Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hello, World Again

I'd like to try saying "We sometimes take the shell too much for granted," another way.

Advice from masters is often good advice.

Here's my favorite chunk of the greatest of all programming texts, Kernighan and Ritchie's The C Programming Language (Prentice-Hall, 1978).

1.1 Getting Started

The only way to learn a new programming language is by writing programs in it. The first program to write is the same for all languages:

Print the words
hello, world
This is the basic hurdle; to leap over it you have to be able to create the program text somewhere, compile it successfully, load it, run it, and find out where your output went. With these mechanical details mastered, everything else is comparatively easy.

In C, the program to print "hello, world" is
printf("hello, world\n");

Just how to run this program depends on the system you are using. As a specific example, on the UNIX operating system you must create the program in a file whose name ends in ".c", such as hello.c, then compile it with the command
cc hello.c
If you haven't botched anything, such as omitting a character or misspelling something, the compilation will proceed silently, and make an executable file called a.out. Running that by the command
will produce
hello, world
as its output. On other systems, the rules will be different; check with a local expert.

Exercise 1-1. Run this program on your system. Experiment with leaving out parts of the program, to see what error messages you get.

Fine advice. Let's do exercise 1-1, but in the shell.

Run the analogous program? Okay.
$ echo hello, world
hello, world
Leave out parts? Let's leave out a part of the string.
$ echo hell, world
hell, world
Or part of the command.
$ eco hello, world
bash: eco: command not found
How about whitespace? It's okay to leave it out of the string,
$ echo hello,world
but you need some between a command and its arguments.
$ echohello, world
bash: echohello,: command not found
My point: Programing in the shell is quick and easy. You just type. There's no editing, no special naming, no compiling, no a.out file, no loading and running, no need to consult a local expert.

If you type something incomprehensible, the shell gives you an error message and lets you try again, right away.

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