A.2. The IEEE 1003.2 POSIX Shell Standard

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There have been many attempts to standardize UNIX. Hardware companies' monolithic attempts at market domination, fragile industry coalitions, marketing failures, and other such efforts are the stuff of history and the stuff of frustration.

Only one standardization effort has not been tied to commercial interests: the Portable Operating System Interface, known as POSIX. This effort started in 1981 with the /usr/group (now UniForum) Standards Committee, which produced the /usr/group Standard three years later. The list of contributors grew to include the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

The first POSIX standard was published in 1988. This one, called IEEE P1003.1, covers low-level issues at the system-call level. IEEE P1003.2, covering the shell, utility programs, and user interface issues, was ratified in September 1992 after a six-year effort. In September 2001, a joint revision of both standards was approved. The new standard, covering all the material in the two earlier separate documents, became known as IEEE Standard 1003.1-2001. The latest version of the standard is 1003.1-2004.

The POSIX standards were never meant to be rigid and absolute. The committee members certainly weren't about to put guns to the heads of operating system implementers and force them to adhere. Instead, the standards are designed to be flexible enough to allow for both coexistence of similar available software, so that existing code isn't in danger of obsolescence, and the addition of new features, so that vendors have the incentive to innovate. In other words, they are supposed to be the kind of third-party standards that vendors might actually be interested in following.

As a result, most UNIX vendors currently comply with both standards. bash is no exception; it is almost 100% POSIX-compliant.

The shell part of the standard describes utilities that must be present on all systems, and others that are optional, depending upon the nature of the system. One such option is the User Portability Utilities option, which defines standards for interactive shell use and interactive utilities like the vi editor. The standard on the order of 2,000 pages is available through the IEEE; for information, contact the IEEE:

IEEE Customer Service 445 Hoes Lane, PO Box 1331 Piscataway, NJ 08855-1331 (800) 678-IEEE (United States and Canada) (732) 981-0060 (international/local) (732) 981-9667 (fax) customer.service@ieee.org http://www.standards.ieee.org/catalog/ordering.html

The committee members had two motivating factors to weigh when they designed the shell standard. On the one hand, the design had to accommodate, as much as possible, existing shell code written under various Bourne-derived shells (the Version 7, System V, BSD, and Korn shells). These shells are different in several extremely subtle ways, most of which have to do with the ways certain syntactic elements interact with each other.

It must have been quite difficult and tedious to spell out these differences, let alone to reach compromises among them. Throw in biases of some committee members towards particular shells, and you might understand why it took six years to ratify the first 1003.2 standard and further years to merge the standards.

On the other hand, the shell design had to serve as a standard on which to base future shell implementations. This implied goals of simplicity, clarity, and precision objectives that seem especially elusive in the context of the above problems.

The designers found one way of ameliorating this dilemma: they decided that the standard should include not only the features included in the shell, but also those explicitly omitted and those included but with unspecified functionality. The latter category allows some of the existing shells' innovations to "sneak through" without becoming part of the standard, while listing omitted features helps programmers determine which features in existing shell scripts won't be portable to future shells.

The POSIX standard is primarily based on the System V Bourne shell, which is a superset of the Version 7 shell discussed earlier in this appendix. Therefore you should assume that bash features that aren't present in the Bourne shell also aren't included in the POSIX standard.

The following bash features are left "unspecified" in the standard, meaning that their syntax is acceptable but their functionality is not standardized:

  • The other syntax for functions shown in Chapter 4 is supported; see the following discussion.

  • The [[...]] syntax for conditional tests. The external test or [...] utility should be used instead.

  • The select control structure.

  • Code blocks ({...}) are supported, but for maximum portability, the curly brackets should be quoted (for reasons too complicated to go into here).

  • Signal numbers are only allowed if the numbers for certain key signals (INT, TERM, and a few others) are the same as on the most important historical versions of UNIX. In general, shell scripts should use symbolic names for signals.

The POSIX standard supports functions, but the semantics are weaker: it is not possible to define local variables, and functions can't be exported.

The command lookup order has been changed to allow certain built-in commands to be overridden by functions. Built-in commands are divided into two sets by their positions in the command lookup order: some are processed before functions, some after. Specifically, the built-in commands break, : (do nothing), continue, .(source), eval, exec, exit, export, readonly, return, set, shift, trap, and unset take priority over functions.

Finally, because the POSIX standard is meant to promote shell script portability, it avoids mentioning certain fundamental implementation issues: in particular, there is no requirement that multitasking be used for background jobs, subshells, etc. This was done to allow portability to non-multitasking systems like MS-DOS, so that shells on these systems can be POSIX-compliant.

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    Learning the bash Shell
    Learning the bash Shell: Unix Shell Programming (In a Nutshell (OReilly))
    ISBN: 0596009658
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2005
    Pages: 139

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