Getting serious about UNIX

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Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 12:44 am

Ok,

I've been working this new job for about a year now. It requires a limited amount of of UNIX use on a daily basis. I have of course been wanting to delve into the depths on UNIX for a long time, but have been too scared. Now i have no choice. Using it every day (in a limited capacity, vi, du, find, and grep is about it) and the training courses I have been sent to by my work have emboldened me.

So, with my new found confidence, and boiling curiosity, i intend to become fully immersed, and educated. I have a few good references, the UNIX in a Nutshell, and Sed and Awk books by O'rielly. As well as several websites, recommended by my instructors.

So now i have everything that work recommends, but i wish to know what my peers, here at TR think. Where should i go? What should i do first?

At the recommendation of one of my instructors, i have downloaded VMWare player and installed an Ubuntu OS onto it (8.10 i believe). I have been playing with that a bit, but honestly i got bored with it after a few hours. It was setup to run in GUI mode from startup, and its easy like that. So i brought up the command line, i can get around easy enough there, but i didn't really have anything to do (This is where i admit that i'm not very imaginative, so i didn't have any programs or anything in mind to immediately go out and try to create).

I don't really know where to proceed from this point. I want to become fluent in UNIX, as well as Linux, i just don't know where to direct my energies.

So uhh... Help?
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 2:52 am

Depends on what your goals are. If you're looking to pick up skills which may be relevant to your job, a better idea of what you do at work would help us come up with better recommendations. If it's more of a "want to learn more about *NIX in general" thing, then maybe we should discuss what some of your non-work computer-related interests are.

Some off-the-cuff thoughts on potential avenues of exploration...

- Samba (allows a *NIX system to seamlessly serve files to Windows workstations)

- Apache (the de facto web server for *NIX systems)

- PHP (the current de facto middleware scripting language for doing database-driven web apps on *NIX...)

- Python (IMO the emerging "power scripting" language for *NIX systems... good integration with all other system services -- web, database, graphics, etc.)

- MySQL and/or PostgreSQL (most widely used database engines for *NIX apps)

- Secure Shell (OpenSSH), and what I like to refer to as "stupid SSH tricks" (tunneling connections for remote system access/management, encrypted port forwarding, secure file transfer, etc.)

- Set up your own Wiki (the software which runs Wikipedia -- Mediawiki -- is available from the Ubuntu repositories... it's all written in PHP, and uses MySQL back-end... I learned just enough PHP to be dangerous by hacking around in the Mediawiki code)

- Learn how to set up a *NIX based network firewall/router

- Learn C/C++ (if you don't already know them)

- Play around with OpenGL, and teach yourself 3D graphics programming (you may want to scrape together some hardware for a native Linux install if you want to do this, since hardware OpenGL acceleration for VMs is still rather spotty)
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 9:45 am

Unix life would be a lot more interesting if Autodesk and Adobe would learn to live beyond Microsoft.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 10:09 am

First: try to install something much harder than Ubuntu - LFS would be best if You want to learn everything from the basics.
Second: when You install it, use it as your primary OS - don't fallback to other OS, if You have to do something, do it in Linux.

I must warn You, to follow my advices You must have a lot of free time and probably You will find yourself in a lot of annoying and frustrating situations. But it is the best - and fastest - way i know to learn Unix. If You don't have much free time, You may consider a bit easier distros - Gentoo or Slackware.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 11:06 am

kmieciu wrote:First: try to install something much harder than Ubuntu - LFS would be best if You want to learn everything from the basics.
Second: when You install it, use it as your primary OS - don't fallback to other OS, if You have to do something, do it in Linux.

I must warn You, to follow my advices You must have a lot of free time and probably You will find yourself in a lot of annoying and frustrating situations. But it is the best - and fastest - way i know to learn Unix. If You don't have much free time, You may consider a bit easier distros - Gentoo or Slackware.


I completely agree with this advice. Nothing will teach you Linux like like using it exclusively and for everything. However, if you want to do some serious screwing and experience major frustration, try installing Solaris. There is a good chance you will become suicidal afterward but there is also a good chance that you'll become hardc0re! :)
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 11:54 am

Are you saying that the best way to learn *nix is to hamstring yourself?
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 12:22 pm

flip-mode wrote:Unix life would be a lot more interesting if Autodesk and Adobe would learn to live beyond Microsoft.


