Research Unix

Appearance move to sidebar hide

The term "Research Unix" refers to early versions of the Unix operating system for DEC PDP-7, PDP-11, VAX and Interdata 7/32 and 8/32 computers, developed in the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center (CSRC).


Version 7 Unix for the PDP-11, running in SIMH

The term Research Unix first appeared in the Bell System Technical Journal (Vol. 57, No. 6, Part 2 July/August 1978) to distinguish it from other versions internal to Bell Labs (such as PWB/UNIX and MERT) whose code-base had diverged from the primary CSRC version. However, that term was little-used until Version 8 Unix, but has been retroactively applied to earlier versions as well. Prior to V8, the operating system was most commonly called simply UNIX (in caps) or the UNIX Time-Sharing System.

AT&T licensed Version 5 to educational institutions, and Version 6 also to commercial sites. Schools paid $200 and others $20,000, discouraging most commercial use, but Version 6 was the most widely used version into the 1980s. Research Unix versions are often referred to by the edition of the manual that describes them, because early versions and the last few were never officially released outside of Bell Labs, and grew organically. So, the first Research Unix would be the First Edition, and the last the Tenth Edition. Another common way of referring to them is as "Version x Unix" or "Vx Unix", where x is the manual edition. All modern editions of Unix—excepting Unix-like implementations such as Coherent, Minix, and Linux—derive from the 7th Edition.

Starting with the 8th Edition, versions of Research Unix had a close relationship to BSD. This began by using 4.1cBSD as the basis for the 8th Edition. In a Usenet post from 2000, Dennis Ritchie described these later versions of Research Unix as being closer to BSD than they were to UNIX System V, which also included some BSD code:

Research Unix 8th Edition started from (I think) BSD 4.1c, but with enormous amounts scooped out and replaced by our own stuff. This continued with 9th and 10th. The ordinary user command-set was, I guess, a bit more BSD-flavored than SysVish, but it was pretty eclectic.


Manual Edition Release date Description
1st Edition Nov 3, 1971 First edition of the Unix manual, based on the version that ran on the PDP-11 at the time. The operating system was two years old, having been ported from the PDP-7 to the PDP-11/20 in 1970. Includes ar, as, bcd, cal, cat, chdir, chmod, chown, cmp, cp, date, dc, df, du, ed, find, glob, init, ld, ln, ls, mail, mesg, mkdir, mkfs, mount, mv, nm, od, pr, rm, rmdir, roff, sh, sort, stat, strip, su, sum, tty, umount, wc, who, write; also precursors of fsck, reboot, and adb. The system also had a B and Fortran compiler, a BASIC interpreter, device files and functions for managing punched tape, DECtape, and RK05 disks.
2nd Edition Jun 12, 1972 Total number of installations at the time was 10, "with more expected", according to the preface of the manual.: ii  Adds echo, exit, login, m6 macro processor, man, nroff, strip, stty, tmg compiler-compiler and the first C compiler.
3rd Edition Feb 1973 Introduced a C debugger, pipes, crypt, kill, passwd, ps, size, speak, split, uniq, and yacc. Commands are split between /bin and /usr/bin, requiring a search path (/usr was the mount point for a second hard disk). Total number of installations was 16.
4th Edition Nov 1973 First version written in C. Also introduced comm, dump, file, grep, nice, nohup, sleep, sync, tr, wait, and printf(3). Included a SNOBOL interpreter. Number of installations was listed as "above 20". The manual was formatted with troff for the first time. Version described in Thompson and Ritchie's CACM paper, the first public exposition of the operating system.
5th Edition Jun 1974 Licensed to selected educational institutions. Introduced col, dd, diff, eqn, lpr, pwd, spell, tee, and the sticky bit. Targeted the PDP-11/40 and other 11 models with 18 bit addresses. Installations "above 50".
6th Edition May 1975 Includes ratfor, bc, chgrp, cron, newgrp, ptrace(2), tbl, units, and wall. First version widely available outside of Bell Laboratories, licensed to commercial users, and to be ported to non-PDP hardware (Interdata 7/32). May 1977 saw the release of MINI-UNIX, a "cut down" v6 for the low-end PDP-11/10.
7th Edition Jan 1979 Includes the Bourne shell, ioctl(2), stdio(3), and pcc augmenting Dennis Ritchie's C compiler. Adds adb, at, awk, banner, basename, cu, diff3, expr, f77, factor, fortune, iostat, join, lex, lint, look, m4, make, rev, sed, tabs, tail, tar, test, touch, true, false, tsort, uucp, uux. The ancestor of UNIX System III and the last release of Research Unix to see widespread external distributions. Merged most of the utilities of PWB/UNIX with an extensively modified kernel with almost 80% more lines of code than V6. Ported to PDP-11, Interdata 8/32 and VAX (UNIX/32V). 32V was the basis for 3BSD.
8th Edition Feb 1985 A modified 4.1cBSD for the VAX, with a System V shell and sockets replaced by Streams. Used internally, and only licensed for educational use. Adds Berkeley DB, curses(3), cflow, clear, compress, cpio, csh, cut, ksh, last, netstat, netnews, seq, telnet, tset, ul, vi, vmstat. The Blit graphics terminal became the primary user interface. Includes Lisp, Pascal and Altran. Added a network file system that allowed accessing remote computers' files as /n/hostname/path, and a regular expression library that introduced an API later mimicked by Henry Spencer's reimplementation. First version with no assembly in the documentation.
9th Edition Sep 1986 Incorporated code from 4.3BSD; used internally. Featured a generalized version of the Streams IPC mechanism introduced in V8. The mount system call was extended to connect a stream to a file, the other end of which could be connected to a (user-level) program. This mechanism was used to implement network connection code in user space. Other innovations include Sam. According to Dennis Ritchie, V9 and V10 were "conceptual": manuals existed, but no OS distributions "in complete and coherent form".
10th Edition Oct 1989 Last Research Unix. Although the manual was published outside of AT&T by Saunders College Publishing, there was no full distribution of the system itself. Novelties included graphics typesetting tools designed to work with troff, a C interpreter, animation programs, and several tools later found in Plan 9: the Mk build tool and the rc shell. V10 was also the basis for Doug McIlroy and James A. Reeds' multilevel-secure operating system IX.
Plan 9 1st Edition 1992 Plan 9 was a successor operating system to Research Unix developed by Bell Laboratories Computing Science Research Center (CSRC).


