The goal of this talk is threefold:
and the overall purpose is to explain how to effectively use a Unix system. We will start with an overview of some of the basic ideas the system is designed around. After laying the foundation, we’ll briefly cover a number of easy topics and touch on more advanced topics, so we can learn what’s possible.
Where I lie or gloss to simplify stuff, I’ll try to make a note.
Unix was a simple multiuser operating system written in 1969 at AT&T Bell Labs by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (the creator of C). The name is a play on the very complex operating system Multics on which Thompson and Ritchie had worked. In contrast, Unix was a very simple system, written to run Space Travel on a spare PDP-7. Later, it was rewritten in C and used as the basis for an in-house typesetting system. Oh, and Brian Kernighan was involved too, but I can never really remember who did what.
Unix was developed at AT&T for several years before Version 7 was widely distributed to universities. Berkeley improved it with stuff like virtual memory and networking, and added many of the common commands, creating BSD Unix. SunOS is derived from BSD. AT&T tried to standardize Unix, creating several versions culminating in System V. Nowadays, almost everything (including Solaris) is based on System V, but incorporates lots of Berkeley stuff. The Open Group owns the Unix trademark.
Except for VMS, Unix is basically the only non-IBM operating system still used on large computers. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mostly because Unix was inexpensive and easy to port to new hardware during an important time in computer history.
Unix is based on a kernel, essentially a small program that knows how to
talk to the computer’s hardware, allocates resources such as processor
time to running programs, and enforces security (so that I can’t read your
files). The opposite of kernel is user. User programs are known as
processes and can make system calls to ask the kernel to do things such as
input/output. When using Unix, you’re typically typing at a shell, a
program designed to help you manipulate files and run programs. Other
special user programs include
init which is responsible for
starting up other user programs and various programs known as daemons,
which run in the background and perform various system-related or
housekeeping duties. Processes are organized in a tree: when one process
runs another, it is called the parent.
Processes and files each have an owner and an owning group, identified
by numbers (the uid and gid). When you log into a Unix computer,
you tell it your username and password, but it’s all just numbers
internally. The file
/etc/passwd stores the mapping
between usernames and uids, as well as storing passwords, and
/etc/groups stores the mapping between groups and gids.
Each user has only one uid, and a primary gid, but may belong to
any number of secondary groups. These numbers are used for accounting
and security, as we’ll see when we talk about file permissions .
All of the files and directories form a tree, even if they’re physically stored on different disks. In a networked environment, some or all of the directories may be shared between multiple computers, but they don’t appear any different to users.
Each directory contains a special directory
. which refers to
.. which refers to its parent. Note that directories
are really just a special type of file, that stores a list of children . You can refer to files by absolute paths (starting
with /, the root of the tree) or relative paths with using ..’s and such.
By the way, filenames in Unix are case-sensitive and can include almost
any character except slashes (although spaces and control characters get
annoying, and there are problems with special characters that the shell
Each user has a home directory, which they “own.” The system looks here for some configuration files, and it’s a place to store files. When you log into the computer, or start a new shell, you usually start off located in your home directory.
Each file has an owner, a group, and an associated set of permission bits. Only the file’s owner can change these. In each of the categories user, group, and other, you can control read, write, and execute permission. These control the access given yourself, other users in your group, and other users not in your group. For directories, read permission allows you to list files, write permission allows you to create and delete files (even if you don’t own them), and execute permission allows you to access files provided you know their names .
Soft links are special files that point to another file by name.
Device files are another type of special file, used to communicate with hardware devices like serial ports. There’s also a device file corresponding to each logged-in user. The shell reads and writes to your device file to learn what you type and print text for you to see .
Here’s a directory tree. This is an idealized view of a standalone machine.
The necessities of a networked environment with multiple architectures and
operating systems make the math department setup a bit more complicated.
/usr is shared between multiple machines and is read only,
but each machine has its own root directory.
|“The root directory.”
|Basic configuration files and system programs.
|One common location for home directories.
|Shared libraries, sometimes compiler support.
|Another location for system programs.
|Small temporary files.
|Files for building a new kernel.
|Less basic files, typically shared and read-only.
Has subdirectories corresponding to those at the
root level, such as
|Configuration files and some daemons.
|What it says.
|Shared libraries, support for compiler, and support files for various other programs.
|Locally added files, also
Typically contains another set of directories,
man, and so on.
|Normal location for man pages, unless
|Files shared between different architectures.
|Normal location for source code.
|Under SysV, Berkeley versions of binaries go here.
|frequently changed files, spool directories, etc.
|Users’ mail files.
|Another place for temp files.