Adobe already makes a number of products for a UNIX OS.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 3:08 pm

End User wrote:Adobe already makes a number of products for a UNIX OS.
Are they the ones you almost certainly know I am talking about? :)
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 3:18 pm

Usacomp2k3 wrote:Are you saying that the best way to learn *nix is to hamstring yourself?
It sounds like it but I think that is because they left out an important point: Start from scratch on a *spare computer*. That way you are not hamstrung, so to speak. That is essentially what I am doing, and, as far as I am concerned, progress has been good. I started mucking around with *nix about 3 weeks ago. He is probably starting from a point that is already beyond me.

My advice for a starting point would be to focus on the following:

1.) pick a text editor and learn it. I have stuck with ee (easy editor) so far as it is joyfully simple
2.) use dmesg | more to see what hardware is attached to your system
2.1) learn about hardware naming conventions (linux is different from FreeBSD) to know how to interpret dmesg
3.) read up on rc.conf - that is the boot time configuration file where lots of mojo happens
4.) read up on su and sudo and, if applicable, the wheel group
5.) get Pine or some other email, as least just SMTP so you can send messages and email config files to others or yourself for posting, up and running.

Dunno, that's all I've got so far. In the three weeks that I have been mucking with *nix, those seem to be the most important points.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 3:36 pm

What flip-mode said, but with some adjustments for the Linux world:

The easiest console-mode text editor is IMO nano, but you may like joe instead. It's good to eventually learn vi because nearly every Unix will have it.

You can use lspci to find your hardware. It won't find some odd stuff, and won't find stuff on the ISA bus.

The startup stuff in Linux is in different places. On Debian and its derivatives (like Ubuntu) the startup items are shellscripts in /etc/init.d/. You've got seven "init" levels (0-6), and each init level has symlinks in their directories in /etc, e.g. /etc/rc2.d, /etc/rc3.d. Debian defaults to using init-level 2 unless it's told otherwise. Slackware is different, IIRC it uses /etc/rc.d like BSD, and I think Red Hat and its derivatives use a somewhat different system.

I like mutt for console-mode email. :)
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:07 pm

Ok, well i don't have a spare computer at the moment to play around with, so that's why i'm inclined to use the VMWare method. Also my wife would kill me if i got rid of windows, so that's out.

I suppose i'll just have to get rid of Ubuntu on there, and go with a more basic UNIX OS. I'm hoping to get a spare system together later, but it will probably be a few months (if not longer).

Serious Question: How does one "play around" in a programming language? I've heard this a lot lately (ex. "Just go play around with it, have fun!" or "You'll understand after you've played around with it some more.") and i'm afraid i'm not quite getting the point.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:13 pm

Usacomp2k3 wrote:Are you saying that the best way to learn *nix is to hamstring yourself?
Use a polished, GUI-oriented distribution and you learn the GUI and the foibles of that particular distro, not "*nix".
...
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:15 pm

mattsteg wrote:
Usacomp2k3 wrote:Are you saying that the best way to learn *nix is to hamstring yourself?
Use a polished, GUI-oriented distribution and you learn the GUI and the foibles of that particular distro, not "*nix".

Not necessarily. You can still use Ubuntu to learn things about rc.d, iptables, routing, networking, etc. Just because you don't have to, doesn't mean that you can't.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:23 pm

Usacomp2k3 wrote:
mattsteg wrote:
Usacomp2k3 wrote:Are you saying that the best way to learn *nix is to hamstring yourself?
Use a polished, GUI-oriented distribution and you learn the GUI and the foibles of that particular distro, not "*nix".

Not necessarily. You can still use Ubuntu to learn things about rc.d, iptables, routing, networking, etc. Just because you don't have to, doesn't mean that you can't.
To some extent, but, in general, people don't. For starters they don't know what to learn about. That's significant. When everything's all set up for you ahead of time you don't even realize what there is to set up in the first place. Next, since every distro ends up organizing things just a little bit different, they're funneled into looking for information in a distro-centric way, and inevitably a lot of that help is going to be oriented toward using the distro's GUI.

It's a whole lot more efficient to learn when learning is part of the journey rather than a series of self-guided side trips.
...
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 6:19 pm

mattsteg wrote: Next, since every distro ends up organizing things just a little bit different, they're funneled into looking for information in a distro-centric way, and inevitably a lot of that help is going to be oriented toward using the distro's GUI.

And that's going to be true regards of whether they start off with a pretty distro like Ubunto or something like Slackware. A lot of that learning is going to be just as distro-specific.

I think that it's the lack of continuity between distro's that keeps it from becoming more popular or useful.

