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What Is the Shell

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Typing Commands to the Shell

When the shell starts up, it displays a command prompt—typically a dollar sign $—at your terminal and then waits for you to type in a command (see Figure 3.6, Steps 1 and 2). Each time you type in a command and press the Enter key (Step 3), the shell analyzes the line you typed and then proceeds to carry out your request (Step 4). If you ask it to execute a particular program, the shell searches the disk until it finds the named program. When found, the shell asks the kernel to initiate the program's execution and then the shell "goes to sleep" until the program has finished (Step 5). The kernel copies the specified program into memory and begins its execution. This copied program is called a process; in this way, the distinction is made between a program that is kept in a file on the disk and a process that is in memory doing things.

If the program writes output to standard output, it will appear at your terminal unless redirected or piped into another command. Similarly, if the program reads input from standard input, it will wait for you to type in input unless redirected from a file or piped from another command (Step 6).

When the command finishes execution, control once again returns to the shell, which awaits your next command (Steps 7 and 8).

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 Command cycle.

Note that this cycle continues as long as you're logged in. When you log off the system, execution of the shell then terminates and the Unix system starts up a new getty (or rlogind, and so on) at the terminal and waits for someone else to log in. This cycle is illustrated in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 Login cycle.

It's important for you to recognize that the shell is just a program. It has no special privileges on the system, meaning that anyone with the capability and devotion can create his own shell program. This is in fact the reason why various flavors of the shell exist today, including the older Bourne shell, developed by Stephen Bourne; the Korn shell, developed by David Korn; the "Bourne again shell," mainly used on Linux systems; and the C shell, developed by Bill Joy.

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