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Nikolai Bezroukov. Portraits of Open Source Pioneers
For readers with high sensitivity to grammar errors access to this page is not recommended :-)
Appendix 1: Shell History by John Mashey
Appendix 2: An Introduction to the C shell by William Joy (revised for 4.3BSD by Mark Seiden)
Appendix 3: An Introduction to the UNIX Shell by S. R. Bourne.
The book Life with Unix by Don Libes and Sandy Ressler is a fascinating reading for anyone interested in Unix in general and scripting history in particular. It covers a lot of the history, interactions, etc. Much in the present section is summarized from this book. Some interesting info is in UNIX FAQ.
As most of the readers know, Unix history goes back to 1969 and the famous "little-used PDP-7 in a corner" on which Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie (the R in K&R), and others after being exiled from Multics started work on replicating Multics development environment, which later was to become Unix.
But what is less known and appreciated is the fact that Ken Thompson was also the author of the first UNIX shell and that concepts of this shell greatly influenced the subsequent work of John Mashey and Stephen Bourne. Influenced to the extent that John Mashey actually objected to calling his shell Mashey shell considering it to be a direct extension of Thompson shell.
The name "Unix" was intended as a pun on Multics (and was written "Unics" at first, for UNiplexed Information and Computing System). As Ch 9 of the Netizens Netbook ( On the Early History and Impact of Unix Tools to Build the Tools for a New Millenium) aptly stated:
When AT&T made the decision to pull out of the Multics collaboration, they took the research operating system off their GE 645 computer and put up the GECOS operating system. Though GECOS was adequate for applications, it was "nowhere near as satisfactory if you were trying to do things that were technically difficult and imperfectly defined," explained Vyssotsky, "which is the main task of research."(23)
For the pioneering work of Bell Labs research programmers like Ken Thompson and the research purposes of the Labs, an operating system more like what Multics had promised was needed. Along with the advantages of immediate feedback which time-sharing provided, the Bell Labs researchers wanted to continue the ability to work collaboratively which time-sharing had made possible.
As Dennis Ritchie aptly stated:
"What we wanted to preserve, was not just a good programming environment in which to do programming, but a system around which a fellowship could form. We knew from experience that the essence of communal computing, as supplied by remote-access, time-shared machines, is not just to type programs into a terminal instead of a keypunch, but to encourage close communication."(24)
Ritchie describes how an informal group led by Thompson had begun investigating alternatives to Multics before the GE-645 Multics machine had been removed from the Labs.(25) Thompson and Ritchie presented Bell Labs with proposals to buy them a computer so they could build their own interactive, time-sharing operating system. Their proposals weren't acted on. Eventually, Thompson found a little used PDP-7 computer. As Vyssotsky noted, the orphaned PDP-7 computer was extremely small computer, a machine, "more in the class of a Commodore 64 than the class of a PC-AT."(26)
For the first 10 years, Unix development was essentially confined to Bell Labs and most scripting related work was also done in New Jersey. The initial versions of Unix were labeled "Version n" or "Nth Edition" (of the manuals) and some milestones in shell history are directly related to particular Unix releases.
The first major Unix implementation was for DEC's PDP-11 (16 bits) which was much better then PDP-7, bu still very tiny by today's hardware standards (typical configuration were limited to 128K memory, 2.4M disc, 64K per-process limit (inc the kernel)) that similar configurations on watches, not even cell phones ;-). The fact that they managed to created pretty powerful shells for such a computer is nothing but simply amazing and attests tremendous ingenuity of Unix development team.
Bell Labs Piscataway used the PWB shell quite heavily for its scripting needs in the mid-1970s and that probably was the first time a scripting language was widely used outside research. Rephrasing John R. Mashey quote "UNIX is a lever for the intellect" we can say that "Scripting is a level for the intellect".
The "PWB Shell" first appeared in mid-1975. It derived from a set of requirements and suggestions from me in early 1975 in trying to do serious shell programming. In mid-1975, the shell acquired variables, including 3 that were derived from per-process data. This is where the idea of more generalized path- searching came in. Some of the existing support commands were beefed up, including if/else/endif. Most of this work was done by Alan Glasser or Dick Haight. I ended up taking this over, doing performance analysis, moving most of the control structure commands into the shell, adding switch,, while, etc. etc. By this time there was serious shell programming in massive amounts. This had mostly stabilized by early/mid 1976, although a few more features were added in early 1977. For various reasons this came to be called the "Mashey shell", a term I universally abhorred, since it was fundamentally still a Thompson shell with selected additions and tunings by various of us, constrained to be mostly upward compatible, leading to some things that I found less than esthetic. Even less than esthetic was the title of a later internal Bell Labs course: "Bourne Shell Programming for Mashey Shell Programmers". See  and .
1977. The new scripting language AWL was designed by Alfred V. Aho, Peter J. Weinberger, and Brian W. Kernighan. It was a better designed language then either Mashey shell or Bourne shell. Much better designed... It's really sad that thier efforts was not understood and extended into shell by managers of the project. I would say that this was a major blunder on Unix managers that AWK it was not extended to a full Unix shell.
_exit, access, acct, alarm, brk, chdir, chmod, chown, chroot, close, creat, dup, dup2, exec*, exit, fork, fstat, ftime, getegid, geteuid, getgid, getpid, getuid, gtty, indir, ioctl, kill, link, lock, lseek, mknod, mount, mpxcall, nice, open, pause, phys, pipe, pkoff, pkon, profil, ptrace, read, sbrk, setgid, setuid, signal, stat, stime, stty, sync, tell, time, times, umask, umount, unlink, utime, wait, write.
perl | Practical Extraction and Report Language
perl [options] filename args
Perl is a interpreted language optimized for scanning arbi
trary text files, extracting information from those text
files, and printing reports based on that information. It's
also a good language for many system management tasks. The
language is intended to be practical (easy to use, effi-
cient, complete) rather than beautiful (tiny, elegant,
minimal). It combines (in the author's opinion, anyway)
some of the best features of C, sed, awk, and sh, so people
familiar with those languages should have little difficulty
with it. (Language historians will also note some vestiges
of csh, Pascal, and even BASIC|PLUS.) Expression syntax
corresponds quite closely to C expression syntax. If you
have a problem that would ordinarily use sed or awk or sh,
but it exceeds their capabilities or must run a little fas-
ter, and you don't want to write the silly thing in C, then
perl may be for you. There are also translators to turn
your sed and awk scripts into perl scripts. OK, enough
I began work on Tk in late 1988, but it was a part-time project, so it took about two years before there was enough functionality for Tk to be useful.
... By 1989 I was using Tcl in a couple of projects, and I believe that I gave a talk on Tcl during the Berkeley Industrial Liaison Conference, where several hundred people from industry came to Berkeley to hear about research in our department. I believe that this led to invitations to give talks on Tcl at a few interested companies, and that some of the people at those talks asked if they could have copies of Tcl. In any case, I gave away a few copies of Tcl to early adopters in 1989.
In 1994 John Ousterhout joined Sun. Unfortunately Sun failed to capitalize on the chance to make TCL a standard Unix macro language the way REXX was in OS/2.
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The Last but not Least
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Last modified: September, 12, 2017