Understanding Working In The Linux Shell
In Linux, the user communicates with the OS by using the CLI or the GUI. Linux often starts in the GUI by default. This hides the CLI from the user. One way to access the CLI from the GUI is through a terminal emulator application. These applications provide user access to the CLI and are often named as some variation of the word “terminal”. In Linux, popular terminal emulators are Terminator, eterm, xterm, konsole, and gnome-terminal.
Fabrice Bellard has created JSLinux which allows an emulated version of Linux to run in a browser. Search for it on the internet. Open a Linux console in JSLinux and type the ls command to list the current directory content. Keep the tab open if you would like to try out some of the other commands discussed in this article.
The figure shows gnome-terminal, a popular Linux terminal emulator.
Note: The terms shell, console, console window, CLI terminal, and terminal window are often used interchangeably.
Linux commands are programs created to perform a specific task. Use the man command (short for manual) to obtain documentation about commands. As an example, man ls provides documentation about the ls command from the user manual.
Because commands are programs stored on the disk, when a user types a command, the shell must find it on the disk before it can be executed. The shell will look for user-typed commands in specific directories and attempt to execute them. The list of directories checked by the shell is called the path. The path contains many directories commonly used to store commands. If a command is not in the path, the user must specify its location, or the shell will not be able to find it. Users can easily add directories to the path, if necessary.
To invoke a command via the shell, simply type its name. The shell will try to find it in the system path and execute it.
The table lists basic Linux commands and their functions.
|mv||Moves or renames files and directories|
|chmod||Modifies file permissions|
|chown||Changes the ownership of a file|
|dd||Copies data from an input to an output|
|pwd||Displays the name of the current directory|
|ps||Lists the processes that are currently running in the system|
|su||Simulates a login as another user or to become a superuser|
|sudo||Runs a command as a super user, by default, or another named user|
|grep||Used to search for specific strings of characters within a file or other command outputs. To search through the output of a previous command, grep must be piped at the end of the previous command.|
|ifconfig||Used to display or configure network card related information. If issued without parameters, ifconfig will display the current network card(s) configuration. Note: While still widely in use, this command is deprecated. Use ip address instead.|
|apt-get||Used to install, configure and remove packages on Debian and its derivatives. Note: apt-get is a user-friendly command line front-end for dpkg, Debian’s package manager. The combo dpkg and apt-get is the default package manager system in all Debian Linux derivatives, including Raspbian.|
|iwconfig||Used to display or configure wireless network card related information. Similar to ifconfig, iwconfig will display wireless information when issued without parameters.|
|shutdown||Shuts down the system, shutdown can be instructed to perform a number of shut down related tasks, including restart, halt, put to sleep or kick out all currently connected users.|
|passwd||Used to change the password. If no parameters are provided, passwd changes the password for the current user.|
|cat||Used to list the contents of a file and expects the file name as the parameter. The cat command is usually used on text files.|
|man||Used to display the documentation for a specific command.|
Note: It is assumed that the user has the proper permissions to execute the command. File permissions in Linux are covered later in this chapter.
File and Directory Commands
Many command-line tools are included in Linux by default. To adjust the command operation, users can pass parameters and switches along with the command. The table lists a few of the most common commands related to files and directories.
|Is||Displays the files inside a directory|
|cd||Changes the current directory|
|mkdir||Creates a directory under the current directory|
|cp||Copies files from source to destination|
|mv||Moves files to a different directory|
|grep||Searches for specific strings of characters within a file or other commands outputs|
|cat||Lists the contents of a file and expects the file name as the parameter|
Working with Text Files
Linux has many different text editors, with various features and functions. Some text editors include graphical interfaces while others are command-line only tools. Each text editor includes a feature set designed to support a specific type of task. Some text editors focus on the programmer and include features such as syntax highlighting, brackets and parenthesis check, and other programming-focused features.
While graphical text editors are convenient and easy to use, command line-based text editors are very important for Linux users. The main benefit of command-line-based text editors is that they allow for text file editing from a remote computer.
Consider the following scenario: a user must perform administrative tasks on a Linux computer but is not sitting in front of that computer. Using SSH, the user starts a remote shell to the remote computer. Under the text-based remote shell, the graphical interface is not available, which makes it impossible to rely on tools such as graphical text editors. In this type of situation, text-based programs are crucial.
The figure shows nano, a popular command-line text editor. The administrator is editing firewall rules. Text editors are often used for system configuration and maintenance in Linux.
Due to the lack of graphical support, nano (or GNU nano) can only be controlled with the keyboard. For example, CTRL+O saves the current file; CTRL+W opens the search menu. GNU nano uses a two-line shortcut bar at the bottom of the screen, where commands for the current context are listed. Press CTRL+G for the help screen and a complete list of commands.
The Importance of Text Files in Linux
In Linux, everything is treated as a file. This includes the memory, the disks, the monitor, and the directories. For example, from the operating system standpoint, showing information on the display means to write to the file that represents the display device. It should be no surprise that the computer itself is configured through files. Known as configuration files, they are usually text files used to store adjustments and settings for specific applications or services. Practically everything in Linux relies on configuration files to work. Some services have not one, but several configuration files.
Users with proper permission levels can use text editors to change the contents of configuration files. After the changes are made, the file is saved and can be used by the related service or application. Users are able to specify exactly how they want any given application or service to behave. When launched, services and applications check the contents of specific configuration files to adjust their behaviour accordingly.
In the figure, the administrator opened the host configuration file in nano for editing. The host file contains static mappings of host IP addresses to names. The names serve as shortcuts that allow connecting to other devices by using a name instead of an IP address. Only the superuser can change the host file.
Note: The administrator used the command sudo nano /etc/hosts to open the file. The command sudo (short for “superuser do”) invokes the superuser privilege to use the nano text editor to open the host file.
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