Once you log into a computer, you’re presented with a prompt to
type at or perhaps a desktop with several windows you can type
into. The program that watches you type and reacts is called a
shell. You use it to run other programs. Most shells let you
write programs using structures like if/then, for…next, and so
on — we’ll talk about this later. Here, we’ll be talking about
the C shell,
/bin/csh, but everything also works with
tcsh. The ideas are the same in Bourne-derived shells
You should know about the files
These files contain C shell commands that are run when the shell
starts up. They are responsible for setting up your terminal, and
lots of shell configuration options. Since we’re going to talk
about the default math department setup for now, since this involves
shell programming, and since there are some subtle issues involved,
we’ll pass over this for now.
There are two kinds of variables in the C shell: shell variables and environment variables. Shell variables control the configuration of the shell (prompts, and so on), or can be used for storing random stuff. Every process has environment variables, and inherits their settings from its parent (such as a shell), so these can be used for more general configuration. Note that these settings are local, so if you change them in one window, they won’t change other shells you might be running.
Let’s try a quick tutorial: type “
set” to see the current
settings. Now type “
set fred = hello” to put the text
“hello” into the variable fred. Type “
echo $fred” to
see what’s in the variable fred. Echo is a command that just
repeats its arguments, and the shell replaces $fred with the contents
of the variable fred before running echo. We’ll see more examples
of this sort of shell expansion soon.
To set environment variables, use “
For some reason, environment variables always have names IN ALL
CAPS. Here are some examples (note the missing =):
setenv FRED hello
One special environment variable is $PATH. It is a list of locations that the shell looks for programs in, seperated by colons. On a simple computer it might look like:
The C shell reads this variable on startup, and caches the list of
commands in these directories. Very few commands are actually built into
the shell. Most are found because they’re in one of the directories that
$PATH lists. One built in command is
rehash, which you can use
to tell the shell to rebuild this cache.
So far, the only commands we’ve used that aren’t built into the shell are setenv and echo. Let’s list some simple, useful commands to manipulate files:
|list files in the current directory.
|print the current directory.
|create an empty file (updates the access time of an existing file).
Use this to create files to play with.
|create a new directory.
|change working directory.
|delete a directory.
|change the permissions of a file (see also chgrp and chown).
To see specifics on how to use these programs, you can use the man command.
For example, “
Most Unix commands share a simple syntax: “command flags arguments.”
Where the flags are special arguments in the form of a dash and a character,
or list of characters.
ls -l” lists the files in the current directory in a long format
that tells who owns the files, what their permissions are, how big they are,
and when they were last changed. “
ls -l /bin” prints a long listing
of all of the files in the
/bin directory, and so on.
We’ve already seen that the shell replaces $fred with the contents of
the variable fred and $FRED with the contents of the environment variable fred.
There are many other replacements made. For example, the shell replaces
a tilde (~) with your home directory and ~tinsel with my home directory.
A very important idea is wildcard expansion. The shell replaces a * with
a list of all files in the current directory, ../* with a list of all files
in the parent of the current directory, and ~tinsel/* with a list of my files.
To see a list of commands that start with r, try “
The shell matches a ? with any single character in the same way. To
see a list of all files in the current directory that have three character
names, try “
By the way, files that have names that start with a period are special.
They don’t show up normally — ls doesn’t list them and * doesn’t expand
to match them. To list them use “
The shell has many special characters. We’ve already talked about some,
and we’ll be talking about many of the rest when we talk about shell
scripts, but a few are commonly used directly. One important one is
backslash. Use it to escape out characters that would otherwise mean
something to the shell. For example, you can create a file named ? with
touch \?” and a file named \ with “
touch \\” (but
you probably shouldn’t) .
The shell uses three different types of quotes. Quotes ” and ’ basically give
alternatives for backslash when using special characters. The difference:
"$fred" evaluates to the contents of the variable fred while
'$fred' evaluates to the string $fred. The last quote is different.
The shell evaluates the quoted command and replaces the quote with the output
of the command.
If you want to use more than one command on the command line, seperate them
with semicolons “
;” and they will run serially. To group them together
(for use with redirection or backgrounding, see below), use parentheses.
The shell keeps track of previous commands youve typed. You can list its
memory with “
history”. Some of the ways to use history:
|Repeat the last command.
|Repeat the command before last.
|Repeat command 33 (that’s why there’s a number in your prompt).
|Repeat the last command beginning with an x.
|Repeat the last command, correcting a spelling mistake
There are more, see the csh man page if you care, but with tcsh and more modern shells, you can use the up and down arrows to scroll through previous commands, and the left and right arrows to edit them.
