Let’s Play Around With The Linux Shell.

Today’s article is a bit of a mystery, as I’m writing it and not sure how it’s going to end up – but it will be about the Linux shell. I’ll try to make it approachable, even for beginners. Let’s see where the article takes us!

I think I’d caution most beginners to stick with what came with their distro (most likely Bash), rather than straying into the world of different shells. Wait until you have a few more miles in your Linux shoes before running to try new shells. It’ll make support easier if you don’t have to compound things by using an alternative shell. Once you’re up to speed, there are some nifty choices.

This seemed like the perfect question to pose ChatGPT. I’ve found a way to make AI useful – or so it seems to me. I asked the AI to explain the Linux shell in two paragraphs. This is what they had to say:

A Linux shell is a command-line interface (CLI) program that allows users to interact with the Linux operating system by entering commands. It acts as an intermediary between the user and the kernel, which is the core of the operating system. The shell provides a text-based environment where users can execute various commands to perform tasks such as navigating the file system, running programs, managing processes, and configuring system settings.

The shell interprets the commands entered by the user and translates them into instructions that the kernel can understand and execute. It also provides features like command completion, history, and scripting capabilities, allowing users to automate tasks and create powerful scripts. There are different types of shells available in Linux, such as Bash (Bourne Again SHell), which is the default and most widely used shell in Linux distributions. Other popular shells include Zsh (Z Shell), Ksh (Korn Shell), and Csh (C Shell), each offering its own set of features and functionalities. Overall, the Linux shell is a fundamental component of the operating system, providing users with a flexible and efficient way to interact with the system.

That looks like a pretty good description to me. If you have any questions, you can certainly leave a comment. You know where to find me so that you can ask questions most anywhere.

Hmm… As I said, I’m not sure where this article is headed. We’ll have to see…

Some Stuff About The Linux Shell:

Pretty much every single one of the new folks reading this will have something in common with those who have used Linux for years. You’re almost certainly using Bash as your shell. Bash stands for Bourne Again Shell. Bash is the Linux equivalent of Bourne Shell that came with Unix back in ye olden days.

If you want, you can open a terminal at this point. Odds are that you have another shell or two available. You can list your shells with the following command:

If you don’t already know what shell you’re using, you can find out quickly enough. Just run this command to find out which shell you’re using:

Let’s pretend you’re using Ubuntu and want to install a new shell. Let’s pretend you are interested in ZSH. That is ‘Z Shell’ and is an alternative that you might consider. The first step would be to install ZSH and you’d do so like this:

Follow the prompts and when you next run cat /etc/shells again, you’ll see that ZSH is an option. Pay attention to the path. It will look like /usr/bin/zsh and you can change to that shell quickly enough. Just run the following command:

Or, for a better example:

You’ll then want to reboot your system. That’s easily done with:

That should do the trick for pretty much everyone, though you’ll need to use your package manager if you’re not using apt with Debian, Ubuntu, Mate, or similar. It’s easy enough to switch to a new Linux shell – but you should probably have a good reason for doing so.

By the way, feel free to leave a comment if you use a different shell, preferably explaining why you’ve chosen to do so. I’ve played with different shells and that was entirely my reason for doing so, I just wanted to play around with them. I stick with Bash pretty much exclusively, or whatever’s installed by default.

Again, I’d caution you newer users to skip this article and just use this pile of words to learn about shells in the first place. If you’ve been using Linux for a while and want to learn something new (or have a specific reason to do so) then you can change your shell as much as you’d like. It’s your computer, you can do anything you darned well want with it!


So, I wasn’t sure what this article was going to look like. I just figured I’d do an article about the Linux shell. We all know at least one beginner is going to start mucking about with alternative shells, at least this way we can tell them that we suggested they wait to do so.

Then again, how often did we wait to do so? How often did we go mucking around with things best left untouched until we learned better? At the end of the day, Linux is an OS that suits those who like to tinker, but she can be a harsh mistress when you’re still learning. And, again, how many of us learned by breaking things? I reckon many of us did and that’s how we got here.

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Author: KGIII

Retired mathematician, residing in the mountains of Maine. I may be old and wise, but I am not infallible. Please point out any errors. And, as always, thanks again for reading.

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