A.3. The Korn Shell

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One of the first major alternatives to the "traditional" shells, Bourne and C, was the Korn shell, publicly released in 1986 as part of AT&T's "Experimental Toolchest." The Korn shell was written by David Korn at AT&T. The first version was unsupported, but eventually UNIX System Laboratories (USL) decided to give it support when they released it with their version of UNIX (System V Release 4) in 1989. The November 1988 Korn shell is the most widely used version of this shell.

The 1988 release is not fully POSIX-compliant less so than bash. The latest release (1993) has brought the Korn shell into better compliance as well as providing more features and streamlining existing features.

The 1993 Korn shell and bash share many features, but there are some important differences in the Korn shell:

  • Functions are more like separate entities than part of the invoking shell (traps and options are not shared with the invoking shell).

  • Associative arrays are supported.

  • Floating-point numbers and expressions are supported.

  • Coroutines are supported. Two processes can communicate with one another by using the print and read commands.

  • The command print replaces echo. print can have a file descriptor specified and can be used to communicate with coroutines.

  • Function autoloading is supported. Functions are read into memory only when they are called.

  • One-dimensional arrays are supported, although they are limited in size (4,096 elements in early versions of ksh93, 64K elements in later releases).

  • The history list is kept in a file rather than in memory. This allows concurrent instantiations of the shell to access the same history list, a possible advantage in certain circumstances.

  • There is no default startup file. If the environment variable ENV is not defined, nothing is read.

  • The type command is replaced with the more restrictive whence.

  • The primary prompt string (PS1) doesn't allow escaped commands.

  • There is no built-in equivalent to enable.

  • There is no provision for key bindings and no direct equivalent to readline.

  • There are no built-in equivalents to pushd, popd, and dirs. They have to be defined as functions if you want them.

  • The history substitution mechanism is not supported.

  • Prompt strings don't allow backslash-escaped special characters.

  • Many of the bash environment variables don't exist.

In addition, the startup and environment files for Korn are different, consisting of .profile and the file specified by the ENV variable. The default environment file can be overridden by using the variable ENV. There is no logout file.

For a more detailed list of the differences between bash and the Korn shell see the FAQ file in the doc directory of the bash archive.

The Korn shell is a good alternative to bash. Its only major drawback is that it is upgraded only every few years.

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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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