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Remove "shell" as a supported Babel language within ob-shell.el (was Re:

From: Matt
Subject: Remove "shell" as a supported Babel language within ob-shell.el (was Re: [SUGGESTION] ob-shell async result output should not contains shell prompt)
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2023 12:26:20 -0400
User-agent: Zoho Mail

 > Matt matt@excalamus.com> writes:
 > > Is there a reason you're using "shell" instead of one of the shells listed 
 > > in `org-babel-shell-names'?

I'm still curious why you're using "shell".  I want to know if it's something 
you're using for a specific reason.  There's no wrong answer!

I ask because I have an agenda: as far as I can tell, "shell" as a Babel 
language is a historical accident.  

Originally, ob-shell.el was called ob-sh.el.  The main function was called 
`org-babel-execute:sh' and only /usr/bin/env sh was supported.  Over time it 
became clear that to support other shells, the "sh" name shouldn't be used for 
the package or the main function.  That is, 'sh' refers to a specific binary 
and, if other binaries such as bash, dash, csh, etc. were to be supported, it 
would be misleading for the Babel language to refer to a specific shell, 'sh'.  
So, the terminology was changed to something more general, "shell".  The 
package was renamed to "ob-shell.el", the "namespace" updated to "shell" (for 
example, `org-babel-execute:shell'), and the package load call changed from (sh 
. t) to (shell . t).  This officially happened with Org 8.2 (ORG-NEWS noted the 
change in commit 1a9a6666dcb6d34bcbdff45445c827ed99dbf0b8, Tue Jan 21 09:52:31 
2014).  I think this gave people the (understandable) impression that "shell" 
was a valid Babel language, in addition to those listed in 

And this is where the accident happened: "shell" as a Babel language only 
**happens**to work.  The Babel framework looks for a function prototype like 
"org-babel-execute:<language>".  When ob-sh.el was changed to ob-shell.el, the 
function `org-babel-execute:sh' became `org-babel-execute:shell'.   A call like 
follows is perfectly legal as far as the Babel framework is concerned:

#+begin_src shell
echo "hello, world"

When such a block is run, Babel looks for a function called 
`org-babel-execute:shell'.  Running the block prior to Org 8.2 should have 
failed because no `org-babel-execute:shell' function existed.  The name change 
happened to source Fri Dec 13 09:52:05 2013 in commit 
7a6c0e35415c4a173d101336029262f3a09abb91.  After the name change, the function 
existed and a block using "shell" would execute!  

The "shell" language specifier, as far as I can tell, was never really 
intentionally supported.  Instead, it just happened to work.  It happened to 
work because, as far back as the first org-babel-sh.el commit, the process 
buffer is created using the `shell' function.  I don't know the history of 
`shell', but presently the documentation says,

Program used comes from variable ‘explicit-shell-file-name’,
 or (if that is nil) from the ESHELL environment variable,
 or (if that is nil) from ‘shell-file-name’.

That is, the `shell' command falls back to `shell-file-name'.  I assume that 
`shell' has always had that, or a similar, fallback.  The `shell-file-name' is 
a direct path to an executable.   This means that when "shell" is used for the 
language, `shell-file-name' is called and **any** startup script, such as 
.bash_profile or .bashrc, is called.  The prompt could be set to **anything** 
and Emacs will never know, and can never know, what the prompt is without the 
user explicitly informing Emacs.

Aside from the code change which allowed "shell" to work, "official" support of 
"shell" comes from Org manual commit 9d072ad67517875069f913315d762c9bb1e9c3ec, 
Sun Dec 17 11:06:05 2017 (for example, 
  This appears unconnected with the code change.  The addition to the manual 
happened 4 years after the code name change and none of the commit messages 
around the time of code change suggest that "shell" was intended to work as a 
language.  In fact, I found this email from Eric Schulte (creator of Babel and 
maintainer at the time of the code change) which suggests that "shell" is in 
fact not supported or intented as a language 

In response to the statement,

"a coworker used "#+BEGIN_SRC shell" where he should have written "#+BEGIN_SRC 

Eric says,

"[The suggested work around] would protect against this particular error"


Regardless of whether "shell" was intended to work as a Babel language, the 
fact remains that it does work and that it's been advertised in the manual (at 
least) for 6 years.  What are the pros and cons of "shell"?

What benefit does "shell" provide?

- The "shell" language allows an arbitrary executable to be run.  This means 
that shells other than those given in `org-babel-shell-names' can be run.  
People using a non-supported shell could still benefit from ob-shell.

What downsides does "shell" bring?

- "shell" falls back to `shell-file-name' which can be an arbitrary executable. 
 Whenever I hear "runs an arbitrary executable", my ears perk up and I start to 
sweat.  There may be security considerations.  
- If that executable is a shell, then the prompt gets set independently from 
Emacs.  For the prompt to be filtered from the output, users would need to 
provide Emacs with the correct regexp.  A recent thread discussed creating a 
header arg to address this: https://list.orgmode.org/87ttzgeg3w.fsf@localhost/
- We would get bug reports about non-supported shells which kind of work, but 
have issues because they're not supported
- Maintence associated with supporting arbitrary (shell) executables

As the current maintainer of ob-shell, I'm in favor of removing "shell" as a 
Babel language.  The cons appear to far outweigh the pros.  However, I'm aware 
others may have good use for it.  It's been a part of Org for nearly a decade.  
I'm sure it's part of people's workflow, especially since it's been in the 
manual for 6 years.  Are there any pros, cons, use-cases, or considerations 
I've overlooked?

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