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The A-Z of Programming Languages: Bourne Shell, or Sh

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Steve Bourne

Steve Bourne, creator of the Bourne shell or sh programming language, says in an interview that the language aimed to remedy the problem of designing the shell to be a fully programmable scripting language that also could function as the interface to users typing commands interactively at a terminal. He describes the shell's primary function as providing "a fully functional interface to the Unix system environment so that you could do anything that the Unix command set and the Unix system call set will provide you." Bourne says that sh's emergence as a more popular interactive command interpreter than a scripting language stems from its design to fulfill both functions at the outset. He says he stopped adding bells and whistles to sh in 1983, and observes that "any one language cannot solve all the problems in the programming world and so it gets to the point where you either keep it simple and reasonably elegant, or you keep adding stuff."

In retrospect, Bourne says he would have added functions to the language design earlier as well as written a compiler. He expects the Bourne shell to endure as long as Unix endures, observing that it appears to be the most pervasive of the Unix shells. "I think you are going to see, as new environments are developed with new capabilities, scripting capabilities developed around them to make it easy to make them work," Bourne says. He anticipates the continued emergence of more specialized computer programming languages in the next five to 20 years, and predicts that the good programming languages will ultimately prevail.

From Computerworld Australia
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