I agree that learning *nix by starting with a polished GUI version isn't the best way, I'm just more reflecting on the reality of that. For the most part, the future is moving towards a more gui-centric world. The longer *nix refuses to acknowledge that, the more they're missing the boat.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 6:27 pm

toxent wrote:Ok, well i don't have a spare computer at the moment to play around with, so that's why i'm inclined to use the VMWare method. Also my wife would kill me if i got rid of windows, so that's out.
A used $50 system - anything Pentium 3 / Athlon or later will be perfectly sufficient to start with. Play around on it for the first two months, sticking to the command line at first and then moving to the GUI.

The great thing about *nix is that it really will run on just about anything.

If you really need a spare machine, I can scrounge something together for you. I've got a P4 with 1 gig of RDRAM and a GeForce MX200. It is far more than adequate. I was actually planning on putting FreeBSD on it myself! :lol: If you're interested we can work something out, or someone else here may have something they might be willing to just toss your way.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 6:58 pm

toxent wrote:Serious Question: How does one "play around" in a programming language? I've heard this a lot lately (ex. "Just go play around with it, have fun!" or "You'll understand after you've played around with it some more.") and i'm afraid i'm not quite getting the point.


IMO it's best to start with an interpreted language that you can just throw commands at. Python will do this, and you can find Forth dialects, and BASIC dialects as well, and there's even LOGO for visual learning. LOGO and BASIC were big back in the '80s.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 7:04 pm

I had a good deal of fun learning Linux back in '99 on Debian 2.1. It's amazingly primitive today and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a newb today, but I definitely had to learn the Unix way of doing things because there was no point-and-drool setup. If you wanted to change a configuration, you pretty much had to find out which file to edit, what settings to change, and do it all by hand.

Even the most recent versions of Slackware still capture the joy of learning like this and concentrating on text mode, but with better defaults and tools, and the installation is nowhere near as hairy. Make no mistake, Slack will not hold your hand, but if you make yourself stick with it, you will learn.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 8:09 pm

I think that LFS is the fastest way to get a great working knowledge of how everything works in linux. It teaches you a lot of the subsystem. Then once its all up and running slap portage on there and you have an nice system to enjoy.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 8:16 pm

Usacomp2k3 wrote:
mattsteg wrote: Next, since every distro ends up organizing things just a little bit different, they're funneled into looking for information in a distro-centric way, and inevitably a lot of that help is going to be oriented toward using the distro's GUI.

And that's going to be true regards of whether they start off with a pretty distro like Ubunto or something like Slackware. A lot of that learning is going to be just as distro-specific.
Substantially less would, though. At the very least they'd be using editors likely to be found on any distro and getting used to how config files tend to be organized and how they're formatted.
Usacomp2k3 wrote: agree that learning *nix by starting with a polished GUI version isn't the best way, I'm just more reflecting on the reality of that. For the most part, the future is moving towards a more gui-centric world. The longer *nix refuses to acknowledge that, the more they're missing the boat.
It's not that it's not being acknowledged - it's been acknowledged by a million different projects working in a million different directions.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2008 10:43 pm

bthylafh wrote:
toxent wrote:Serious Question: How does one "play around" in a programming language? I've heard this a lot lately (ex. "Just go play around with it, have fun!" or "You'll understand after you've played around with it some more.") and i'm afraid i'm not quite getting the point.

IMO it's best to start with an interpreted language that you can just throw commands at. Python will do this, and you can find Forth dialects, and BASIC dialects as well, and there's even LOGO for visual learning. LOGO and BASIC were big back in the '80s.

Step 1: Pick a language you want to learn.
Step 2: Pick a project that interests you.
Step 3: Take a whack at it.

I suggest you start relatively small, but choose something that you find interesting and/or fun. For example, something along the lines of the Spirograph simulator I posted on my blog a while back would be a pretty good introductory Python project, if geeky mathematical things float your boat.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Wed Dec 24, 2008 1:39 am

Which Unix OS are you using at work? I installed Ubuntu shortly after Vista came out and was dual booting for a time. I finally made the cut over to single booting Ubuntu 8.10 which has been great. Even though it is GUI driven you still have access to a terminal and virtual consoles. I guess your point is not having any set task to learn with and I can see myself falling back on the GUI tools. JBI suggested a few good tasks to try and I'm sure others will suggest several more.

Come to think of it which *nix would make a great CLI OS to learn on? I know Linux is sort of ubiquitous but there are all the BSDs and Open Solaris to consider. What do businesses tend to choose for their workstations and servers?
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Wed Dec 24, 2008 9:34 am

mattsteg wrote:
Usacomp2k3 wrote:
mattsteg wrote: Next, since every distro ends up organizing things just a little bit different, they're funneled into looking for information in a distro-centric way, and inevitably a lot of that help is going to be oriented toward using the distro's GUI.

