execve - execute program


#include <unistd.h>

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


execve() executes the program pointed to by filename. filename must be either a binary executable, or a script starting with a line of the form "#! interpreter [arg]". In the latter case, the interpreter must be a valid pathname for an executable which is not itself a script, which will be invoked as interpreter [arg] filename.

argv is an array of argument strings passed to the new program. envp is an array of strings, conventionally of the form key=value, which are passed as environment to the new program. Both argv and envp must be terminated by a null pointer. 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[]).

execve() does not return on success, and the text, data, bss, and stack of the calling process are overwritten by that of the program loaded.

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

If the set-user-ID bit is set on the program file pointed to by filename, and the calling process is not being ptraced, 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 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 permission bits.

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 libraries 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 libraries. This interpreter is typically /lib/ld-linux.so.1 for binaries linked with the Linux libc version 5, or /lib/ld-linux.so.2 for binaries linked with the GNU libc version 2.

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

File descriptors that are marked close-on-exec are closed (see the description of FD_CLOEXEC in fcntl(2)).
The set of pending signals is cleared (sigpending(2)).
The dispositions of any signals that are being caught are reset to being ignored.
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(3)).
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 process attributes in the preceding list are all specified in POSIX.1-2001. 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.
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 termination signal is reset to SIGCHLD (see clone(2)).

Note the following further points:

All threads other than 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 start-up.
POSIX.1-2001 specifies that the dispositions of any signals that are ignored or set to the default are left unchanged. POSIX.1-2001 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 cancelled (aio_read(3), aio_write(3)).
For the handling of capabilities during execve(2), see capabilities(7).


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


The total number of bytes in the environment (envp) and argument list (argv) is too large.
Search permission is denied on a component of the path prefix of filename or the name of a script interpreter. (See also path_resolution(2).)
The file or a script interpreter is not a regular file.
Execute permission is denied for the file or a script or ELF interpreter.
The file system is mounted noexec.
filename points outside your accessible address space.
An ELF executable had more than one PT_INTERP segment (i.e., tried to name more than one interpreter).
An I/O error occurred.
An ELF interpreter was a directory.
An ELF interpreter was not in a recognised format.
Too many symbolic links were encountered in resolving filename or the name of a script or ELF interpreter.
The process has the maximum number of files open.
filename is too long.
The system limit on the total number of open files has been reached.
The file filename or a script or ELF interpreter does not exist, or a shared library needed for file or interpreter cannot be found.
An executable is not in a recognised format, is for the wrong architecture, or has some other format error that means it cannot be executed.
Insufficient kernel memory was available.
A component of the path prefix of filename or a script or ELF interpreter is not a directory.
The file system is mounted nosuid, the user is not the superuser, and the file has the set-user-ID or set-group-ID bit set.
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.
Executable was open for writing by one or more processes.


SVr4, 4.3BSD, POSIX.1-2001. POSIX.1-2001 does not document the #! behavior but is otherwise compatible.


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

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

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

A maximum line length of 127 characters is allowed for the first line in a #! executable shell script.


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.


chmod(2), fork(2), path_resolution(2), ptrace(2), execl(3), fexecve(3), environ(7), ld.so(8)