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    What is a macOS Shell Script? How Does it Work?

    With the growing use of macOS devices in workplaces, IT admins spend hours configuring them manually and performing routine actions. The overall load of mundane IT tasks using graphical UI is enough to overwhelm your IT teams.

    This is why most IT admins prefer a command line interface (CLI) to perform routine IT tasks without having to make countless clicks.

    macOS Shell Script
    macOS Shell Scripts

    Configuring devices using CLI can also add to the IT load if the number of mac devices is enormous. This is where shell script plays a vital role in saving tremendous amounts of time and effort. macOS shell scripts are the most preferred to perform repetitive functions on multiple devices.

    In this article, we will take a look at the basics of macOS shell scripts and how they can step in along with a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution to reduce the cognitive load on IT teams of organizations that deploy macOS.

    What is a macOS Shell Script?

    A macOS shell script is a set of UNIX commands used to perform system-level tasks and simplify the cognitive IT load. You run a mac shell script to perform tasks that would otherwise require you to enter commands at the command line.

    With shell scripts, you can combine a series of repetitive IT tasks and perform them on multiple macOS devices at once. There are countless clicks to perform the same task on multiple employee devices. With shell scripts, you can simply run the script to perform those actions on all your targeted devices with zero clicks.

    Why Use Mac Shell Scripts?

    Mac shell scripts are powerful tools for automating tasks, managing system operations, and streamlining workflows on macOS. They allow users to execute sequences of commands, automate repetitive tasks, and efficiently handle files and processes. Shell scripts enhance productivity, ensure consistency in task execution, and can interact with the macOS environment and applications programmatically. 

    By using shell scripts, users can customize their computing environment, automate complex tasks, and achieve more with less effort, making them essential for developers and system administrators.

    Shell Scripts vs. Terminal Commands: What’s the difference?

    Shell scripts and terminal commands both interact with the computer’s operating system via a shell, but they serve different purposes. Terminal commands are single instructions executed in real-time in a command-line interface, used for immediate tasks like file manipulation. Shell scripts, however, are files containing a series of commands that are executed as a program, allowing for complex operations, automation of tasks, and repetitive procedures to be run without manual input for each command.

    What are Shells?

    A shell functions as a unique command-line interpreter, enabling interaction with the system’s kernel via command execution. In essence, it processes your textual commands, translates them into a programming language, and communicates them to the operating system for execution.

    The default shell on a mac varies based on the macOS version installed. For macOS Mojave and versions prior, bash (Bourne-again Shell) is the standard shell. Conversely, starting with macOS Catalina and for subsequent versions, zsh (Z shell) becomes the default shell.

    Bash Scripts vs. Zsh Scripts: Understanding the Difference

    Bash and zsh belong to the Bourne shell family, sharing many core functionalities. Nonetheless, there are slight distinctions between the two shells. Bash scripts belong to the Bourne family of shells and are written in the bash programming language. Previously, bash was the default shell for macOS. It is fairly simple to run and is generally used for system administration, automated backups, web application deployment, etc. After the introduction of Catalina, Apple changed its default shell from bash to zsh (z shell). Zshell is an extended version of the Bourne family of shells and offers improved features, themes, and plugins.

    Additionally, bash enjoys broader adoption among IT administrators, boasting extensive resources and support documentation, making it an excellent choice for novices. Whereas zsh is recognized for its extensibility, robust customization options, and distinctive features. Thus, selecting the appropriate shell is largely influenced by individual user preferences.

    How Does macOS Shell Scripting Work?

    macOS is based on UNIX, which makes it easier to run shell scripts on macOS devices than Windows 10 devices. To run a macOS shell script, you will first have to write the script in the text editor, word processor, or graphical user interface (GUI).

    Then, using your mac device’s command line interface called terminal, you will need to locate the folder in which your script exists. Once located, you will need to grant permission for the script to run.

    Common Mac Shell Scripting Terms

    Upon selecting the appropriate shell, it is essential to initiate scripting. However, understanding the essential programming terminology used in development and documentation is crucial for effective communication among developers. Let’s examine some key terms and expressions.

    What are Variables?

    Variables are designated names for memory locations where values can be stored, accessed, and modified. This concept is a fundamental part of nearly all programming languages, including shell scripting environments.

    What are Arguments?

    A command-line argument is a parameter that can be supplied to a Bash script at runtime. This feature enables users to modify the behavior or output of a script dynamically. To provide an argument to your Bash script, just enter the arguments following the script’s name while executing the script.

    What are Conditionals?