One of the strengths of Unix is the capability to use several simple modular commands together to create a more powerful command. This is done with one of several redirection operators:
|send output to file
ls -l > directory_list
|append output to file
ls -l .. >> directory_list
|get input from file
sort < people
When configured normally, the shell prevents you from using
with an existing file. If the appropriate shell variable (noclobber) is not
set, it will erase the previous file. Most error messages will still get sent
to the console, not to the file .
To send output from one command directly to another, we use the “pipe”
|”. For example,
spell thesis | sort | uniq > words_I_cant_spell
One way to create new commands is to create shell scripts (like DOS *.BAT files, but with more programming capabilities. Another way is to create aliases. There’s only so much time, so we’ll put all of this off until a special talk on scripting.
You can run more than one program at once. If you have a noninteractive command that will take a while, you can run it in the background with & as so:
long_math_calculations > thesis_results &
If you are running a program and wish to temporarily suspend it, press
control-Z. Your program will stop running and you return to the command
prompt (some programs like
pine override this). To allow
your process to run in the background type
bg. It will pause
if it needs input from the console. To return to it,type
If you do this with several programs at once, you will need to know how
to refer to each seperately. Use the
jobs command to list
your running and suspended programs by number, and then “
fg ” to
bring the first to the foreground, etc. By the way, you can’t background
a process in one shell and foreground it in another.
kill - send a signal to a process, or terminate a process ps - display the status of current processes top - display and update information about the top cpu processes nice - run a command at low priority nohup - run a command immune to hangups at, batch - execute a command or script at a specified time atq - display the queue of jobs to be run at specified times atrm - remove jobs spooled by at or batch crontab - install, edit, remove or list a user's crontab file
These can be changed with the
The primary confusion is between backspace (control-H) and delete (DEL).
|Interrupt/Kill current program
|End of file — end most pipes
|Erase to beginning of line
|Erase previous word
|Suspend current program
Like everything else, there are several ways of exiting the shell. The simplest
is to type “
The standard Unix command to get help is
man, which stands for manual.
The manual comes in several sections:
In general, you’ll be interested in the first section. If commands with the
same name occur in multiple sections, you can use “
man 1 command” to
be sure to get the version you want. Man pages are usually
brief instructions on how to use a particular command, including a summary
of flags and other arguments. Traditionally, there’s a second volume of the
manual with tutorials, but it’s not usually online.
Each man page begins with a one line description of the command, many of
which are quoted later in this document. If you’re looking for a command,
but don’t know its name, you can use the
apropos command to search
through these lines. For example, “
apropos print” will list some
commands that involve the printer. It will also list standard C functions
like printf. If you want to see the one line description of a command instead
of the complete page, use
whatis. Unfortunately, not all man pages
show up in apropos/whatis.
A nonstandard command available locally is
help. This provides
access to a database of helpful information, layed out as files and directories.
You’ll see a menu of options. Simply type a name to see the file or change
directories. Type “..” to go up one directory. You can also type
help topic from the command line if you know what subject you want.
These help files are of mixed usefulness. Some are locally written. For example,
help sun-where provides a list of installed computers and their locations,
and is almost current. Others are general berkeley information, and may be as many
as fifteen years old, referring to nonexistent computers, software, and policies.
df - report free disk space on file systems du - display the number of disk blocks used per directory or file file - determine the type of a file by examining its contents find - find files by name, or by other characteristics (and then do something with them) ln - make hard or symbolic links to files whereis - locate the binary, source, and manual page files for a command which - locate a command; display its pathname or alias
Actually, most of these (and other) programs can be used as a pipe:
cat /etc/motd | more” or on their own:
more /etc/motd”, but these are some programs that are
typically used as pipes.
