execve().

   Interpreter scripts
       An interpreter script is a text file that has execute permission
       enabled and whose first line is of the form:

           #! interpreter [optional-arg]

       The interpreter must be a valid pathname for an executable file.  If
       the pathname argument of execve() specifies an interpreter script, then
       interpreter will be invoked with the following arguments:

           interpreter [optional-arg] pathname arg...

       where arg...  is the series of words pointed to by the argv argument of
       execve(), starting at argv[1].

       For portable use, optional-arg should either be absent, or be specified
       as a single word (i.e., it should not contain white space); see NOTES

       Since Linux 2.6.28, the kernel permits the interpreter of a script to
       itself be a script.  This permission is recursive, up to a limit of
       four recursions, so that the interpreter may be a script which is
       interpreted by a script, and so on.

   Limits on size of arguments and environment
       Most UNIX implementations impose some limit on the total size of the
       command-line argument (argv) and environment (envp) strings that may be
       passed to a new program.  POSIX.1 allows an implementation to advertise
       this limit using the ARG_MAX constant (either defined in <limits.h> or
       available at run time using the call sysconf(_SC_ARG_MAX)).

       On Linux prior to kernel 2.6.23, the memory used to store the
       environment and argument strings was limited to 32 pages (defined by
       the kernel constant MAX_ARG_PAGES).  On architectures with a 4-kB page
       size, this yields a maximum size of 128 kB.

       On kernel 2.6.23 and later, most architectures support a size limit
       derived from the soft RLIMIT_STACK resource limit (see getrlimit(2))
       that is in force at the time of the execve() call.  (Architectures with
       no memory management unit are excepted: they maintain the limit that
       was in effect before kernel 2.6.23.)  This change allows programs to
       have a much larger argument and/or environment list.  For these
       architectures, the total size is limited to 1/4 of the allowed stack
       size.  (Imposing the 1/4-limit ensures that the new program always has
       some stack space.)  Additionally, the total size is limited to 3/4 of
       the value of the kernel constant _STK_LIM (8 Mibibytes).  Since Linux
       2.6.25, the kernel also places a floor of 32 pages on this size limit,
       so that, even when RLIMIT_STACK is set very low, applications are
       guaranteed to have at least as much argument and environment space as
       was provided by Linux 2.6.23 and earlier.  (This guarantee was not
       provided in Linux 2.6.23 and 2.6.24.)  Additionally, the limit per
       string is 32 pages (the kernel constant MAX_ARG_STRLEN), and the
       maximum number of strings is 0x7FFFFFFF.

       On success, execve() does not return, on error -1 is returned, and
       errno is set appropriately.

       E2BIG  The total number of bytes in the environment (envp) and argument
              list (argv) is too large.

       EACCES Search permission is denied on a component of the path prefix of
              pathname or the name of a script interpreter.  (See also

       EACCES The file or a script interpreter is not a regular file.

       EACCES Execute permission is denied for the file or a script or ELF

       EACCES The filesystem is mounted noexec.

       EAGAIN (since Linux 3.1)
              Having changed its real UID using one of the set*uid() calls,
              the caller was—and is now still—above its RLIMIT_NPROC resource
              limit (see setrlimit(2)).  For a more detailed explanation of
              this error, see NOTES.

       EFAULT pathname or one of the pointers in the vectors argv or envp
              points outside your accessible address space.

       EINVAL An ELF executable had more than one PT_INTERP segment (i.e.,
              tried to name more than one interpreter).

       EIO    An I/O error occurred.

       EISDIR An ELF interpreter was a directory.

              An ELF interpreter was not in a recognized format.

       ELOOP  Too many symbolic links were encountered in resolving pathname
              or the name of a script or ELF interpreter.

       ELOOP  The maximum recursion limit was reached during recursive script
              interpretation (see "Interpreter scripts", above).  Before Linux
              3.8, the error produced for this case was ENOEXEC.

       EMFILE The per-process limit on the number of open file descriptors has
              been reached.

              pathname is too long.

       ENFILE The system-wide limit on the total number of open files has been

       ENOENT The file pathname or a script or ELF interpreter does not exist,
              or a shared library needed for the file or interpreter cannot be

              An executable is not in a recognized format, is for the wrong
              architecture, or has some other format error that means it
              cannot be executed.

       ENOMEM Insufficient kernel memory was available.

              A component of the path prefix of pathname or a script or ELF
              interpreter is not a directory.

       EPERM  The filesystem is mounted nosuid, the user is not the superuser,
              and the file has the set-user-ID or set-group-ID bit set.

       EPERM  The process is being traced, the user is not the superuser and
              the file has the set-user-ID or set-group-ID bit set.

       EPERM  A "capability-dumb" applications would not obtain the full set
              of permitted capabilities granted by the executable file.  See

              The specified executable was open for writing by one or more

       POSIX.1-2001, POSIX.1-2008, SVr4, 4.3BSD.  POSIX does not document the
       #! behavior, but it exists (with some variations) on other UNIX

       One sometimes sees execve() (and the related functions described in
       exec(3)) described as "executing a new process" (or similar).  This is
       a highly misleading description: there is no new process; many
       attributes of the calling process remain unchanged (in particular, its
       PID).  All that execve(2) does is arrange for an existing process (the
       calling process) to execute a new program.

       Set-user-ID and set-group-ID processes can not be ptrace(2)d.

       The result of mounting a filesystem nosuid varies across Linux kernel
       versions: some will refuse execution of set-user-ID and set-group-ID
       executables when this would give the user powers they did not have
       already (and return EPERM), some will just ignore the set-user-ID and
       set-group-ID bits and exec() successfully.

