ksh features

KSH-93 is the most recent version of the KornShell Language described in The KornShell Command and Programming Language, by Morris Bolsky and David Korn of AT&T Research (nee Bell Laboratories). The KornShell is a shell programming language, which is upward compatible with sh (the Bourne Shell), and is intended to conform to the IEEE P1003.2/ISO 9945.2 Shell and Utilities standard. KSH-93 provides an enhanced programming environment in addition to the major command-entry features of the BSD shell csh. With KSH-93, medium-sized programming tasks can be performed at shell-level without a significant loss in performance. In addition, sh scripts can be run on KSH-93 without modification.

The code should conform to the IEEE POSIX 1003.1 standard and to the proposed ANSI-C standard so that it should be portable to all such systems. Like the previous version, KSH-88, it is designed to accept eight bit character sets transparently, thereby making it internationally compatible. It can support multi-byte characters sets with some characteristics of the character set given at run time.

KSH-93 provides the following features, many of which were also inherent in KSH-88:

Enhanced Command Re-entry Capability

The KSH-93 history function records commands entered at any shell level and stores them, up to a user-specified limit, even after you log off. This allows you to re-enter long commands with a few keystrokes - even those commands you entered yesterday. The history file allows for eight bit characters in commands and supports essentially unlimited size histories.

In-line Editing

In sh the only way to fix mistyped commands is to backspace or retype the line. KSH-93 allows you to edit a command line using a choice of EMACS-TC or vi functions. You can use the in-line editors to complete filenames as you type them. You may also use this editing feature when entering command lines from your history file. A user can capture keystrokes and rebind keys to customize the editing interface.

Extended I/O Capabilities

KSH-93 provides several I/O capabilities not available in sh, including the ability to:
  • specify a file descriptor for input and output
  • start up and run co-processes
  • produce a prompt at the terminal before a read
  • easily format and interpret responses to a menu
  • echo lines exactly as output without escape processing
  • format output using printf formats.
  • read and echo lines ending in "\e".

Improved performance

KSH-93 executes many scripts faster than the System V Bourne shell. A major reason for this is that many of the standard utilities are built-in. To reduce the time to initiate a command, KSH-93 allows commands to be added as built-ins at run time on systems that support dynamic loading such as System V Release 4.


KSH-93 allows you to do integer arithmetic in any base from two to sixty-four. You can also do double precision floating point arithmetic. Almost the complete set of C language operators are available with the same syntax and precedence. Arithmetic expressions can be used to as an argument expansion or as a separate command. In addition there is an arithmetic for command that works like the for statement in C.


KSH-93 supports both indexed and associative arrays. The subscript for an indexed array is an arithmetic expression, whereas, the subscript for an associative array is a string.

Functions and Aliases

Two mechanisms - functions and aliases - can be used to assign a user-selected identifier to an existing command or shell script. Functions allow local variables and provide scoping for exception handling. Functions can be searched for and loaded on first reference the way scripts are.

Substring Capabilities

KSH-93 allows you to create a substring of any given string either by specifying the starting offset and length, or by stripping off leading or trailing substrings during parameter substitution. You can also specify attributes, such as upper and lower case, field width, and justification to shell variables.

Enhanced pattern matching capabilities

KSH-93 allows you to specify regular expressions for file and string matches.

Improved debugging

KSH-93 can generate line numbers on execution traces. Also, I/O redirections are now traced. There is a DEBUG trap that gets evaluated after each command so that errors can be localized.

Job Control

On systems that support job control, including System V Release 4, KSH-93 provides a job-control mechanism almost identical to that of the BSD "csh", version 4.1. This feature allows you to stop and restart programs, and to move programs between the foreground and the background.

Added security

KSH-93 can execute scripts which do not have read permission and scripts which have the setuid and/or setgid set when invoked by name, rather than as an argument to the shell. It is possible to log or control the execution of setuid and/or setgid scripts. The noclobber option prevents you from accidentally erasing a file by redirecting to an existing file.


Documentation for KSH-93 consists of an Introduction to KSH-93, Compatibility with the Bourne Shell, a manual page and a README file. In addition, the New KornShell Command and Programming Language book is available from Prentice Hall.

March 13, 2012