What are the Different Types of Shells in Unix/Linux?

In Unix and Unix-like operating systems, the shell is a command-line interpreter that allows users to interact with the system by typing commands. Different shells provide various features, syntax, and functionalities. Here are some of the commonly used shells in Unix/Linux:

Bourne Shell (sh)

The Bourne Shell, developed by Steve Bourne in the 1970s, is the original Unix shell. It's a lightweight shell with a minimal feature set. Despite its simplicity, it serves as the foundation for many other shells, playing a crucial role in the history of Unix shells.

Bourne Again Shell (bash)

Bash, the most widely used shell today, is a superset of sh. Developed as a free and open-source alternative, bash includes additional features like aliases, job control, command history, and scripting capabilities. It serves as the default shell on most Linux distributions, providing a versatile and user-friendly command-line interface.

C Shell (csh)

Inspired by the C programming language, C Shell (csh) has a more user-friendly syntax than sh. It offers features like command history editing, job control, aliases, and built-in support for variables and expressions. While once a popular alternative to bash, its use has declined in recent years, but it remains notable for its syntax improvements.

Korn Shell (ksh)

Korn Shell (ksh), another Bourne shell derivative, combines features from sh and csh. Widely used by system administrators and power users, ksh boasts advanced job control, command-line editing, and built-in support for arrays, functions, and string manipulation. Its comprehensive feature set makes it a versatile choice for scripting and interactive use.

Z Shell (zsh)

Z Shell (zsh) extends bash with powerful features like spelling correction, completion, plugins, and themes. Highly customizable, zsh adapts to individual user preferences, offering an interactive and efficient command-line experience. Its rich set of features makes it popular among users who seek enhanced functionality and flexibility.

Fish Shell (fish)

Fish Shell (fish) prioritizes usability and aesthetics, featuring a syntax inspired by natural language for easier learning. With tab completion, syntax highlighting, and a powerful command history, fish aims to provide a user-friendly experience. It's designed for simplicity and efficiency, making it an attractive choice for both new and experienced users.

Other Shells...

It is important to note that these are just a few of the many shells available for Unix and Linux. Other notable shells include tcsh (an improved version of csh), dash (a lightweight shell optimized for busy systems), and busybox (a shell and collection of Unix utilities combined into a single executable).

How to choose right Shell?

The best shell for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Some factors to consider include:

  1. Your experience level: If you are new to Unix or Linux, you may want to start with a simpler shell like bash or fish.
  2. Your needs: If you need a powerful shell for scripting and automation, you may want to consider ksh or zsh.
  3. Your preferences: Some people prefer the traditional syntax of sh or csh, while others prefer the more user-friendly syntax of fish.


Unix/Linux systems offer a variety of shells, including the original Bourne Shell (sh), widely used Bourne Again Shell (bash) with extensive features, the user-friendly C Shell (csh), versatile Korn Shell (ksh), powerful Z Shell (zsh) with added capabilities, and the intuitive Fish Shell (fish) prioritizing usability and aesthetics. Users can choose shells based on their preferences, needs, and the specific features required for interactive sessions or scripting.