What Ion Is

1. The default shell in Redox

What is a shell?

A shell is a layer around operating system kernel and libraries, that allows users to interact with operating system. That means a shell can be used on any operating system (Ion runs on both Linux and Redox) or implementation of a standard library as long as the provided API is the same. Shells can either be graphical (GUI) or command-line (CLI).

Text shells

Text shells are programs that provide interactive user interface with an operating system. A shell reads from users as they type and performs operations according to the input. This is similar to read-eval-print loop (REPL) found in many programming languages (e.g. Python).

Typical *nix shells

Probably the most famous shell is Bash, which can be found in vast majority of Linux distributions, and also in macOS (formerly known as Mac OS X). On the other hand, FreeBSD uses tcsh by default.

There are many more shell implementations, but these two form the base of two fundamentally different sets:

  • Bourne shell syntax (bash, sh, zsh)
  • C shell syntax (csh, tcsh)

Of course these two groups are not exhaustive; it is worth mentioning at least the fish shell and xonsh. These shells are trying to abandon some features of old-school shell to make the language safer and more sane.

Fancy features

Writing commands without any help from the shell would be very exhausting and impossible to use for everyday work. Therefore, most shells (including Ion of course!) include features such as command history, autocompletion based on history or man pages, shortcuts to speed-up typing, etc.

2. A scripting language

Ion can also be used to write simple scripts for common tasks or system configuration after startup. It is not meant as a fully-featured programming language, but more like a glue to connect other programs together.

Relation to terminals

Early terminals were devices used to communicate with large computer systems like IBM mainframes. Nowadays Unix operating systems usually implement so called virtual terminals (tty stands for teletypewriter ... whoa!) and terminal emulators (e.g. xterm, gnome-terminal).

Terminals are used to read input from a keyboard and display textual output of the shell and other programs running inside it. This means that a terminal converts key strokes into control codes that are further used by the shell. The shell provides the user with a command line prompt (for instance: user name and working directory), line editing capabilities (Ctrl + a,e,u,k...), history, and the ability to run other programs (ls, uname, vim, etc.) according to user's input.

TODO: In Linux we have device files like /dev/tty, how is this concept handled in Redox?