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Erlang scripting support


escript provides support for running short Erlang programs without having to compile them first and an easy way to retrieve the command line arguments.


script-name script-arg1 script-arg2...
escript escript-flags script-name script-arg1 script-arg2...

escript runs a script written in Erlang.

Here follows an example.

$ cat factorial
#!/usr/bin/env escript
%% -*- erlang -*-
%%! -smp enable -sname factorial -mnesia debug verbose
main([String]) ->
        N = list_to_integer(String),
        F = fac(N),
        io:format("factorial ~w = ~w\n", [N,F])
        _:_ ->
main(_) ->
usage() ->
    io:format("usage: factorial integer\n"),
fac(0) -> 1;
fac(N) -> N * fac(N-1).
$ factorial 5
factorial 5 = 120
$ factorial
usage: factorial integer
$ factorial five
usage: factorial integer        

The header of an Erlang script differs from a normal Erlang module. The first line is intended to be the interpreter line, which invokes escript. However if you invoke escript like this

$ escript factorial 5        

the contents of the first line does not matter, but it cannot contain Erlang code as it will be ignored.

The second line in the example, contains an optional directive to the Emacs editor which causes it to enter the major mode for editing Erlang source files. If the directive is present it must be located on the second line.

On the third line (or second line depending on the presence of the Emacs directive), it is possible to give arguments to the emulator, such as

%%! -smp enable -sname factorial -mnesia debug verbose

Such an argument line must start with %%! and the rest of the line will interpreted as arguments to the emulator.

If you know the location of the escript executable, the first line can directly give the path to escript. For instance:


As any other kind of scripts, Erlang scripts will not work on Unix platforms if the execution bit for the script file is not set. (Use chmod +x script-name to turn on the execution bit.)

The rest of the Erlang script file may either contain Erlang source code, an inlined beam file or an inlined archive file.

An Erlang script file must always contain the function main/1. When the script is run, the main/1 will be called with a list of strings representing the arguments given to the script (not changed or interpreted in any way).

If the main/1 function in the script returns successfully, the exit status for the script will be 0. If an exception is generated during execution, a short message will be printed and the script terminated with exit status 127.

To return your own non-zero exit code, call halt(ExitCode); for instance:


Call escript:script_name/0 from your to script to retrieve the pathname of the script (the pathname is usually, but not always, absolute).

If the file contains source code (as in the example above), it will be processed by the preprocessor epp. This means that you for example may use pre-defined macros (such as ?MODULE) as well as include directives like the -include_lib directive. For instance, use


to include the record definitions for the records used by the file:read_file_info/1 function.

The script will be checked for syntactic and semantic correctness before being run. If there are warnings (such as unused variables), they will be printed and the script will still be run. If there are errors, they will be printed and the script will not be run and its exit status will be 127.

Both the module declaration and the export declaration of the main/1 function are optional.

By default, the script will be interpreted. You can force it to be compiled by including the following line somewhere in the script file:


Execution of interpreted code is slower than compiled code. If much of the execution takes place in interpreted code it may be worthwile to compile it, even though the compilation itself will take a little while.

As mentioned earlier, it is possible to have a script which contains precompiled beam code. In a precompiled script, the interpretation of the script header is exactly the same as in a script containing source code. That means that you can make a beam file executable by prepending the file with the lines starting with #! and %%! mentioned above. In a precompiled script, the function main/1 must be exported.

As yet another option it is possible to have an entire Erlang archive in the script. In a archive script, the interpretation of the script header is exactly the same as in a script containing source code. That means that you can make an archive file executable by prepending the file with the lines starting with #! and %%! mentioned above. In an archive script, the function main/1 must be exported. By default the main/1 function in the module with the same name as the basename of the escript file will be invoked. This behavior can be overridden by setting the flag -escript main Module as one of the emulator flags. The Module must be the name of a module which has an exported main/1 function. See code(3) for more information about archives and code loading.


The support for loading of code from archive files is experimental. The sole purpose of releasing it before it is ready is to obtain early feedback. The file format, semantics, interfaces etc. may be changed in a future release. The flag -escript is also experimental.

Options accepted by escript

Only perform a syntactic and semantic check of the script file. Warnings and errors (if any) are written to the standard output, but the script will not be run. The exit status will be 0 if there were no errors, and 127 otherwise.

erts 5.7
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