exec() executes the given command, however it does not output anything. It simply returns the last line from the result of the command. If you need to execute a command and have all the data from the command passed directly back without any interference, use the passthru() function.
If the array argument is present, then the specified array will be filled with every line of output from the command. Note that if the array already contains some elements, exec() will append to the end of the array. If you do not want the function to append elements, call unset() on the array before passing it to exec().
If the return_var argument is present along with the array argument, then the return status of the executed command will be written to this variable.
Note that if you are going to allow data coming from user input to be passed to this function, then you should be using escapeshellcmd() to make sure that users cannot trick the system into executing arbitrary commands.
Note also that if you start a program using this function and want to leave it running in the background, you have to make sure that the output of that program is redirected to a file or some other output stream or else PHP will hang until the execution of the program ends.