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Chapter 4. Basic Unix Commands and Concepts

Chapter 4. Basic Unix Commands and Concepts

If you've come to Linux from Windows or another non-Unix operating system, you have a steep learning curve ahead of you. We might as well be candid on this point. Unix is a world all its own.

In this chapter, we're going to introduce the rudiments of Unix for those readers who have never had exposure to this operating system. If you are coming from Microsoft Windows or other environments, the information in this chapter will be absolutely vital to you. Unlike other operating systems, Unix is not at all intuitive. Many of the commands have seemingly odd names or syntax, the reasons for which usually date back many years to the early days of this system. And, although many of the commands may appear to be similar to their counterparts in the Windows command-line interpreter, there are important differences.

Dozens of other books cover basic Unix usage. You should be able to go to the computer section of any chain bookstore and find at least several of them on the shelf. (A few we like are listed in the Bibliography.) However, most of these books cover Unix from the point of view of someone sitting down at a workstation or terminal connected to a large mainframe, not someone who is running his own Unix system on a personal computer. A popular introduction to Unix usage that also covers Linux is Learning the Unix Operating System by Grace Todino, John Strang, and Jerry Peek, published by O'Reilly.

Also, these books often dwell upon the more mundane aspects of Unix: boring text-manipulation commands, such as awk, tr, and sed, most of which you will never need unless you start doing some serious Unix trickery. In fact, many Unix books talk about the original ed line editor, which has long been made obsolete by vi and Emacs. Therefore, although many of the Unix books available today contain a great deal of useful information, many of them contain pages upon pages of humdrum material you couldn't probably care less about at this point.

Instead of getting into the dark mesh of text processing, shell syntax, and other issues, in this chapter we strive to cover the basic commands needed to get you up to speed with the system if you're coming from a non-Unix environment. This chapter is far from complete; a real beginner's Unix tutorial would take an entire book. It's our hope that this chapter will give you enough to keep you going in your adventures with Linux, and that you'll invest in a good Unix book once you have a need to do so. We'll give you enough Unix background to make your terminal usable, keep track of jobs, and enter essential commands.

Chapter 5 contains material on system administration and maintenance. This is by far the most important chapter for anyone running his own Linux system. If you are completely new to Unix, the material found in Chapter 5 should be easy to follow once you've completed the tutorial here.

One big job we don't cover in this chapter is how to edit files. It's one of the first things you need to learn on any operating system. The two most popular editors for Linux, vi and Emacs, are discussed at the beginning of Chapter 9.

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