Contrary to what the image suggests, this article is about the born again shell, aka BASH. BASH is essential in any serious work on the GNU/Linux OS, which believe it or not is by far the most popular OS in the world, considering that the vast majority of servers run on it. Also, Linux-based OSes are popular among data scientists due to the versatility they offer, as well as their reliable performance.
BASH is the way you interact with the computer directly when using a GNU/Linux system. In a way it is its own programming language, one that is on par with all the low-level languages out there, such as C. BASH is ideal for ETL processes, as well as any kind of automation. For example, the Cron jobs you may set up using Crontab are based on BASH.
Of course, nothing beats a good graphical user interface (GUI) when it comes to ease-of-use, which is why most Linux-based OSes make use of a GUI too (e.g. KDE, Gnome, or Xfce). However, it's the command-line interface (CLI) that's the most powerful between the two. Also, the CLI is more or less the same in all Linux-based OSes and makes use of commands that are almost identical to those on the UNIX system. The programmatic framework of all this is naturally the BASH.
BASH is not for the fainthearted, however. Unlike most programming languages used in data science (e.g. Python, Julia, Scala, etc.), BASH is not as easy to work with as it has an old-school kind of style. However, if you are proficient in any programming language, BASH doesn't seem so daunting. Also, scripts that are written in it as super fast and can do a lot of useful tasks promptly. Yet, even without getting your hands dirty with scripting on BASH, you can do a lot of stuff using aliases, which are defined in the .bash_aliases file.
A cool thing about BASH is that you can call it through other programming environments too. In Julia, for example, you can either go directly to the shell using the semi-colon shortcut (;), or you can run a BASH command using the format run(`command`). Note that for this to work you need to use the appropriate character to define the command string (`).
Interestingly, a lot of the commands in Julia are inspired by the BASH (e.g. pwd() is a direct reference to the pwd BASH command). So, if you are comfortable with Julia, you’ll find the BASH quite accessible too. Not easy, but accessible.
Tools like BASH may not be easy to master (I’m still working on that myself, after all these years) but they can be useful even if you just know the basics. For example, it doesn’t take too much expertise to come up with a useful script that can speed up processes you normally use. For example, the RIP script I created recently can terminate up to three different processes that give you a hard time (yes, even in Linux-based OSes sometimes a process gets stuck!). Also, you can have another script to facilitate backups or even program updates and upgrades. The sky is the limit!
All this may seem irrelevant to data science and A.I. work but the more comfortable you are with low-level programming like BASH, the easier it is to build high-performance pipelines, bringing your other programs to life. After all, you can’t get closer to the metal than with BASH, without using a screwdriver!
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Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.