The Future of the Shell: Unix and Beyond

A HotOS’21 Panel on Management, Configuration, Orchestration, and Data Processing in the Shell

The goal of this HotOS’21 panel to explore and highlight future avenues for research in the context of the shell, informed by both industry and academia—across various academic communities including systems, programming languages, software engineering, security, and human-computer interaction. We envision this panel as a round-table discussion between panelists and participants, which include many authors of shell-related technologies — e.g., popular and niche shells, static analysis for the shell, secure shell scripting languages, automated shell script parallelization, shell semantics, etc. We anticipate minimal distinction between panelists and participants in the discussion: panelists will provide brief statements (~2min) about the future and/or challenges of the shell to get the discussion started, and will facilitate the discussion in various ways. We’ll have some iterated discussion in a few themed rooms, shuffling once or twice to let people explore different topics.

Attendees will have the ability to participate in “webinar” format, some way for them to ask questions, get them upvoted or whatever. These questions and the discussion will be moderated by the organizers. To attend, please register with HotOS.

You can read more in the official panel description.

If you are interested in a summary of the event, take a look at the report.

Background, Aim, and Scope

The Unix shell is the de facto choice for specifying succinct and simple scripts for system orchestration, automation, and data ingestion. Ops trends in containerization and the cloud have brought shell scripting back to prominence, and thus motivate research of both theoretical and practical significance. The aim of this HotOS’21 Panel is to provide a forum for the discussion of new, renewed, and continued research in this area.

The focus will be on topics related to shell scripts and their runtime environments, and includes:

  • Implementations and performance
  • Parallelism and distribution
  • Containerization, serverless, and microservices
  • Tool support for the shell: analysis, transformation, and synthesis
  • Annotations and type systems for tool support
  • Mechanization and correctness
  • Benchmarks and tools

The concrete topics of the panel will be informed by the interests of the panel’s participants. We’ll produce a summary of the event: participants will be able to contribute their perspectives and visions to the summary.


The 90-minute event (on June 3rd 2021 from 1–2:30pm ET) has a small panel of experts on shell-related topics. The event itself is discussion based.

Activity Time
Introduction 10min
Panelists summarize statement 10min
Breakout in three topic-oriented rooms 30min
Break 5min
More breakout, attendees shuffle rooms 15min
Panelists summarize discussions for all attendees 15min
Closing 5min

The panelists will produce single-page statements of their interest in and vision for the shell, offering one or more challenge problems. We will distribute these statements in advance to participants.


Our panelists will be:

We have confirmed 16 participants (updated May 18th):

Organizers / Contact

If you want to participate, please email the future-shell list.