Bash vs. Python: Which Scripting Language is Right for Your IT Needs?

One of the many things I've enjoyed doing in my career is sharing knowledge and my experiences, whether its directly through teaching someone something via a project I worked on, helping them with something of their own, or from sharing experiences and lessons learned after 20 years in the IT industry. I believe that knowledge is power, and I love sharing what I have learned. 


Bash Vs. Python Scripting Language


One of the challenges I had early on in my scripting journey was figuring out which scripting languages I should use and how to get started. I started out learning various shells – batch / command shell on windows and Bash shell on Linux as they were already installed by default and simple to learn. As I got further along in my career, I recognized the importance of having the right tool for the job, while I could script many things in Bash, it wasn't always the right tool. Over the years, I've used and experimented with a variety of scripting languages, however for this blog post, I'm going to talk about Bash and Python. 


Scripting with Bash 

Despite Bash being old, it is still very much worthwhile to learn and understand.  Bash is everywhere and is by default on most distributions of Linux. Bash is easy to pick up and learn. It is a fantastic way to automate tasks that you perform regularly - anything you can run in a terminal you can incorporate as part of your Bash script. Since Bash is already part of Linux, you can execute scripts you write without the need to install additional packages. This makes Bash relevant in modern solutions such as cloud instances (AWS/Azure) or in container technology by way of startup scripts which are still written in shell. 

You can write shell scripts in a variety of ways, from very simple commands to utilizing functions and logic within your scripts. You can also make them more complex by using functions as part of your scripts (or Bash environment entirely). This is a great way to begin getting comfortable if you want to dive into more complex programming languages. Functions are a great way to reduce repetition in your scripts and can make future maintenance easier, as there is less to update when making design changes. Bash scripts can include predefined variables, arguments passed into variables from the command line, or values read in from a script that is loaded upon runtime. Bash supports various logic operators as well like loops, conditionals and comparison operations. 


Python: A Powerful and Flexible Alternative 

Python can solve similar tasks to Bash but in a different way and can utilize more complicated and rich operations. Python is an interpreted and object-oriented language. Python has modules you can load in and additional plugins that can be installed to increase functionality. Scripting in python can be more complicated to learn and isn't always installed by default on a system, but it is incredibly powerful. Some problems that you’ll come across will require a language like python because they involve tasks that cannot be accomplished by Bash. Some other cases that I've come across in my career where Python won out over Bash have been when I've had to work with APIs or when working with large datasets (multi-GB’s) of text that required complex data manipulation.  


Comparing Python and Bash 

Python is an easier to read language over Bash because Python enforces structure. Python is written with indentation blocks which can be easier to read compared to the line-based syntax that Bash follows. Python is also an object-oriented scripting language and can work with API’s utilizing loaded in modules that you can download to increase Pythons’ capabilities. This makes working with cloud native objects a lot more powerful than Bash. Python allows you to perform operations on objects and access all related data easily within your program, whereas Bash is more static and less flexible in handling these tasks. 

Here is a basic example of the differences between the two languages: 












# Create instance 

aws ec2 run-instances –image-id ${AWS_AMI_ID} –instance-type ${AWS_INSTANCE_TYPE} –subnet-id ${AWS_SUBNET_ID} –security-group-ids ${AWS_SEC_GROUP} –key-name ${AWS_KEY_PAIR} 




Import boto3 

AWS_ACCESS_KEY = ”UniqueAccessKey” 

AWS_SECRET_KEY = “UniqueSecretKey” 

AWS_AMI_ID = “ChosenInstanceID” 

AWS_INSTANCE_TYPE = “t2.micro” 


AWS_KEY_PAIR = ”UniqueKeyPair” 


# Create instance 

ec2 = boto3.resource(‘ec2’) 

instance = ec2.create_instances(ImageId=${AWS_AMI_ID}, InstanceType=${AWS_INSTANCE_TYPE},SubnetId=${AWS_SUBNET_ID},SecurityGroupIds=${AWS_SEC_GROUP}, KeyName=${AWS_KEY_PAIR} 


The variable definition syntax does not change much, but the launching of the AWS instance is different. In Bash, there are no modules that can be loaded in to augment how Bash interacts with Python. Bash can use command line tools to run the same commands you’d run from an interactive CLI. In Python, we use the boto3 module and use the create_instances() method of that resource to launch an instance using the variables we defined.  

This is a basic example, but it does highlight one of the big differences in how Python uses objects, with Bash being more of a command / static language. Python has a more explicit syntax than Bash, which makes it easier to read, especially when dealing with longer programs. Python code is written in indentation blocks whereas Bash is simply line-based syntax. Python and Bash can both deal with data sets, but Python has a much wider range that it can work with at scale. Bash and Python are both good at working with plain text and small arrays, but once you start working with more structured data like Json and xml, Python will be able to understand and iterate on datatypes in ways that Bash cannot. 

Bash and Python are negligible with regards to performance differences when it comes to small scale scripting and doing basic tasks, however Bash becomes quickly outgrown once you start dealing with larger text files and needing to manipulate data in more complicated ways. This is because Python has a more efficient implementation of many common tasks, such as string manipulation and file I/O. 

Additionally, Python's garbage collection mechanism can help to reduce the amount of time spent on memory management, which can lead to better overall performance. On the other hand, Bash is designed for text processing and scripting tasks, and it has several built-in commands that make it well-suited for these types of tasks. Although Bash may not be as fast as Python for large-scale data processing tasks. 


Choosing the Right Tool 

Scripting is a lot of fun and it's one of my favorite parts about working in technology. It's a great way to express yourself creatively and write good, clean code. Ensuring that you have proper formatting with clean and legible comments is critical to ensuring that your code is easy to maintain and read. Python is a fun language! While both Python and Bash are powerful programming languages with a wide range of applications, there are some key differences between the two languages that make them better suited for different types of tasks. Python is generally preferred for beginners who are learning programming languages due to its explicit syntax, rich data types, and support for functions and modules. On the other hand, Bash is a more lightweight language that is well-suited for text processing and scripting tasks, which can be useful for automating repetitive tasks or building simple scripts. Ultimately, the choice between Python and Bash will depend on your specific needs and preferences – both are excellent beginner languages. 

Being able to think through a problem is creative. How do you solve it? There are so many ways to solve a coding challenge - it's up to the programmer to design the solution using whatever solution they feel is best for the job. Scripting and programming feel empowering. You can create something from nothing and solve complicated problems by deconstructing them into smaller, easier to understand parts. You can be creative in how effectively and efficiently you write your code utilizing methods, functions, variables and other data structures to reduce the amount of redundancy in what you write.   


At iuvo, we’ve helped our clients with all kinds of scripting and coding challenges. We would be happy to help you with any of your scripting challenges. If you have questions on how to automate anything, we are available to discuss all your company’s needs, contact us! 


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