bc - Linux


The bc (Basic Calculator) command in Linux is an arbitrary precision calculator language. It supports interactive execution of statements and can be used to execute calculations from a script or within a command-line interface. Its primary usage includes mathematical operations for floating point numbers, scaling, and user-defined functions. It is especially useful for complex mathematical calculations, scripting, and situations where precision control is necessary.


The basic syntax of bc is as follows:

bc [options] [file...]
  • file: Refers to a file containing bc language instructions. If no file is specified, bc operates in interactive mode.


  • -i, --interactive: Forces bc to run in interactive mode, which is useful when combined with scripts.
  • -l, --mathlib: Used to define the standard math library. This option is required to use mathematical functions like sine, cosine, etc.
  • -w, --warn: Gives warnings for POSIX bc extensions which are GNU extensions.
  • -s, --standard: This option ensures strict adherence to the POSIX standard, disabling all GNU extensions.
  • -q, --quiet: Suppresses the welcome message of bc during startup.
  • -v, --version: Displays version information for bc and exits.
  • -h, --help: Displays a help message and exits.


  1. Simple Calculation:

    echo "2 + 3" | bc

    This will output 5.

  2. Using Math Library:

    echo "scale=4; s(1)" | bc -l

    Computes the sine of 1 radian with precision up to 4 decimal places.

  3. Interactive Mode Calculation:

    bc -i

    Starts bc in interactive mode where you can enter calculations manually.

  4. Complex Expressions:

    bc <<< "scale=4; ((a=2.5+3.5*2)*3-(5/2))"

    A complex expression being calculated directly via shell redirection.

Common Issues

  • Precision Issues: Users sometimes forget to set the scale (number of decimal places), resulting in rounding off. This can be controlled by setting the scale value at the beginning, such as scale=10;.
  • Script Mode Errors: While using bc in scripts, forgetting to echo the instructions can result in no output or incorrect behavior.


You can combine bc with shell scripts or other commands to perform complex operations. For example:

result=$(echo "scale=2; 50/1234" | bc)
echo "The result is $result"

This script calculates a division, stores the result in a variable, and then prints it.

  • awk: Often used for similar types of numeric operations within text processing tasks.
  • expr: Utilized for integer-based calculations and evaluations within shell scripts.

For additional information, users can consult the GNU bc manual available online or check the man page on their system using man bc.