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Examining the Hamilton C Shell

Source Code Accompanies This Article. Download It Now.


Scott is an independent software consultant specializing in systems and applications programming under VMS, Unix, DOS, and the Macintosh. He can be reached at R.R. 3, Box 3471, Susquehanna, PA 18847.

Starting OS/2 for the first time was, for me, like unlocking a Ferrari, sitting behind its wheel and finding a Yugo's dash. What a disappointment. Sure, the engine and suspension were first rate, but the controls were minimal, the clutch was stiff, and the pedals were nonresponsive! OS/2 comes with great stuff, but CMD.EXE, the default command-line processor, is poor compared to the powerful operating system beneath. CMD.EXE appears to be a port of the MS-DOS COMMAND.COM and lacks the major features of a serious front end.

Fortunately, there's a tool that fills this gap. The Hamilton C Shell is a collection of programs that takes advantage of OS/2 features to create a faster, more powerful environment for serious OS/2 users. The Hamilton C Shell efficiently uses OS/2 to implement a superset of the C shell environment used in the Berkeley flavor of Unix. The Shell supports a powerful script language borrowing C's constructs.

C Shell for OS/2

The Hamilton C Shell is not a quick port of a Unix shell from another system. The Shell was created from scratch, implemented with modern compiler technology, and designed to fully take advantage of the powerful OS/2 architecture, including HPFS (high-performance file system), long filenames, and threads.

Additionally, the Shell supports large command lines and pipes (up to 64K) and includes faster and more powerful utilities than those supplied with OS/2. This is more than Unix -- this is a powerful requirement for development under OS/2. The ability to execute C shells simultaneously in different Presentation Manager (PM) text windows converts your PC into a flexible workstation.

The Hamilton C Shell comes with many programs and shell scripts. To install the Shell, you simply copy the files to their new home, and modify your CONFIG.SYS. The Shell program, CSH.EXE, can be executed in a text window of the PM or as a non-PM character-mode application.


Scripts allow you to program the many commands and features with full support for complex logic, looping, nested control statements, and symbols. Scripts are composed of C Shell commands, OS/2 programs, and comments prefixed by the pound character (#).

This combination can produce potent applications. Scripts can be composed and tested interactively at the command level or typed into files and run later. The Shell assumes that files with extensions of .CSH are C Shell script files. Scripts can read user input and can be recursively.

For example, Listing One presents CTL_T.CSH, a script to send a Ctrl-T to COM1: every 400 seconds. It's useful when logged onto a busy terminal server that impatiently bumps you off when there's no activity. Invoking this script, using ctl_t &, will execute it in the background and the server will be kept busy.

Supporting Procedures

Script programmers can create C Shell procedures, which are more like functions: They accept a parameter list and return a value. These procedures are compiled into C Shell memory and are then executed as new shell commands. Procedures can greatly extend the power and flexibility of your environment.

As an example, consider ZCW.CSH (Listing Two), which is used to build a C++ PM program. ZCW.CSH defines a procedure that recieves a filename as its parameter. The script calls the procedure at the end: The Shell reads the file once, compiles the procedure and executes the compiled code from that point on. In other words, the zcw procedure is now treated like another C Shell command.

Listing Three shows the global edit procedure ged, which can be used to globally edit several files. For instance, you can edit all .H files and change your last name from "Lovejoy" to "Stern," using the command ged s/Lovejoy/Stern/ *.h. As with zcw, the Shell reads and compiles the procedure and executes ged as it would any other C Shell command.


Users can create local, environmental, and C shell global variables. These symbols can contain any text representing pathnames, strings, numbers, and so on, which can be referred to by the other Shell components. Long pathnames, for instance, could be stored in variables and used in a command line to refer to the target location. To define a variable, use the set command (set a = "this is a"). To have the Shell calculate an expression, use @ instead of set.

Additionally, variables can be arrays with full support for C-style subscripting of the elements. The Shell makes it easy to access the words which make up a variable. The Shell supplies many internal variable functions to test and manipulate the text within a symbol. The printf function, for example, is used to format variables. There are also provisions to scan strings for substrings, concatenate variables, and return string lengths.