    In programming languages, conditional statements serve as the backbone for decision-making processes, allowing for the redirection of a program’s execution flow. Shell programming specifically utilizes up to five distinct conditional statements to facilitate this control mechanism. The five types are: if conditional, if-else conditional, if-elif-else conditional, if-then-else-if-then conditional, and switch conditional.

    What are Wildcards?

    A wildcard character serves as a placeholder for a range of characters, enhancing the flexibility and efficiency of search operations by allowing broader search criteria. Primary wildcards on bash are asterisk (*), question mark (?), and bracketed (“).

    Learn about creating and executing macOS shell scripts.

    What are the Advantages of macOS Shell Scripting?

    Saves Time

    The prime advantage of macOS shell scripting is that you do not have to spend time performing the same set of tasks repeatedly. Running a shell script is a one-time execution that results in outputs on multiple devices at once.

    More Accuracy

    macOS shell scripts are a combination of several commands that can run on multiple systems at once. This negates the chance of human errors involved in running commands on multiple devices manually.

    Easy and Efficient

    Writing a shell script requires less time than other programming languages, and it uses the same syntax as the command line, minimizing interpretation issues.

    What Are the Challenges of macOS Shell Scripting?

    Although macOS shell scripting takes a massive load off IT admins, it also produces a new set of challenges for enterprises. Here are a few of them:

    Monitoring Status

    Organizing a variety of shell scripts to be executed on a large fleet of mac devices can be a tedious task. It isn’t a cakewalk to keep a tab of various scripts and their execution statuses.

    Ensuring Quality

    Ensuring scripts are correctly coded prior to pushing them on mac devices requires extensive testing that takes immense time and effort.

    Maintaining Accuracy

    Different scripts have different purposes and are meant to run at various levels. It’s important to ensure the permissions granted are accurate for them to run successfully at a system or user level.

    Deploying Shell Scripts with Scalefusion MDM

    macOS shell scripts play a vital role in reducing IT load and simplifying the administration of mac devices. To further enhance the management of mac devices, Scalefusion MDM allows IT admins to upload shell script files onto the MDM dashboard and then run them on tens and thousands of devices remotely.

    All you need is a Scalefusion account, a mac device profile, mac devices with version 10.14 and above and enrolled with Scalefusion MDM, and the Scalefusion client installed on your mac devices.

    With Scalefusion, you can;

    • Upload the macOS app via Scalefusion’s Enterprise Store
    • Upload the macOS shell script
    • Select the macOS device profile to which you want to publish the script. 

    You can also view the script uploading status and delete or uninstall shell scripts based on your needs. Scalefusion helps execute your shell scripts on multiple mac devices in a reduced span to optimize your remote device management.

    Closing Lines

    Managing mac devices doesn’t have to be a complicated and tedious task. All you need to do is identify solutions that fit your needs.

    If you are spending excessive time managing your mac devices, it is time to implement an MDM solution like Scalefusion, which lets you use macOS shell scripts to your benefit. Book a demo with our experts to explore more, or sign up for a 14-day free trial

    FAQs

    1. What is a macOS shell?

    The macOS shell is a command-line interface (CLI) that allows users to interact with the operating system’s underlying functions and applications through text commands. It provides a powerful tool for automation, scripting, and direct access to the file system and processes, typically accessed through Terminal on macOS.

    2. Is macOS a Bash shell?

    macOS originally used Bash as its default shell, but since macOS Catalina (version 10.15, released in October 2019), the default shell has been changed to Zsh (Z shell). Users can still access Bash and other shells like Fish or tcsh by changing their default shell settings.

    3. What shell comes with macOS?

    macOS comes with the Terminal app, which uses the Bash shell by default in versions up to and including macOS Mojave (10.14). From macOS Catalina (10.15) onwards, the default shell was changed to Zsh (Z shell), offering enhanced features and improved script compatibility.

    4. What are the benefits of using shell scripts?

    Automation: Automate tedious tasks like file management, backups, and software installs.
    Efficiency: Execute complex workflows with a single script.Customization: Tailor scripts to your specific needs and preferences.
    Power: Leverage the power of the Unix shell and macOS tools.

    5. What are some common use cases for shell scripts?

    File management: Rename, move, copy, and delete files based on various criteria.
    System administration: Configure settings, install software, and manage user accounts.
    Data manipulation: Process text files, extract data, and perform calculations.
    Web scraping: Extract data from websites.

    Abhinandan Ghosh
    Abhinandan Ghosh
    Abhinandan is a Senior Content Editor at Scalefusion who is an enthusiast of all things tech and loves culinary and musical expeditions. With more than a decade of experience, he believes in delivering consummate, insightful content to readers.

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