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6.2 Brief introduction to portable sh

If you read a number of `'s, you'll quickly notice that they tend to be written in an unusual style. For instance, you'll notice you hardly ever see the `[' program used; instead you'll see `test' invoked. We won't go into all the details of writing a portable shell script here; instead we leave that for 22. Writing Portable Bourne Shell.

Like other aspects of portability, the approach you take to writing shell scripts in `' and `' should depend on your goals. Some platforms have notoriously broken sh implementations. For instance, Ultrix sh doesn't implement unset. Of course, the GNU Autotools are written in the most portable style possible, so as not to limit your possibilities.

Also, it doesn't really make sense to talk about portable sh programming in the abstract. sh by itself does very little; most actual work is done by separate programs, each with its own potential portability problems. For instance, some options are not portable between systems, and some seemingly common programs don't exist on every system -- so not only do you have to know which sh constructs are not portable, but you also must know which programs you can (and cannot) use, and which options to those programs are portable.

This seems daunting, but in practice it doesn't seem to be too hard to write portable shell scripts -- once you've internalized the rules. Unfortunately, this process can take a long time. Meanwhile, a pragmatic `try and see' approach, while noting other portable code you've seen elsewhere, works fairly well. Once again, it pays to be aware of which architectures you'll probably care about -- you will make different choices if you are writing an extremely portable program like emacs or gcc than if you are writing something that will only run on various flavors of Linux. Also, the cost of having unportable code in `' is relatively low -- in general it is fairly easy to rewrite pieces on demand as unportable constructs are found.

This document was generated by Gary V. Vaughan on February, 8 2006 using texi2html