The Shell is also flexible in treating symbols as numbers and will allow complicated arithmetic calculations. The Shell handles integer and floating-point arithmetic and supports C-like calculations, evaluations and expressions, including switch and case. Variables can be tested for patterns using the Unix pattern-matching expressions.

Taking Command

The Shell has full command history. It remembers previous command lines, which can be recalled through many different methods. Besides using the up and down arrow keys to recall past lines, you can recall a previous command line (or specific parts of it) by command sequence number, or you can recall the last command which contained a specific string. Groups of command lines can be saved into a text file and later read back into another session. The saved command lines can be edited by your favorite text editor and then submitted to the Shell as a script. The Berkeley history mechanism supplies many nifty ways to access parts of previous command lines. When a command line contains !$, the Shell inserts the last word (argument) of the previous command line: Repeated sequences of commands to the same file (such as edit, compile, link and print) are executed faster and with fewer typos because the argument is never retyped. Some of the other history-recall commands are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: History recall commands

  Command  Description

  !^       Inserts the first argument
           (or word) of the last line.

  !*       Inserts all the arguments
           of the last line.

  !!       Inserts the previous

The Shell lets you define aliases, which allow you to abbreviate or rename any command. Complicated command lines are much easier to work with when they are defined by an alias. Once an alias is defined, it can be used as another command.

Because the C Shell furnishes many ways to group commands together on the same command line, the Enter key has much more power than under conventional PC systems. Command lines ending with an ampersand (&) will be executed in the background. The PS command will show the currently active processes and threads created by the Shell and their command lines, while the Kill command can terminate any job shown by PS, making it easy to manage a multithreaded system. On my wish list of future enhancements, however, is a feature that will display and manipulate the priority of a thread.

File and Command Accessibility

The Shell controls command-name parsing through efficient hashing techniques and sophisticated OS/2 features. Filenames are expanded within the command line with greater speed and flexibility than under OS/2. For example, when you press the Alt/Ctrl key combination, the Shell will complete a partially typed file or command name in the current command line. These features save much time and ensure more accuracy by reducing unnecessary typing.

C Shell supports full Unix filename wildcarding, to provide a very flexible means of describing groups of files. Subdirectories can also be wildcarded. The asterisk (*) and question mark (?) can represent any character except the colon (:) and backslash(\). However, the period between the filename and its extension is no longer sacred. A wildcard expression of *.[ch] will translate into all files with either .C or .H extensions. Square brackets declare a list of characters which can match one character. If the first character within the square bracket list is the escape character (^), the list will define all characters that will not match. These character lists may include ranges of characters: [A-Z] [0-9] will match any two characters starting with one alphabetic and ending with one digit.

The Shell also has built-in file tests to determine file type. The commands shown in Example 1, for instance, will print the attributes of the file whose name is stored in the variable a. Also, the Shell can be directed to parse full filenames into their component parts, and programming is not needed to edit the extension out of a filename. For example, if we set the variable a to "dir1\dir1\file.ext" the Shell will interpret the filenames according to the list shown in Table 2.

Example 1: Commands to print the attributes of a specified file

  if ( -d $a) echo $a is a directory
  if ( -H $a) echo $a is hidden
  if ( -R $a) echo $a is ReadOnly
  if ( -S $a) echo $a is SystemFile
  if ( -e $a) echo $a exists
  if ( -x $a) echo $a is executable
  if ( -z $a) echo $a zero length

Table 2: Parsing filenames into their component parts

  Expression        Description         C Shell result

  $a:h  (head)      Directory           \dir1\dir2

  $a:r  (root)      Path w/o.Ext        \dir1\dir2\file

  $a:t  (tail)      File name           file.ext

  $a:e  (ext.)      extension w/o.      ext

  $a:f  (fullpath)  expanded file name  d:\top\dir1\dir2\file.ext

The Shell features a directory-stack mechanism comprised of the commands pushd, popd, and rotd. pushd is the CD command with memory. It will remember the current directory (by placing it on the directory stack) and then change to a new directory. popd will return to the directory at the top of the stack, and rotd will rotate the order of the directories saved. Jumping around from directory to directory is a snap, especially when you use wildcards to declare the directory to push.


