The UNIX Command Language (1976)

The UNIX Command Language is the first-ever paper published on the Unix shell. It was written by Ken Thompson in 1976.

View PDF View MD View HTML

The typed copy of this paper was published in Structured Programming (Infotech state of the art report). Scanned images and text transcript of the paper are made available here with permission from Ken Thompson.


Scanned Images

The scanned images of the original paper were obtained by wesleyneo directly from Ken Thompson and published at on 10 Feb 2018 with permission from Ken Thompson. A copy of the original scanned images is also available in the img directory of this repository.

Combined PDF

The scanned images were combined into a single PDF document by me using Imagemagick’s convert program in order to make it easier to read the paper. The combined PDF document is available at the following places:

Markdown Transcript

The paper was first transcribed to text format by wesleyneo. The text format was further edited and converted to Markdown format by me. The Markdown format document is available here:



If you find any errors in the Markdown transcript, please create an issue or send a pull request.


This is a remarkable paper due to its historical importance as well as due to its clear presentation and concise treatment. You are welcome to discuss your favourite excerpts from this paper on the issues page page of this repository or on Twitter.

Also, follow me on Twitter where I often post about vintage software programs, Python, Lisp, Linux, Unix Shell, TeX, Vim, InfoSec, mathematics, etc.