|From Bash to Z Shell: Conquering the Command Line|
|author||Oliver Kiddle, Jerry Peek, and Peter Stephenson|
|reviewer||Raymond Lodato (rlodato AT yahoo DOT com)|
|summary||An in-depth look at the functionality of bash and zsh.|
A *nix-style shell is available on a number of platforms, so the authors chose not to limit themselves to just one, such as Linux. The techniques they discuss can be used in Unix, as well as under Windows using cygwin.
In case you're not overly well-versed in shell handling, the first part of the book does a pretty good job covering all of the things a typical user might want to do. Basic command editing, I/O redirection, jobs, processes, and some simple scripting are all covered. For many users, this is also as far as they would like to go. However, reading a little further yields treasure.
The next part delves into bash version 3.0 and zsh version 4.2, both freely available on the Internet. In addition to more sophisticated command line editing techniques, the authors also delve into the misty realms of re-binding keys. A great many users find themselves typing the same sequences over and over again. While sometimes a script makes sense to encapsulate these sequences, sometimes you want to simply enter some text and that's where a key binding makes sense. One example given in the book for zsh is bindkey -s '\C-xt' 'March 2004\eb' . After the binding, typing CTRL-x t puts the string 'March 2004' onto the command line, and moves the cursor under the '2' so you can insert the day of the month. That's a very simple example for a very powerful facility. A good chunk of chapter 4 is spent on showing how to make the most of bindkey (or its bash cousin 'bind').
The next few chapters cover common topics of prompt strings, file/directory globbing, and shell history. Then, significant press is given to the subject of pattern matching. Many people understand basic pattern matching and regular expressions, but From Bash to Z Shell goes into careful detail, with many examples from both bash and zsh, to contrast the (minor) differences between these two powerful shells. The next chapter discusses command line and file/directory name completion, a topic usually glossed over in other texts. Finally, job processing wraps up Part 2.
The third and final part of the book deals with extending the shell using variables, scripts, and functions. Here's where we get into the nitty-gritty. The first two chapters go over familiar territory: shell variables and shell programming. The chapter on programming is easy to follow, and I suggest you try the examples as you go to get the most out of it. The last two chapters focus on topics frequently overlooked: editor functions, and completion functions. Editor functions allow you (with bind[key]) to define new capabilities to use while editing the command line. This is where a true power user can shine, creating a suite of new functions to speed his/her use of zsh or bash. Completion functions work in defining new ways for the shell to complete a command, file name, or directory, based on a user-written function. Honestly, it's not something I would tend to use, but the capability is intriguing.
All in all, From Bash to Z Shell provides a frequent shell user with a plethora of new insights into customizing the bash and zsh shell programs to fit his/her tastes. The authors have filled a void in tackling the subject of customizing the shell rather than just simply using it. I would have liked to see more coverage of some of the more standard uses of the shells, just so the book could be a more complete reference, rather than the specialized one it is. Specialized or not, there is a lot offered here, and you couldn't go wrong getting this book.
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