The Shell supports full I/O redirection of any of its components and allows you to build new commands from the output of other commands on the same command line. As an example, to browse the unknown .C or .H files that contain the string VIO, invoke the command: more 'grep -l VIO *.[hc]'

The command line within the single quotes is executed first, and its output is then inserted into its place. So, more's arguments are the output of grep.

The command line in Example 2, which finds all duplicate filenames on the current disk, demonstrates how powerful a simple shell command can be. Example 2 starts by creating a list of all the full pathnames of every file using the -r (recursive) option of ls. The :gt means globally trim each pathname down to just the tail (no drive:\dir\\\). The foreach loop writes each name out to the pipe, one per line. All lines are sorted alphabetically and the uniq -d command outputs just the duplicates. Within moments, the current drive is scanned for all files with the same name.

Example 2: Command to find all duplicate file names on the current disk

  foreach i (' ls -r \' :gt) echo $i; end | sort | uniq -d.

Supplied Utilities

The Hamilton C Shell product comes chock-full of many wonderful utility programs. All utilities have the same homogeneous feel, a quality lacking in other software packages. Also, all Hamilton supplied programs will display help when invoked with the -h switch. Because there are so many utilities included in the package, I selected my ten favorites and described them in Table 3. Table 4 lists other utilities found in the package.

Table 3: My favorite C Shell utilities

  Utility         Description

  Cut             Outputs specific parts of each line of its input, and
                  allows you to specify the character positions and/or
                  the field numbers to include.

  Diff            Compares files or directories, and can be instructed
                  to ignore case and spaces.  Diff can recursively
                  compare the contents of two directories.  You can
                  also define the minimum match length to insist on.

  Strings         Searches binary files and displays the ASCII strings
                  found within them.  Strings is quite handy for finding
                  the strings embedded within a program or database.

  xd              Dumps the contents of its input to stdout.  This
                  wonderful dump utility can display its input by bytes,
                  words, long words, or floating-point values.  xd is
                  fluent in decimal, hex, oct, and even other user-supplied
                  radixes.  xd can be told the offsets at which to begin
                  (and end) its dump.

  More            Flexible full-screen file browser.  More will scroll up
                  and down, and search for text and line numbers.  It can
                  also format lines with octal and hex values.  C
                  programmers will appreciate the feature of displaying the
                  \n\r escape sequences.

  Ls              The ultimate DIR program that specifies types of files
                  and displays file information in many different sorted
                  orders.  Ls can also display file-size totals.  The
                  program will, if told, recursively search the directory

  Uniq            Displays the duplicate or nonduplicate lines found in a
                  given file.

  Fgrep and grep  Searches files (or standard input) for specific
                  occurrences of text.  grep works with regular
                  expressions which can help find approximated text

  Tail            Shows the end of a file.  If, however, the file is
                  growing (another process or thread is expanding it),
                  it can continue to show the growing file.  I find tail
                  indispensable for logging downloads while I am free to
                  work in another window.

  Sed             A stream editor -- a filter which outputs an edited
                  version of its input.  Sed will replace strings, convert
                  characters, delete text and insert text.  Sed will work
                  by ranges of line numbers or regular expressions.

Table 4: Hamilton utility programs

  Utility    Description

  chmod      Change mode bits on files (not directories)

  markexe    Set OS/2 application type bits

  pwd        Print the current working directories

  mkdir      Make directories

  sum        Checksum the contents of a file

  tar        Read/write Unix tape archive format files

  dt         Print the date and time

  setrows    Set height of current window

  patchlnk   Patch "the linker bug"

  du         List disk usage statistics

  vl         List volume labels

  label      Read/write the volume label

  newer      Test whether file 1 is newer than all the others

  older      Test whether file 1 is older than all the others

  tee        Copy Stdin to Stdout and to each file specified

  tr         Translate characters filter

  wc         Count words (and lines and characters)

  split      Split a large file into chunks

  tabs       Expand/unexpand tabs

  cat        Concatenate files to Stdout

  head       Copy first part of file to output

  rmdir      Remove directories

  cp & mv    Copy (or move) files or directories.  These two programs
             can force read-only files to be overwritten.  They can ask
             before acting on each file and can log the action.  Both will
             merge subdirectories.

  rm         Remove files or directories.  rm can force read-only files
             to be overwritten.  rm can ask before acting on each file and
             can log the action.  rm can recursively remove non-empty
             directories.  (System files or hidden files or directories
             can be removed.)