       On Linux, argv and envp can be specified as NULL.  In both cases, this
       has the same effect as specifying the argument as a pointer to a list
       containing a single null pointer.  Do not take advantage of this
       nonstandard and nonportable misfeature!  On many other UNIX systems,
       specifying argv as NULL will result in an error (EFAULT).  Some other
       UNIX systems treat the envp==NULL case the same as Linux.

       POSIX.1 says that values returned by sysconf(3) should be invariant
       over the lifetime of a process.  However, since Linux 2.6.23, if the
       RLIMIT_STACK resource limit changes, then the value reported by
       _SC_ARG_MAX will also change, to reflect the fact that the limit on
       space for holding command-line arguments and environment variables has

       In most cases where execve() fails, control returns to the original
       executable image, and the caller of execve() can then handle the error.
       However, in (rare) cases (typically caused by resource exhaustion),
       failure may occur past the point of no return: the original executable
       image has been torn down, but the new image could not be completely
       built.  In such cases, the kernel kills the process with a SIGKILL

   Interpreter scripts
       A maximum line length of 127 characters is allowed for the first line
       in an interpreter script.

       The semantics of the optional-arg argument of an interpreter script
       vary across implementations.  On Linux, the entire string following the
       interpreter name is passed as a single argument to the interpreter, and
       this string can include white space.  However, behavior differs on some
       other systems.  Some systems use the first white space to terminate
       optional-arg.  On some systems, an interpreter script can have multiple
       arguments, and white spaces in optional-arg are used to delimit the

       Linux ignores the set-user-ID and set-group-ID bits on scripts.

   execve() and EAGAIN
       A more detailed explanation of the EAGAIN error that can occur (since
       Linux 3.1) when calling execve() is as follows.

       The EAGAIN error can occur when a preceding call to setuid(2),
       setreuid(2), or setresuid(2) caused the real user ID of the process to
       change, and that change caused the process to exceed its RLIMIT_NPROC
       resource limit (i.e., the number of processes belonging to the new real
       UID exceeds the resource limit).  From Linux 2.6.0 to 3.0, this caused
       the set*uid() call to fail.  (Prior to 2.6, the resource limit was not
       imposed on processes that changed their user IDs.)

       Since Linux 3.1, the scenario just described no longer causes the
       set*uid() call to fail, because it too often led to security holes
       where buggy applications didn't check the return status and assumed
       that—if the caller had root privileges—the call would always succeed.
       Instead, the set*uid() calls now successfully change the real UID, but
       the kernel sets an internal flag, named PF_NPROC_EXCEEDED, to note that
       the RLIMIT_NPROC resource limit has been exceeded.  If the
       PF_NPROC_EXCEEDED flag is set and the resource limit is still exceeded
       at the time of a subsequent execve() call, that call fails with the
       error EAGAIN.  This kernel logic ensures that the RLIMIT_NPROC resource
       limit is still enforced for the common privileged daemon workflow—
       namely, fork(2) + set*uid() + execve().

       If the resource limit was not still exceeded at the time of the
       execve() call (because other processes belonging to this real UID
       terminated between the set*uid() call and the execve() call), then the
       execve() call succeeds and the kernel clears the PF_NPROC_EXCEEDED
       process flag.  The flag is also cleared if a subsequent call to fork(2)
       by this process succeeds.

       With UNIX V6, the argument list of an exec() call was ended by 0, while
       the argument list of main was ended by -1.  Thus, this argument list
       was not directly usable in a further exec() call.  Since UNIX V7, both
       are NULL.

       The following program is designed to be execed by the second program
       below.  It just echoes its command-line arguments, one per line.

           /* myecho.c */

           #include <stdio.h>
           #include <stdlib.h>

           main(int argc, char *argv[])
               int j;

               for (j = 0; j < argc; j++)
                   printf("argv[%d]: %s\n", j, argv[j]);


       This program can be used to exec the program named in its command-line

           /* execve.c */

           #include <stdio.h>
           #include <stdlib.h>
           #include <unistd.h>

           main(int argc, char *argv[])
               char *newargv[] = { NULL, "hello", "world", NULL };
               char *newenviron[] = { NULL };

               if (argc != 2) {
                   fprintf(stderr, "Usage: %s <file-to-exec>\n", argv[0]);

               newargv[0] = argv[1];

               execve(argv[1], newargv, newenviron);
               perror("execve");   /* execve() returns only on error */

       We can use the second program to exec the first as follows:

           $ cc myecho.c -o myecho
           $ cc execve.c -o execve
           $ ./execve ./myecho
           argv[0]: ./myecho
           argv[1]: hello
           argv[2]: world

       We can also use these programs to demonstrate the use of a script
       interpreter.  To do this we create a script whose "interpreter" is our
       myecho program:

           $ cat > script
           #!./myecho script-arg
           $ chmod +x script

       We can then use our program to exec the script:

           $ ./execve ./script
           argv[0]: ./myecho
           argv[1]: script-arg
           argv[2]: ./script
           argv[3]: hello
           argv[4]: world

       chmod(2), execveat(2), fork(2), get_robust_list(2), ptrace(2), exec(3),
       fexecve(3), getopt(3), system(3), credentials(7), environ(7),
       path_resolution(7), ld.so(8)

       This page is part of release 5.01 of the Linux man-pages project.  A
       description of the project, information about reporting bugs, and the
       latest version of this page, can be found at

Linux                             2019-05-09                         EXECVE(2)