Can I run a shell under Windows?

1. I was asked about “shells” for Windows a while back. Here's what I know about the subject. If you notice any mistakes or omissions, report them.

2. A “shell” works like Windows' “DOS box”; i.e., it's a “command line” environment where commands are typed manually. A typical shell session looks like this:


There are many different shells, but for many purposes one shell is sufficient: bash, which is very similar to one of the oldest and most widely used shells (sh) but includes features from other popular shells (such as csh).

When a shell is used, there are a number of programs that typically go with it; programs that aren't part of the shell, but that are used in everyday operations. For example: ls to list files or directories and rm to delete them. I'll refer to the combination of a shell and the associated programs as CLI (an acronym for Command Line Interpreter, a phrase that is often used in this context).

3. There's at least two environments of this type available for Windows. The best-known example is Cygwin, which you can read about at:

Cygwin is a mature, powerful, and respected environment. However, it's also a bit large and complicated. That said, if you need CLI under Windows, Cygwin might be worth a try. To install Cygwin, use the following setup program.

Note: This program (and any others listed on this page) is third-party software and I can't take responsibility for the results:

If the preceding setup program doesn't work, try this one instead:

The second setup program installs an older version of Cygwin.

If installation completes successfully, try running the following Windows batch file:


If the batch file is successful, it'll put you into CLI.

4. There's a possible alternative to Cygwin that seems promising: Gow (which is an acronym for GNU on Windows). Gow is in the early stages of development, so it may have bugs. However, it's smaller and simpler than Cygwin.

As of late 2011, the home page for Gow was:

and the link for the Gow setup program was: .0.exe

I don't have Windows, but I tried Gow 0.5.0 under Linux using a Windows layer known as Wine. The programs that I expected to work this way seemed to operate correctly; so Gow might be a viable option.

5. In the past, Microsoft offered an alternative to Cygwin known as Windows Services for UNIX. The final release was apparently released as free software. However, the company largely abandoned the project after 2004. Presently, this package isn't recommended.

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