Extended Lua Hashbang - Portable Lua Scripts

So you have a lua file, and you want to be able to run it from the command line like ./your_script.lua. In languages like python or ruby you would accomplish this by adding #!/usr/bin/env ruby or #!/usr/bin/env python as the first line of the file. The #! magic pattern, known as a shebang (sheh-bang) or hashbang, tells linux to use a specific command to execute the file. You can do this in Lua too, but it’s not the most portable option.

If you use #!/usr/bin/env lua, it’ll work just fine as long as a program named lua exists. However, some people use an alternative lua implementation called LuaJIT. LuaJIT provides an executable named luajit, so the simple shebang won’t find it unless the person running your code has added lua as an alias to luajit. If your code is compatible with both the reference Lua and LuaJIT, it’s nice to make your script work with both out of the box.

The following solution is modified from code by William Ahern on the lua-l mailing list. This will search $PATH for lua, lua5*, and luajit*, executing the script with first one it finds:

for dir in $PATH; do
    for lua in "$dir"/lua "$dir"/lua5* "$dir"/luajit*; do
        if [ -x "$lua" ]; then
            exec "$lua" "$0" "$@"
printf '%s: no lua found\n' "$0" >&2
exit 1

-- Now we're running lua code
print("lua code here!")

So there you have it. Add those 14 lines at the top of your lua script, mark it as executable with chmod +x your_script.lua, and you’re done! You can now run ./your_script.lua as a command on a system with lua or a system with luajit.

We’ll get into this in the next section, but that’s just linux shell script code at the top there. You could extend this solution even further to do fun things like auto-installing dependencies with luarocks.

Wow, how does that even work?

First, notice our hashbang is #!/bin/sh, so linux is actually going to run this file as if it’s a shell script. When running as a shell script, the code searches for an available lua interpreter on the system, and then re-executes the file as a lua script. Our code therefore means two things in two different programming languages!

Let’s break this down.

When running as /bin/sh:

Then, when running as lua code:

There’s one other nuance of shell scripts that makes this work. Most scripting languages these days will try to parse an entire file before running any of it. A language like that won’t run your code if there’s syntax errors anywhere in the file. So, given most lua probably isn’t going to be valid shell script code, why does this trick work?

Well, sh and derivatives like bash work differently. They parse the file line by line as they execute, instead of parsing the whole thing at once. That means they don’t care if you have a syntax error half way down the file; if they never get to that line of code then the error doesn’t exist! Tools like makeself even use this behavior to create self-extracting tar files, by adding a small shell script to the beginning of the tar file that extracts the rest of it.

And that’s it! That’s all the magic. Now go write some lua scripts!