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Almquist shell

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Almquist shell
Developer(s)Kenneth Almquist
Initial releaseMay 30, 1989; 35 years ago (1989-05-30)
Written inC
Operating systemUnix-like
TypeUnix shell
Websitewww.in-ulm.de/~mascheck/various/ash/ Edit this on Wikidata

Almquist shell (also known as A Shell, ash and sh) is a lightweight Unix shell originally written by Kenneth Almquist in the late 1980s. Initially a clone of the System V.4 variant of the Bourne shell, it replaced the original Bourne shell in the BSD versions of Unix released in the early 1990s.


ash was first released via a posting to the comp.sources.unix Usenet news group, approved and moderated by Rich Salz on 30 May 1989. It was described as "a reimplementation of the System V shell [with] most features of that shell, plus some additions".[1]

Fast, small, and virtually compatible[citation needed] with the POSIX standard's specification of the Unix shell, ash did not provide line editing or command history mechanisms, because Almquist felt that such functionality should be moved into the terminal driver. However, current variants support it.

The following is extracted from the ash package information from Slackware v14:

ash (Kenneth Almquist's ash shell)

A lightweight (92K) Bourne compatible shell. Great for machines with low memory, but does not provide all the extras of shells like bash, tcsh, and zsh. Runs most shell scripts compatible with the Bourne shell. Note that under Linux, most scripts seem to use at least some bash-specific syntax. The Slackware setup scripts are a notable exception, since ash is the shell used on the install disks. NetBSD uses ash as its /bin/sh.

Myriad forks have been produced from the original ash release.[2] These derivatives of ash are installed as the default shell (/bin/sh) on FreeBSD, NetBSD, DragonFly BSD, MINIX, and in some Linux distributions. MINIX 3.2 used the original ash version, whose test feature differed from POSIX.[3] That version of the shell was replaced in MINIX 3.3. Android used ash until Android 4.0, at which point it switched to mksh.[4]


Debian Almquist shell (DASH)
Developer(s)Herbert Xu
Initial releaseJuly 15, 1997; 26 years ago (1997-07-15)
Written inC
Operating systemLinux, Android
TypeUnix shell
License3-clause BSD license with mksignames under GNU GPL[5]

In 1997 Herbert Xu ported ash from NetBSD to Debian Linux. In September 2002, with release 0.4.1, this port was renamed to Dash (Debian Almquist shell). Xu's main priorities are POSIX conformance and slim implementation.[2]

Like its predecessor, Dash implements support for neither internationalization and localization nor multi-byte character encoding (both required in POSIX).[citation needed] Line editing and history support based on GNU Readline is optional (--with-libedit).

Adoption in Debian and Ubuntu[edit]

Because of its slimness, Ubuntu decided to adopt Dash as the default /bin/sh[6][7] in 2006. The reason for using Dash is faster shell script execution,[8] especially during startup of the operating system, compared to previous versions of Debian and Ubuntu that used Bash for this purpose, although Bash is still the default login shell for interactive use.[9] Dash became the default /bin/sh in Ubuntu starting with the 6.10 release in October 2006.[7] Dash replaced Bash and became the default /bin/sh in Debian 6 (Squeeze), released in February 2011.[6]

A result of the shift is that many shell scripts were found making use of Bash-specific functionalities ("bashisms") without properly declaring it in the shebang line.[10][11] The problem was first spotted in Ubuntu and the Ubuntu maintainers decided to make all the scripts comply with the POSIX standard. The changes were later upstreamed to Debian, which eventually adopted Dash as its default /bin/sh too. As a result, Debian policy was amended to allow script developers to assume a largely POSIX-compliant shell, save for the extensions merged into Dash for convenience (local, echo -n, test -a / -o).[12][13] A similar transition has happened in Slackware Linux, although their version of ash is only partially based on Dash.[2]

Embedded Linux[edit]

Ash (mainly the Dash fork) is also fairly popular in embedded Linux systems. Dash version 0.3.8-5 was incorporated into BusyBox, the catch-all executable often employed in this area, and is used in distributions like DSLinux, Alpine Linux, Tiny Core Linux and Linux-based router firmware such as OpenWrt, Tomato and DD-WRT.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Almquist, Kenneth (May 30, 1989). Rich Salz (ed.). "v19i001: A reimplementation of the System V shell, Part01/08". Usenet newsgroup, comp.sources.unix.
  2. ^ a b c Mascheck, Sven. "Ash (Almquist Shell) Variants". www.in-ulm.de.
  3. ^ Thomas E. Dickey (2015). "TEST versus Portability". Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  4. ^ Elliott Hughes (2018-06-20). "Android's shell and utilities". Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  5. ^ Xu, Herbert. "COPYING". The Linux Kernel Archives. Retrieved 23 December 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Non-interactive Shell". Debian Wiki. 2020-01-13. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  7. ^ a b "Dash as /bin/sh". Ubuntu Wiki. 2017-12-16. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  8. ^ Neal Krawetz (2011). Ubuntu: Powerful Hacks and Customizations. John Wiley & Sons. p. 178. ISBN 9781118080382.
  9. ^ Christopher Negus; Francois Caen (2011). Ubuntu Linux Toolbox. John Wiley & Sons. p. 49. ISBN 9781118079140.
  10. ^ Egil Hasting (2006-09-20). "Script that are using bash could be broken with the new symlink". Launchpad. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  11. ^ comotion (2007-09-21). "dash as #!/bin/sh introduces countless incompatibilities". Launchpad. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  12. ^ "10. Files". Debian Policy Manual v4.5.0.2.
  13. ^ checkbashisms(1) – Linux General Commands Manual

External links[edit]