And that's going to be true regards of whether they start off with a pretty distro like Ubunto or something like Slackware. A lot of that learning is going to be just as distro-specific.
Substantially less would, though. At the very least they'd be using editors likely to be found on any distro and getting used to how config files tend to be organized and how they're formatted.

Good point.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Wed Dec 24, 2008 12:36 pm

If you are interested in C or shell script, you could always play around with my Folding CD stuff.
Warning - it doesn't build on Ubuntu 8.10 at the moment but does on 8.04. I'm working on fixing it.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Wed Dec 24, 2008 2:18 pm

Are you saying that the best way to learn *nix is to hamstring yourself?

The best way to learn anything is to have a problem to solve that stretches your capabilities, i.e. hamstring yourself (appropriately)

You can stretch a lot more if you have a tutor to provide guidance and support.

If you are going it alone, smaller steps with less stretch in one leap are usually more successful.

As noted, you have to have a goal in mind to create a focus for your efforts.

There are two basic learning approaches. One is reverse engineering and the other is building and enhancing recipes.

A good reverse engineering topic for getting a handle on basic concepts would be, for example, to look at Remastersys for Ubuntu. See Remastering an installation system for a rundown on avenues to explore.

A good example of the recipe (lab experiment approach) would be to set up a network services box. You could start with eBox (see eBox as an Ubuntu server front end) on this for a reverse engineering approach but it would also serve as a basis for inspecting the breadth of networking issues and providing a basis for experiment. After that, try setting up your own Samba and web servers. Start simple, such as without security, and then start adding things.

Once you do get something simple up and start enhancing what you have and trying to use it to do things, you will very likely find strange things happening. Figuring these out can be good learning exercises. See for instance Ebox and the Samba share linked file problem.

Note that these examples are on the systems management track. Some of the other messages here have suggested the programmers and developer's track. These are very separate disciplines and you won't get very far until you figure out which is your focus. That is why one of the first responses was to ask about what you want to do. The tools are really rather simple and the philosophy straight forward. Like any good tool, though, they fade into the background for the craftsman whose real expertise is in building the product. You have to decide on which product.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Wed Dec 24, 2008 8:28 pm

Dirge wrote:Which Unix OS are you using at work?


We use HP-UX and AIX at work. All completely command line stuff.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Wed Dec 24, 2008 8:52 pm

Look, you can kinda learn UNIX with Linux, but some stuff will be totally different. Think of the different UNIXes out there (UNICOS, AIX, Solaris, SunOS, IRIX, BeOS, Darwin) as different Linux distros, but instead of the major difference being the config files being in totally different locations, the commands are now different.

The best way to learn UNIX is probably get something like Solaris (I think it's a widely used UNIX, and AIX probably follows it), or get a cheap SGI box with IRIX preinstalled. If you think installing Solaris makes you suicidal, installing IRIX is... well, sado-masochistic? Towards yourself, that is.

You're not gonna learn anything but Linux with Linux. And if you want to learn about Linux, get Gentoo. Ubuntu's nice, but I like to throw myself into the deep end to start things out.
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Re: Getting serious about UNIX

Postposted on Thu Dec 25, 2008 11:52 am

but instead of the major difference being the config files being in totally different locations, the commands are now different.
...
You're not gonna learn anything but Linux with Linux.

say what?

These sorts of assertions make me wonder about the MKS Toolkit, the goals of the GNU project, the Single Unix Standards, and the reason for Linux, itself.

Command shell? you choose that to match your target.

Tools and utilities? minor differences, perhaps, but the base collection has only enough variance to be irritating.

System layout? well, you need to get a handle on the AT&T vs Berkely approaches but even then the differences are more irritating than anything else.

Security model? user/group and root/user and file permissions all same with minor tweaks.

System API? they have standards and names for this, too.

Programming and scripting languages? you choose to match your target and goals, Ditto for your IDE. Whether you want to get into the Emacs vs vi argument or something more modern like Eclipse versus Netbeans, again, your choice for your target.

It seems to me that the similarities significantly outweigh the differences and spouting off about how you can't learn about one from the other is woefully shortsighted. Or am I missing something? Is the list I provided missing some significant aspect of the user experience? Is there some significant difference I missed, some difference in philosophy, approach, or paradigm that'd take a person who knows, say, Linux, more than a day or two to learn for a different Unix type system?
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