awk - a pattern scanning and processing language, normally works on columns cat - concatenate and display colrm - remove characters from specified columns within each line cut - remove selected fields from each line of a file dd - convert and copy files with various data formats dos2unix, unix2dos - convert text file between DOS & ISO formats expand, unexpand - expand TAB characters to SPACE characters, and vice versa fmt, fmt_mail - simple text and mail-message formatters fold - fold long lines for display on an output device of a given width grep, egrep, fgrep - search a file for a string or regular expression head - display first few lines of specified files join - relational database operator more - browse or page through a text file nl - line numbering filter od - octal, decimal, hexadecimal, and ascii dump paste - join corresponding lines of several files, or subsequent lines of one file pr - prepare file(s) for printing, perhaps in multiple columns rev - reverse the order of characters in each line sed - stream editor sort - sort and collate lines spell - report spelling errors tail - display the last part of a file tee - save input to a file and pass it along tr - translate characters (use for ROT13, CRLF conversion, etc.) tsort - topological sort uniq - remove or report adjacent duplicate lines
look - find words in the system dictionary or lines in a sorted list wc - display a count of lines, words and characters sum - calculate a checksum for a file dircmp - compare directories comm - display lines in common, and lines not in common, between two sorted lists cmp - perform a byte-by-byte comparison of two files diff - display line-by-line differences between pairs of text files diff3 - display line-by-line differences between 3 files sdiff - contrast two text files by displaying them side-by-side patch - the opposite of diff ed, red - basic line editor ex, edit, e - line editor vi, view, vedit - visual display editor based on ex split - split a file into pieces csplit - split a file with respect to a given context
finger - display information about users id - print the user name and ID, and group name and ID last - indicate last logins by user or terminal mpstat - show multi-processor usage su - super-user, temporarily switch to a new user ID uptime - show how long the system has been up users - display a compact list of users logged in w - who is logged in, and what are they doing who - who is logged in on the system whoami - display the effective current username mesg - permit or deny messages on the terminal talk - talk to another user write - write a message to another user arch - display the architecture of the current host mach - display the processor type of the current host hostid - print the numeric identifier of the current host hostname - set or print name of current host system uname - display the name of the current system groups - display a user's group memberships newgrp - log into a new primary group passwd - change your password, finger name, and/or shell (also chfn, chsh) stty - set or alter the options for a terminal tset, reset - establish or restore terminal characteristics tty - display the name of the terminal xenv - obtain or alter environment variables for command execution
You’ve probably used the mail program pine. If you know how to use older mail programs like Mail, you probably don’t need these notes anyhow. If you haven’t used it, it’s a nice menu-driven program for reading and sending electronic mail. You can learn to use it by reading the list of available commands that always appears at the bottom of the screen.
Pine’s built in text editor is called pico, and can be
used on its own. To edit a file named bar, just type “
It’s not very powerful, but it’s easy to use. You could use it for
everything, but I recommend learning a stronger editor like vi or emacs.
Other mail-related programs:
from - display the sender and date of newly-arrived mail messages biff - give notice of incoming mail messages mail, Mail - read or send mail messages
Printers available for graduate students use are:
hp1 in 708C Evans
hp3 in 838 Evans
hp4 in 1002 Evans
They can be called by the alternate names hp1s, hp3s, and hp4s for single-sided output.
To print a file, use the
lpr command with the
flag to specify the printer: “
lpr -Php3 document”. You
can print either text or PostScript files this way. To see files waiting
for the printer, use “
lpq -Php3” and to remove one of your files
from the queue use “
lprm -Php3 tinsel” (assuming you’re me).
If the print queue does not appear to be moving and nothing’s coming out of the
printer, there are a few things to try. If the LED is flashing, it’s probably
just working on a complicated job. Otherwise, check if the printer is offline,
or if there’s an error message on the printer’s console. If these aren’t the
problem, try “
lwrestart hp3” (no
We have quotas on printing, too. To see how much you’ve printed, use the
TRANSCRIPT utilities include:
psnup - print multiple pages on a sheet of paper. enscript - convert text files to POSTSCRIPT format for printing
Remember df and du.
cpio - copy file archives in and out compress, uncompress, zcat - compress or expand files, display expanded contents crypt - encode or decode a file des - encrypt or decrypt data using Data Encryption Standard tar - create tape archives, and add or extract files
Late every night, the math department computers check every file on the system,
and total their sizes by file owner. You can use
dqstatus to check
how much disk space you’re using system-wide, and how this compares to
your quota. If you go over quota, you will be allow only five logins.
You will be warned when you log in, and must delete or compress files to
save space. When the system checks disk usage on the next night, the login
restriction will go away.
banner - display a string in large letters bc - arbitrary-precision arithmetic language cal - display a calendar calendar - a simple reminder service date - display or set the date dc - desk calculator leave - remind you when you have to leave script - make typescript of a terminal session sleep - suspend execution for a specified interval time - time a command units - conversion program vacation - reply to mail automatically wait - wait for a process to finish
uuencode, sc, MIME, etc.
eject - eject media device from drive fdformat - format diskettes for use with SunOS mtools volcheck
We’ve omitted certain types of commands from this list, with the intention of dealing with them later, including anything to do with the X Window System, writing and compiling programs, networking, and text formatting packages like nroff and troff. We’ll come back to some of these later.
ls [a-z]*”. Just read the man page
-r The problem is that programs interpret
their own flags, not the shell, and so they see the filename as a flag.
The easiest way to deal with these files is “
|&. To send only error messages
is possible but complicated.
Copyright © 1998–2023 Thomas Insel