The shell Statement

The shell statement is the main way to run commands in Cicada. The shell statement allows you to run commands and as well as execute inline shell code in your workflow.

Arguments passed to shell are escaped before being passed to /bin/sh, though if used incorrectly, you still might be vulnerable to command injections. Please read the Security Considerations section for tips on how to better secure your workflows.


Here are a few examples of how the shell statement can be used in workflows:

Run a Command

shell npm install

This will run npm install in the current directory.

Pass Expressions as Arguments

let name = "Bob"

shell echo You name is (name)

Cicada will pass name as the argument for (name). The () notation is used to differentiate from the typical $ notation used in shell.

Note you can use any valid Cicada expression as an argument, not just variable names:

shell echo 1 + 2 = (1 + 2)

The above workflow will print out 1 + 2 = 3.

Capture stdout

In Cicada you can capture and manipulate the stdout of a command by assigning it to a variable and accessing it's properties:

let cmd =
  shell echo Hello world!


Running this workflow will print Hello world! *. Using stdout like this helps you utilize more of what Cicada has to offer, without having to rely on shell scripts.

* An extra newline will be printed because the stdout from echo includes a newline, and print adds another newline. Use .strip() to strip the whitespace before printing.

Note that when capturing command output, stdout and stderr will be merged into one.

Using Shell Features

You can also use shell to gain access to shell features like env vars, piping, and conditional execution:

# Print the current directory
shell echo Current dir: $PWD

# Get the top 10 biggest files/folders in the "src" folder
shell du src | sort -nr | head -n 10

# Print message and exit if backup fails
shell ./ || { echo "Backup failed" && exit 1; }

While shell code can be very useful in writing your workflows, we encourage you to use the Cicada DSL instead of shell scripts wherever possible.

Run Shell Scripts

In addition to running single line shell commands, the shell statement can be used to run larger, multi-line shell scripts:

shell "
  echo running tests

  if [ $? = 1 ]; then
    echo tests failed
    echo tests passeed

This shell script runs ./ and print whether the tests passed or failed based on the resulting exit code.

Shell Aliases

Shell aliases are special identifiers that can be used directly without the need to prefix it with shell.

For example, the following are equivalent in Cicada:

shell echo hi

echo hi

These are the current commands that are allowed to be used as aliases, though this list may grow in the future:

  • cd
  • cp
  • echo
  • git
  • ls
  • make
  • mkdir
  • rm

Notes on Environment Variables

By default, Cicada will inject environment variables into each command before running it. However, environment variables that are set while running a shell command will not be saved.

For example:

shell echo ----
shell env

env.HELLO = "world"

shell echo ----
shell env

shell echo ----
shell export TESTING="123"
shell env

This will emit something similar to the following:


Notice that the HELLO env var is passed to the next commands, but TESTING is not.

Using Secrets

For security purposes Cicada does not export secrets as environment variables. This means that you have to export secrets that you want to expose as environment variables:

# prints nothing
echo $API_KEY

env.API_KEY = secret.API_KEY

# prints API_KEY
echo $API_KEY

Security Considerations

Since the shell statement allows you to run arbitrary commands, it is paramount that you ensure it is safeguarded from malicious users.

The shell statement will escape all interpolated arguments you pass to it, though this alone does not stop all command injections.

For example, this workflow is safe as name is properly escaped via ():

let name = "hacker; echo Command injection"

shell echo Your name is: (name)

Running the above workflow results in the following:

Your name is: hacker; echo Command injection

As you can see, name was escaped and the command injection was not successful. However, if we were to change the shell command to this:

shell eval (name)

We would get the following result:

Your name is: hacker
Command injection

While (name) does escapes the parameter, eval will execute the escaped shell shell code, rendering the escaping useless.

In short, make sure that you do not directly execute untrusted code! Call commands directly like in the first example, and if you do need to call shell scripts, ensure you are only passing trusted input that you created, and ensure these scripts are not interpreting any inputs as shell code.