How to get started with shell scripts#

Shell scripts#

Scripts are basically uncompiled pieces of code: they are just text files. Since they don’t contain machine code, they are executed by what is called a “parser” or an “interpreter”. This is another program that understands the command in the script, and converts them to machine code. There are many kinds of scripting languages, including Perl and Python.

Another very common scripting language is shell scripting. In a shell script, you will put the commands you would normally type at your shell prompt in the same order. This will enable you to execute all those commands at any time by only issuing one command: starting the script.

Typically in the following examples they’ll have on each line the next command to be executed although it is possible to put multiple commands on one line. A very simple example of a script may be:

echo \"Hello! This is my hostname:\"

You can type both lines at your shell prompt, and the result will be the following:

$ echo \"Hello! This is my hostname:\"
Hello! This is my hostname:
$ hostname

Suppose we want to call this script myhostname. You open a new file for editing, and name it myhostname:

$ nano myhostname

You get a \”New File", where you can type the content of this new file. Help is available by pressing the ‘Ctrl+G’ key combination. You may want to familiarize you with the other options at some point; now we will just type the content of the file, save it and exit the editor.

You can type the content of the script:

echo \"Hello! This is my hostname:\"

You save the file and exit the editor by pressing the ‘Ctrl+x’ key combination. Nano will ask you if you want to save the file. You should be back at the prompt.

The easiest way to run a script is by starting the interpreter and pass the script as parameter. In case of our script, the interpreter may either be sh or bash (which are the same on the cluster). So start the script:

$ bash myhostname
Hello! This is my hostname:

Congratulations, you just created and started your first shell script!

A more advanced way of executing your shell scripts is by making them executable by their own, so without invoking the interpreter manually. The system can not automatically detect which interpreter you want, so you need to tell this in some way. The easiest way is by using the so called \”shebang"-notation, explicitly created for this function: you put the following line on top of your shell script \”#!/path/to/your/interpreter".

You can find this path with the which command. In our case, since we use bash as an interpreter, we get the following path:

$ which bash

We edit our script and change it with this information:

echo \"Hello! This is my hostname:\"

Note that the \”shebang" must be the first line of your script! Now the operating system knows which program should be started to run the script.

Finally, we tell the operating system that this script is now executable. For this we change its file attributes:

$ chmod +x myhostname

Now you can start your script by simply executing it:

$ ./myhostname
Hello! This is my hostname:

The same technique can be used for all other scripting languages, like Perl and Python.

Most scripting languages understand that lines beginning with \”#" are comments, and should be ignored. If the language you want to use does not ignore these lines, you may get strange results…