Top 5 Linux Shells That You Can Use in Your Daily Work

Linux shells are a lot more powerful than the Windows command line. Choose yours wisely.

Top 5 Linux Shells

There are many shells available for Linux, but in this article, we only include the top five Linux shells and thoroughly discuss their features.

Linux offers some of the best open source shells for power users who are always looking for adding new tool kits to their arsenal. The different types of shells in Linux offers various capabilities, but at their core, they’re basically implementing ideas that were developed decades ago.

What is the Linux Shell

In Linux the shell is the command interpreter in an operating system that executes other programs. It provides a computer user an interface to the Linux system so that the user can run different commands or utilities with some input data.

To put things simple, the shell is a program that takes commands from the keyboard and gives them to the operating system to perform. It takes commands in plain text format and calls operating system services to do something. 

But the shell is much more than just a command interpreter. It is also a complete programming language with its own constructs such as variables, loops, conditional execution, functions, and many more.

Every shell comes with its own syntax and scripting features. So, let’s take a look at the top five most used open source shells on Linux.

1. Bash Shell

Brian Fox developed the Bash in 1988 for the GNU project as a free version of the Bourne shell. Bash is similar to the original, but has added features such as command line editing.

Because Bash is the standard GNU shell, it became the standard shell on all Linux distributions. Nowadays most modern Linux distributions provides a Bash shell by default. This open source Linux shell is well-known in the community for its robust feature set and usability. The name is an acronym for the “Bourne-Again SHell”.

One reason Bash is considered so powerful is because it’s scriptable. A shell script is segregation of the list of commands in order to optimize any task and cost-effective, similar to other programming languages with well-defined standards. Anything you can type into Bash manually, you can also list in a plain-text file and have Bash run it for you.

Learning Bash can be super useful to perform automation. It is super powerful and has lots of features such as:

  • Directory manipulation
  • Job control
  • Brace expansion
  • Tilde expansion
  • Aliases
  • Command history
  • Command-line editing
  • Key bindings
  • Integrated programming features
  • Control structures
  • Dynamic loading of built-ins

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, has said that the first two programs that he ran on his new kernel in 1991 were Bash and gcc, GNU’s compiler.

2. Zsh Shell

Zsh (short of Z shell) is an extended version of the Bourne Shell with plenty of new features and support for plugins and themes. It is a highly customizable Linux shell, that packs some very powerful features such as tab completion, clever history, remote file expansion, and much more. Zsh is a shell designed for interactive use, although it is also a powerful scripting language. Many of the useful features of Bash, Ksh, and Tcsh were incorporated into Zsh and adds on top of them.

Zsh was developed by Paul Fastad since 1990, and the name zsh comes from Yale professor Zong Shao. It has become one of the most popular shells for the Linux operating system.

Some of the more important Zsh functions are:

  • Command auto-complete
  • Improved variable handling
  • Spelling correction
  • Shared command history
  • Kill tab completion
  • Environment variable easy setup
  • Customization

When you’re using Linux, the majority of the user time you spend in a terminal. If you’d like to customize your terminal and make it look professional, you can use Oh My Zsh to achieve this goal. It is a community-driven open source framework that you can use for managing the Zsh configuration. There are also other frameworks for the Zsh, such as Prezto, Zgen, Antigen, etc. Currently Oh My Zsh is capable of supporting 150 themes and 275 plugins.

Zsh and Bash both share a similar and impressive array of features, but also have their own distinct tools as well. If you’re looking for extensibility, greater customization and advanced features not found in bash, the zsh shell is an excellent choice. In addition, Zsh is the default login shell and interactive shell in macOS Catalina, replacing Bash.

3. Fish

Fish shell is a modern command-line interface with auto-suggestions, tab completion, and syntax highlighting. It is a smart and user friendly command line shell for Linux and macOS. This shell give user powerful features and control without compromising speed and efficiency. It is designed to be ready to use immediately, without requiring extensive configuration.

Fish inline auto-suggestions based on history works out of the box. Using your history, Fish suggests the next possibilities of completing the commands.

This shell is more colorful than the classic Bash shell. You’ll quickly notice that Fish performs syntax highlighting as you type. These colors, and many more, can be changed by running fish_config. That will open a web-based GUI where you can select a color theme and configure the look of the shell.

Another awesome feature is the availability of the command. For example, if you type /usr/bin/linuxiac, it will show the line in a red color, indicating that it’s not a valid command, but you type /usr/bin/ping it will look normal.

Fish Shell Features:

  • Inline auto-suggestions based on history
  • Superb tab completion
  • Syntax highlighting
  • Intuitive wildcard support
  • Web-based configuration
  • Sane scripting

Fish is so powerful and useful Linux shell for users who work with other shells like zsh, bash, and so on if they want to try a new and advantageous shell.

4. Ksh Shell

Ksh (short of Korn shell) was invented by David Korn of AT&T Bell Laboratories and began its public life in 1986. It is a reimplementation of the Bourne shell. The Ksh shell’s command editor interface enables the quick, effortless correction of typing errors, plus easy recall and reuse of command history. It doesn’t provide command completion but does provide filename completion. Ksh allows the developers to create new shell commands when needed.

The Ksh shell’s command-line editing modes are the features that tend to attract people to it at first. With command-line editing, it’s much easier to go back and fix mistakes. The other major Ksh feature that is intended mostly for interactive users is job control.

Some of the more important Ksh functions are:

  • Job control
  • Aliases
  • Functions
  • Command history
  • Command-line editing
  • Integrated programming features
  • Control structures
  • Debugging primitives
  • Regular expressions
  • Advanced I/O features

The Ksh shell has released different versions like pdksh, mksh, ksh88, and the most recent ksh93.

5. Tcsh Shell

The C and C++ programming languages were quite popular during the initial Linux days, and large portions of Linux itself is written in them. And to no surprise to no one a new shell popped up, the C Shell that uses the vanilla C syntax model. Tcsh is an enhanced but completely compatible version of the Berkeley UNIX csh (C Shell). It is a command language interpreter usable both as an interactive login shell and a shell script command processor. The Tcsh can be thought of the next generation C shell.

Tcsh was developed by Ken Greer beginning in 1979 at Carnegie Mellon University. The “t” in tcsh comes from the “T” in TENEX, an operating system developed in 1969 by BBN for the PDP-10 mainframe computer family.

Early versions of MacOS X shipped with tcsh as the default shell, but the default for new versions became Bash. Nowadays tcsh is the default root shell of FreeBSD.

Tcsh key features are programmable command completion and command-line editing. It strikes a great balance between stark simplicity and essential features. All the documentation that’s needed to use tcsh is located in man tcsh instead of being spread on various helper programs.


One of the fundamental features that helped Linux distributions in securing their current stature is the Linux shell. Mastering the Linux shells gives you an alternative way of interacting with your operating system. We encourage our readers to try on some of these shells based on their requirement and gain first-hand experience for themselves. 

Hope you enjoyed the list and ranking. If you have anything new to suggest, please feel free to use the comment box below.

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