Matthias K. Gobbert

Introduction to Unix/Linux

Summer 2017

This page can be reached via my homepage at

Getting Started with Unix/Linux

This document provides information that tells you how to learn about the Unix/Linux operating system. In particular on a high performance computer, you typically have to issue commands to a remote server through a terminal. Most commonly, a variant of Unix (such as the very popular open source OS Linux) is the operating system that is run on these machines. Therefore, it will be necessary to use the Unix command line. Here we give some resources for getting started with Unix.

These videos show how quickly to get started connecting remotely to a Unix server using Windows and the program PuTTY. The second video shows how to get started in C, so there is some overlap with the material below. They are about 20 min total between the two of them, so a nice quick introduction. To clearly see what's going on, set the quality to 720p and watch at full screen

The following is an hour long lecture from an instructor. It covers many details about classical Unix. Again, the video is best viewed at full screen with quality 720p.

For a text tutorial on Unix, many good sources can be found by searching for "unix tutorial". For example:

The Choice of Editor under Unix/Linux

Besides the fundamental commands to navigate directories and files, you need to learn about an editor, so that you create and edit files. The editors vi and emacs are the professional-grade ones, which allow for powerful copying and pasting, search and replace, etc. There are good reasons for preferring one over the other (as demonstrated by the continuing so-called Unix/Linux Editor Wars), but they are both professional-grade editors and acceptable for programming applications. It will pay in the long run to become thoroughly familiar with one of them. If you just want to survive for a short period of using Unix/Linux, consider pico or nano; they are not professional-grade, but suffice, for instance, if you only need to create very basic files or change an existing file.

More Advanced Information: Think Unix

For an advanced introduction to the reality of Unix/Linux, I would recommend the book Think Unix by Jon Lasser, formerly with UMBC, published by the Que Corporation in 2000. It is short and to the point, albeit its realistic outlook may not be the right thing for a beginner. See the literature list on my homepage for my brief review of this book as well as references to various other books.

What is Unix? What is Linux?

Unix has been the dominant operating system for workstations since the early 1970's, sold in various flavors as IRIX (SGI), HP-UX (HP), Solarix (Sun), etc. by the manufacturers. It was originally developed at AT&T, and the Capitalization 'UNIX' is a registered trademark of that company.

Unix is the operating system designed for networked multi-user multi-tasking systems. While known as 'hostile to beginners,' its power and versatility are unsurpassed. It is a marketable skill to know Unix well.

Linux is a complete re-implementation of the Unix user interface, originally for the Intel personal computer chip series 80X86. The effort was initiated and organized by Linus Torvalds of Finland (hence the name). It is one of the most amazing examples of the power of the internet: Literally thousands of people from all across the world have contributed code to it, free of charge, and with no other incentive than the reward of having their work used by others.

Compared to the typical workstation Unix, Linux has the feel of a luxurious and well-implemented version of Unix with a comfortable and forgiving user-interface. Linux is distributed by various companies, UMBC uses the RedHat distribution. It comes with several graphical user interfaces, like fvwm2, Gnome, KDE, etc.

Copyright © 1997-2017 by Matthias K. Gobbert. All Rights Reserved.
This page version 5.1, June 2017.