Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Korn Shell programming and being "dotted"

While teaching a Korn shell course I was asked "where do you stand on exit verses return"? To be honest I had not realised you could use return outside a function in Korn shell.
Well you can, but not in Bash, and the POSIX standard says that the effect is undefined.

Why would you want to? The effect is exactly the same as exit, unless you have been executed through the dot command, "sourced", or "dotted". The argument goes that if you use exit then when your script is invoked using 'dot' then it would exit the caller, whereas return does not.
I find the argument fundamentally flawed. It is folly to assume that it is safe to execute any old script in this way, because it breaks a fundamental rule of programming - encapsulation.
"Dotted" files do not run in their own namespace or environment. Any change, for example a cd command, will alter the caller. Therefore writing a script to be safe would also involve restoring any changes.
Now, what about variables and functions? ANY declared in the called script will overwrite those in the calling program. If you are unaware of the script you are using ("I don't know if it has exit in it") then you will be unaware of its variable names and functions. It could do absolutly anything to your environment (I use the term loosly). An important principle of encapsulation is that you have your own namespace, of course with 'dot' you do not.

It works both ways. Take the following senario:

typeset -i x
. myscript

If myscript has a varible called 'x', and it is used for non-numeric text, then the typeset will have the effect of altering that text to "0". What if x contains a filename in the script? This could completely alter or invalidate the action of myscript.
The dot command is designed specifically so that the called code WILL change your current process, but the code has to be written specifically for that job. Having blind faith that a script will not trash you current session, and will even work in your environment, is taking a big risk.
I suggest, in ksh93, that you put this at the head of your scripts:

if [[ $0 != ${.sh.file} ]]
    echo "Do not . this file!" >&2
    return 1

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