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No programming language is perfect. There is not even a single best language; there are only languages well suited or perhaps poorly suited for particular purposes.
A working knowledge of shell scripting is essential to anyone
wishing to become reasonably proficient at system administration,
even if they do not anticipate ever having to actually write a
script. Consider that as a Linux machine boots up, it executes the
shell scripts in
to restore the system configuration and set up services. A detailed
understanding of these startup scripts is important for analyzing
the behavior of a system, and possibly modifying it.
The craft of scripting is not hard to master, since the scripts can be built in bite-sized sections and there is only a fairly small set of shell-specific operators and options  to learn. The syntax is simple and straightforward, similar to that of invoking and chaining together utilities at the command line, and there are only a few "rules" governing their use. Most short scripts work right the first time, and debugging even the longer ones is straightforward.
A shell script is a quick-and-dirty method of prototyping a complex application. Getting even a limited subset of the functionality to work in a script is often a useful first stage in project development. This way, the structure of the application can be tested and played with, and the major pitfalls found before proceeding to the final coding in C, C++, Java, Perl, or Python.
Shell scripting hearkens back to the classic UNIX philosophy of breaking complex projects into simpler subtasks, of chaining together components and utilities. Many consider this a better, or at least more esthetically pleasing approach to problem solving than using one of the new generation of high powered all-in-one languages, such as Perl, which attempt to be all things to all people, but at the cost of forcing you to alter your thinking processes to fit the tool.
According to Herbert Mayer, "a useful language needs arrays, pointers, and a generic mechanism for building data structures." By these criteria, shell scripting falls somewhat short of being "useful." Or, perhaps not. . . .
When not to use shell scripts
If any of the above applies, consider a more powerful scripting language -- perhaps Perl, Tcl, Python, Ruby -- or possibly a compiled language such as C, C++, or Java. Even then, prototyping the application as a shell script might still be a useful development step.
We will be using Bash, an acronym for "Bourne-Again shell" and a pun on Stephen Bourne's now classic Bourne shell. Bash has become a de facto standard for shell scripting on most flavors of UNIX. Most of the principles this book covers apply equally well to scripting with other shells, such as the Korn Shell, from which Bash derives some of its features,  and the C Shell and its variants. (Note that C Shell programming is not recommended due to certain inherent problems, as pointed out in an October, 1993 Usenet post by Tom Christiansen.)
What follows is a tutorial on shell scripting. It relies
heavily on examples to illustrate various features of the shell.
The example scripts work -- they've been tested, insofar as was
possible -- and some of them are even useful in real life. The
reader can play with the actual working code of the examples
in the source archive (
give them execute permission
chmod u+rx scriptname),
then run them to see what happens. Should the source
archive not be available, then cut-and-paste from the HTML or
rendered versions. Be aware that some of the scripts presented here
introduce features before they are explained, and this may require
the reader to temporarily skip ahead for enlightenment.
Unless otherwise noted, the author of this book wrote the example scripts that follow.
His countenance was bold and bashed not.
These are referred to as builtins, features internal to the shell.
Many of the features of ksh88, and even a few from the updated ksh93 have been merged into Bash.
By convention, user-written shell scripts that are
Bourne shell compliant generally take a name with a