In 2002, Caldera International released Unix V1, V2, V3, V4, V5, V6, V7 on PDP-11 and Unix 32V on VAX as FOSS under a permissive BSD-like software license.

In 2017, Unix Heritage Society and Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc., on behalf of itself and Nokia Bell Laboratories, released V8, V9, and V10 under the condition that only non-commercial use was allowed, and that they would not assert copyright claims against such use.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Fiedler, Ryan (October 1983). "The Unix Tutorial / Part 3: Unix in the Microcomputer Marketplace". BYTE. p. 132. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  2. ^ Ritchie, Dennis (26 October 2000). "alt.folklore.computers: BSD (Dennis Ritchie)". Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McIlroy, M. D. (1987). A Research Unix reader: annotated excerpts from the Programmer's Manual, 1971–1986 (PDF) (Technical report). CSTR. Bell Labs. 139.
  4. ^ a b Thompson, Ken; Ritchie, Dennis M. (June 12, 1972). UNIX Programmer's Manual, Second Edition (PDF). Bell Telephone Laboratories. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-10-06.
  5. ^ Ritchie, D. M.; Thompson, K. (1974). "The UNIX Time-Sharing System". Communications of the ACM. 17 (7): 365–375. doi:10.1145/361011.361061. S2CID 53235982.
  6. ^ a b c Ritchie, Dennis (27 June 2003). " Re: V7 UNIX on VAX 11/750". Archived from the original on 2017-03-05. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
  7. ^ "csh". The Unix Heritage Society. n.d. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  8. ^ Spencer, Henry (1986-01-19). "regexp(3)". Newsgroupmod.sources. Usenet: [email protected]. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  9. ^ Presotto, David L.; Ritchie, Dennis M. (1990). "Interprocess Communication in the Ninth Edition Unix System". Software: Practice and Experience. 19.
  10. ^ "Unix Tenth Edition Manual". Bell Labs. Archived from the original on 3 February 2015. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  11. ^ "The IX Multilevel-Secure UNIX System".
  12. ^ Caldera releases original unices under BSD license on (2002)
  13. ^ "UNIX is free!". 2002-01-24.
  14. ^ Broderick, Bill (January 23, 2002). "Dear Unix enthusiasts" (PDF). Caldera International. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 February 2009.
  15. ^ Darwin, Ian F. (2002-02-03). "Why Caldera Released Unix: A Brief History". Linuxdevcenter. O'Reilly Media. Archived from the original on 2004-06-01. Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  16. ^ Samizdat no more: Old Unix source code opened for study by Richard Chirgwin on (30 March 2017)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Research Unix.