SmartShell: Automated Shell Scripts Synthesis from Natural Language

Hao Li, Yu Ping Wang, Jie Yin, Gang Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Modern shell scripts provide interfaces with rich functionality for system administration. However, it is not easy for end-users to write correct shell scripts; misusing commands may cause unpredictable results. In this paper, we present SmartShell, an automated function-based tool for shell script synthesis, which uses natural language descriptions as input. It can help the computer system to "understand" users' intentions. SmartShell is based on two insights: (1) natural language descriptions for system objects (such as files and processes) and operations can be recognized by natural language processing tools; (2) system-administration tasks are often completed by short shell scripts that can be automatically synthesized from natural language descriptions. SmartShell synthesizes shell scripts in three steps: (1) using natural language processing tools to convert the description of a system-administration task into a syntax tree; (2) using program-synthesis techniques to construct a SmartShell intermediate-language script from the syntax tree; (3) translating the intermediate-language script into a shell script. Experimental results show that SmartShell can successfully synthesize 53.7% of tasks collected from shell-script helping forums.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-220
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Software Engineering and Knowledge Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design
  • Artificial Intelligence


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