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Latest commit fb01219 Nov 18, 2017 @chrisdone chrisdone Correct call
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Side note My first version of this experiment wasn't good; I never used it. That was based on shell-conduit, but it's a bit OTT and wasn't as cosy to use as bash.

I've been working on a more practical version based somewhat on my work with the jl tool which is simply typed lambda calculus for querying JSON data structures. I believe the same mini-language can work well for a shell.

I think that the language can be laid out as a simple command language that looks very much like regular sh, but embedded within it the ability to write pure functional code (similar to jl or haskell).

$ let xs = [1,3,5]; ls | grep -o ^[0-9]+ | ${filter (elem xs) | take 5} > nums.txt

Script files may look like this. ${ } splices in the pure language, whereas do { .. } or simply do x; y (a la Haskell) quotes shell commands.

main = do

files = [ "types.sql", "table_schema.sql", "functions.sql" ]

out = "../dumps/out.sql"

n = "demo"

reset = do
  dropdb $n
  createdb $n -O $n
  echo "" > $out
  for $files \f -> do cat ${"../schema/pg/" <> f} >> $out

build = do
 stack build
 rm -f
 time stack exec -- tsql ../schema/sqlserver/schema.sql > $out

extensions =
 [ 'create extension if not exists "uuid-ossp"'
 , 'create extension if not exists "citext"' ]

import = do
  unlines extensions | pg_import
  $out < pg_import > /dev/null

pg_import = do time psql -d pg --quiet -X

test = do stack test

I'm using this document as a brainstorming area and to write up observations.

Shell is a templating language

The good thing about Sh and its descendents is that by default it is "quoted". I.e. it produces lists of strings:

ls -al foo

This is the list of strings:


The special syntactical character is (space). Other special characters are listed below. Aside from these special characters, all other text is quoted. This makes shells a templating language.

I believe it's neccessary to preserve this property of shells.

Shell is a free monad

This idea of a shell is fairly well described as a rough ADT:

data Shell
  = Command [String] -- ls -al foo
  | Pipe [Shell] -- |
  | Sequence [Shell] -- ;
  | Redirect Shell FilePath -- ls > foo.txt
  | Background Shell -- ls &
  | Substitution Shell (String -> Shell) -- $(...) or `...`

Side note Actually, there are some questions here. Pipe can't really pipe ls > x.txt with cat because the output has been redirected to x.txt. Should we disallow that in the ADT? Or perhaps all Shell can be piped and if it's a redirected then the output is simply empty, because stdout is closed. The same applies to background ls& which doesn't output to stdout but rather a new pipe output.

An example type might be:

data In
data Out
data None

data Shell i o a where
  Command :: [String] -> Shell In Out a
  Pipe :: Shell i Out a -> Shell In o a -> Shell i o a
  Sequence :: Shell i _o a -> Shell _i o a -> Shell i o a
  Redirect :: Shell i Out a -> FilePath -> Shell i None a
  Background :: Shell i _o a -> Shell i None a
  Substitution :: Shell None Out a -> (String -> Shell i o a) -> Shell i o a

Substitution is where the shell gets its join operator, or >>=, in which it can make decisions. Before that, it's more of an arrow.

nc $(docker-machine ip server)

is similar to

Command ["docker-machine","ip","server"]
  >>= \sub1 ->
    Command ["nc", sub1]

The syntax in sh ls x.* is a runtime expansion depending on the contents of the directory. It might expand to ls x.txt etc. This logic can be handled by an additional MatchSubstitution construtor:

MatchSubstitution [Pattern] ([String] -> Shell)

data Pattern = Plain String | Wild | AnyChar

Special commands like cd, pwd, time would be additional constructors.

Syntactical analysis of sh/bash

Special reserved words in bash: ! case do done elif else esac fi for function if in select then until while { } time [[ ]]

Special commands in bash: cd, pwd, eval, time

Not mentioned in lists is: = which defines variables

Special sh characters:

  • Lexical helpers: # comment, " quote, ' quote, \ char quote
  • Variables: $ variable, ${...} variable, $<foo> various globals, % job number, , ~ home directory (and ~foo)
  • Process control: | pipe, & background job, ` command substitute, ; command separator, $(..) command substitute, ( .. ; ..) subshell, { .. ; ..} sequence, >, <, <<, >> redirect IO
  • Matching: * match 0+ characters, ? match character
  • Arithmetic: ((...))
  • Misc: !

Short version: