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The XINU shell is a subsystem designed as an interface for interacting with the operating system.

How it works

The shell relies on the TTY driver to receive user input and provide output to the user. When XINU starts, a shell process is spawned for each serial port (or TTY). When a user enters a command the lexan function divides the string of input into tokens. Command name, arguments, quoted strings, backgrounding, and redirection tokens are all recognized and divided by lexan.

After the command is parsed, the shell uses the tokens to properly execute the given command. The shell first checks for the backgrounding ampersand ('&'), which should only appear as the last token. The shell is designed to handle redirection, but does not currently do so since XINU's file system is in development.

Next, the command is looked up in the command table defined at the top of shell/shell.c. Each entry in the command table follows the format of command name, is the command built-in (ie can the command run in the background), and the function that executes the command: {"command_name", TRUE / FALSE, xsh_function},.

Built-in commands are executed by calling the function that implements the command. All other commands are executed by creating a new process. If the user did not include the backgrounding flag in the input, the shell waits until the command process has completed before asking for more input.

Running commands

The current distribution of the XINU shell is equipped with some basic commands. The majority of the commands provide information about the current state of the system including its processes, memory, and hardware. A full list of commands can be obtained from the shell by using the help command. Help on a specific command can be obtained using COMMAND --help or help COMMAND.

  • clear: clears the shell
  • exit: quits the XINU shell
  • gpiostat: displays the current status of the GPIO pins
  • help: displays a list of commands in the XINU shell
  • kill PID: kills a process number PID
  • led DESCRIPTOR STATUS: turns an led on or off
  • memstat: displays the current memory usage and prints the free list
  • memdump: dumps a region of memory
  • ps: displays a table of running processes
  • reset: soft powercycles the backend
  • sleep DELAY: sleep for DELAY seconds
  • test: can be used for building test programs, all builds should simply return OK
  • testsuite: run a series of tests to see if the system is functioning properly
  • uartstat UARTNUM: displays statistics for uart UARTNUM

Adding commands

The shell is designed to be expandable, allowing users to add their own commands. The code that runs the shell (shell/shell.c) and the command parser (shell/lexan.c) do not need to change when a new command is added. The majority of the work goes into writing the actual command. After the command is written, three items must be added to the system:

  • the function prototype needs to be added to the header file (include/shell.h),
  • the command table (shell/shell.c) must be updated, and
  • the make file (compile/Makefile) must build the file containing the function.

Writing the function

The command should be given its own C source file in the shell directory, following the naming convention xsh_command.c. All command files should include kernel.h and shell.h, along with any other headers necessary for the command. Function names for commands follow the same naming convention as the source file: xsh_command. The method signature for a command is:

 command xsh_command(ushort stdin, ushort stdout, ushort stderr, ushort nargs, char *args[])

Within the command, arguments are accessed via the args array. The command name is located in arg[0]. Subsequent arguments, up to nargs are accessed via arg[n]. Error checking of arguments is the responsibility of the command function. It is good practice to check for the correct number of arguments; remember the command name is counted in nargs, so a command without any arguments should have nargs == 1. Although not required, command functions should also allow for an argument of --help as arg[1]. This argument should cause the command to print out usage information. When a user types help COMMAND in the shell, the COMMAND is called with the --help argument.

Additional code within the command function depends on what the command does. After the command is completed it should return OK.

Add to command table

After the command function is written, the command needs to be added to the command table so the shell is aware of the command. The command table is an array of centry (command entry) structures defined in shell/shell.c. Each entry in the command table follows the format of command name, is the command built-in (ie can the command run in the background), and the function that executes the command: {"command_name", TRUE / FALSE, xsh_function},.

Add to header and makefile

To complete the process, add the function prototype to the shell header file include/shell.h:

 command xsh_command( ushort, ushort, ushort, ushort, char *[]);

Lastly, add the command function source file to the makefile (compile/Makefile) to ensure the command is compiled into the XINU boot image.


We will run through a brief implementation of adding an echo command to the system.

Write the function

Begin by creating the source file in shell/xsh_echo.c. Since all commands take the same arguments (as passed by the shell), we get:

 * @file     xsh_echo.c
 * @provides xsh_echo
 * $Id$
/* Embedded XINU, Copyright (C) 2007.  All rights reserved. */

#include <kernel.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>

 * Shell command echos input text to standard out.
 * @param stdin descriptor of input device
 * @param stdout descriptor of output device
 * @param stderr descriptor of error device
 * @param args array of arguments
 * @return OK for success, SYSERR for syntax error
command xsh_echo(ushort stdin, ushort stdout, ushort stderr, ushort nargs, char *args[])
    int i;  /* counter for looping through arguments */

    /* Output help, if '--help' argument was supplied */
    if (nargs == 2 && strncmp(args[1],"--help",6) == 0)
        fprintf(stdout, "Usage: clear\n");
        fprintf(stdout, "Clears the terminal.\n");
        fprintf(stdout, "\t--help\t display this help and exit\n");
        return SYSERR;

    /* loop through the arguments printing each as it is displayed */
    for ( i = 1; i < nargs; i++ )
        fprintf(stdout, "%s ", args[i]);

    /* Just so the next prompt doesn't run on to this line */
    fprintf(stdout, "\n");

    /* there were no errors so, return OK */
    return OK;

Add the function to the command table

While we are in the shell/ directory, we'll modify the command table found at the top of shell/shell.c. Since we are adding the echo command, we'll most likely want the user input at the shell to be "echo," this is not a builtin function (FALSE), and the function that supports this is xsh_echo. Giving us the entry:

{ "echo", FALSE, xsh_echo }

Add the function prototype to the include file

Next we must add the prototype of the function to the shell include file in include/shell.h. This is simply done by adding the line:

command xsh_echo(ushort, ushort, ushort, ushort, char *[]);

Add the file to the Makefile

Finally (and most importantly) we add the function to the Makefile to make sure that it is built by the compiler. We do this by finding the line beginning with SHL = and adding


to the end of it.

You should now have a working implementation of the echo command on your XINU system!