Final Assessment

Of course, no product is without its blemishes. Although it improves with each update, the documentation is the weakest part of this otherwise fine product. The documentation is written for a highly technical user who understands OS/2 and Unix. Users new to Unix will need to read other documents (see Bibliography). The sparseness of complete shell scripts makes it hard for a novice C Shell user to appreciate the many wonderful features of this product. Unix can be cryptic and unfriendly, but the Shell's awesome power makes it worth the effort of learning.

While the C Shell is a text powerhouse, database capabilities would make this product more helpful for business-oriented tasks. More powerful record I/O procedures and structures for full record handling would help. If C Shell could integrate an ISAM engine, C Shell applications could be used to solve complex business and scientific problems.

A screen-capturing feature and internal date functions would be greatly appreciated. The Macintosh MPW commando facility of dialoguing a shell command would help users build complex commands without the aid of manuals.

While C Shell works fine in a PM text window, inevitably it will evolve into a full graphics PM application. Such a version should embody the programming strengths of HyperCard. Controls and gadgets should invoke scripts, and programmable dialogues could facilitate PM applications creation.

Products Mentioned

Hamilton C Shell Hamilton Laboratories 13 Old Farm Road Wayland, MA 01778-3117 508-358-5715 $350 System Requirements: OS/2 1.1 or later


Anderson, Gail and Paul Anderson. Unix C Shell Field Guide. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1986.

Muster, John and Peter Birns. Unix Power Utilities. Portland, Ore.: MIS Press, 1989.

The Waite Group. Unix Primer Plus. 2nd ed. Carmel, Ind.: Howard Sams, 1990.

by Scott Richman


<a name="0052_0016">


while (1)         # endless
 echo -n ^x14 > com1:      # send control t to com1:
 sleep 400         # Zzz for 400 seconds
end # while

<a name="0052_0017">
<a name="0052_0018">
<a name="0052_0018">

# Procedure zcw  builds Zortech C++ and creates a PM program,
   proc zcw(name)           # param name
      ztc -W -c $name.cpp      # compile ($name is param name)
      # we test name.obj for eistance,
      if (-e  $name.obj ) then   # got valid obj file to link
         link $name,/align:16,NUL,os2+d:\oz\cp\srzpm.lib,$name
          rm $name.obj      # remove the obj
      end    # if
   end  # proc

   zcw $argv  # now here's the invocation of my proc defined above.

<a name="0052_0019">
<a name="0052_001a">
<a name="0052_001a">

proc ged(edt_str,files)           # 2 params
local i               #local variables used
local n
foreach i ($files)          # loop thru the files
   @ n = concat($i:r,".bak")   # save a backup (:r is root name)
   cp -l  $i:f  $n:f       # copy it (:f is full name)
    sed "$edt_str" < $n:f > $i:f   # edit from new to i
end # foreach i
end # end ged proc()

[EXAMPLE 1:  Commands to print the attributes of a specified file.]

    if ( -d $a) echo $a is a directory
   if ( -H $a) echo $a is Hidden
   if ( -R $a) echo $a is ReadOnly
   if ( -S $a) echo $a is SystemFile
   if ( -e $a) echo $a exists
   if ( -x $a) echo $a Is Executable
   if ( -z $a) echo $a Zero Length

[EXAMPLE 2: Command to find all duplicate file names on the
current disk]

foreach i (`ls -r \`:gt) echo $i; end | sort | uniq -d

Copyright © 1991, Dr. Dobb's Journal

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