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Wicked Cool Shell Scripts

Dave Taylor
Published by No Starch Press
320 pages
£ 22.99
Published: 31 Oct 2003
reviewed by Jan Wysocki
   in the September 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

I'm a bit dismayed by this book. It's got a great cover - a cute little comic book robot is reading ``SEKRIT LAB NOTES'' and a great title. However, it's not `wicked' in any sense, cool is how I feel about it and it's a dull mass of text inside..

It states its intentions and makes it clear that this is not an exhaustive tutorial. It contains 101 examples grouped in chapters such as ``Improving On User Commands'', ``Webmaster Hacks'', ``Mac OS X Scripts'', etc. Each example is annotated with a ``How it works'' section, followed by advice on ``Running the Script'', ``The Results'' and usually a ``Hacking the Script'' section.

This cookbook approach can be good for a novice. Many of us learn to program by modifying someone else's code until it does what we want. However, although you'll definitely learn from the ``How It Works'' and ``Hacking the Script'' sections, I'm troubled by the lack of reference sections and there's no clear conceptual model of what you're doing when you run a shell script.

With over 300 pages, it surprised me that only three are devoted to a very breezy overview of debugging, which amounts to little more than:

In the index? No. In the text? Well maybe somewhere.... I was even more surprised that redirection doesn't get mentioned until page 233, although functions are used from script #1, without comment. Oh and the first script throws in Posix variable slicing as well!

I'm not going to make a meal of this. I don't think this is a coherent approach if you want to learn the art of shell scripting. However, it will amuse and interest some tinkerers and if there's a script you like and can use off authors website doesn't the shelf, it'll suit you fine. However, you have to type in all the code since the author's website only has some example code and there's no CD-ROM with the book!

The best feature of this book, is probably its price -- Amazon will sell it to you for 15 pounds including postage, but that may be because an update is due. It's two years old and surely needs an ``updated for Tiger/Leopard'' sticker.

There's no doubt that Dave Taylor can write shell scripts, but I doubt that many people are going to learn much from this book.

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