Linux Jargon

Here’s a list of Linux jargon in case you get lost amid all this talk of sudo’ing, terminals, and other terms that you’re unfamiliar with.

apt – Short for Advanced Packaging Tool, apt is a command line program which handles installing, removing, and updating software packages on Linux systems. The Red Hat/Fedora equivalent is called yum.

bashbash is a free shell for Unix/Unix-like operating systems. It is the de-facto standard on every major Linux distro.

beta software – Software which works, but which hasn’t been fully tested is called beta. The alpha stage is when the software is usable but still under development and not all features have been implemented yet.

BIOS – The BIOS is responsible for setting up and initializing your system hardware when you boot your machine as well as handling low level IO for things like the keyboard and hard drive.

bootloader – A bootloader is software which starts up your operating system by finding it on disk and setting it up. The two most popular Linux bootloaders are GRUB and LILO. If your system gets through the BIOS screen but won’t boot then it may be a problem with how your bootloader is set up.

config file – A config file is a text file that stores the configuration that a program uses to run. Almost every problem you’ll ever have with Linux involves something being configured incorrectly: check the config files.

compiler – A compiler translates human-readable source code into machine executable machine code. The GNU Compiler Collection is the gold standard of free and open source compilers and comes standard on almost every Linux distro.

Debian – An important Linux distro which focuses on being free and open source. The Debian Project is responsible for creating the Advanced Packaging Tool which many other distros use.

distro – Linux comes in many different configurations, with many different kinds of software installed. A complete Linux operating system is called a distro.

documentation – Documentation is material about a topic, program, or system which explains how it works and how to use it. Documentation can be as formal as a man page or as informal as a help forum post. What is important is not to know every finite detail about your system, but where to go when you need answers.

FedoraFedora is an offshoot of the commercially supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux distro. It is the second most popular distro after Ubuntu. I recommend it only if you’re prepared to embrace cutting edge software and all the headaches that come with it (beta software).

fluxboxFluxbox is an extremely lightweight window manager and desktop environment. All customization, and much can be customized, is done by editing Fluxbox’s config files.

fstab – fstab is the config file that specifies what file system and hard drive partitions are mounted when the system boots up. If you can’t see your other hard drive partitions at boot-up then this is the file to check.

gedit – The default text editor for GNOME.

GNOMEGNOME is a complete desktop environment with an emphasis on being simple and easy to use. GNOME is the default desktop environment on Ubuntu as well as most other distros.

GRUB – GRUB is the most commonly used bootloader on most Linux distros.

KDEKDE is the other major desktop environment on Linux with an emphasis on being powerful, customizable, and easy to use. KDE is the default on Kubuntu and is more similar to Windows than GNOME is.

man page – The man page (short for manual page) for a program is the documentation that is printed to a terminal screen when queried. For example, if I want to know what arguments the ls command accepts and how to use them then I would open a terminal and type man ls to get the man page for ls.

nano – Nano is an extremely lightweight terminal text editor. If you find yourself without a graphical desktop and needing to edit some text (i.e. a config file) then I recommend Nano.

script – A script is code that is executed by a program rather than directly on the hardware. Scripts are very useful for automating tasks and gluing other system components together but they are not well suited for writing large programs in because they execute relatively slowly. For a great example of the kind of job that scripts are good for see my ADOM script post.

shell – The shell is the gate keeper of the system- all commands to the system pass through it. The shell is most visible when using a terminal, but it is in use even when you think you’re using a GUI. The Windows shell was DOS, on Linux it is usually bash.

sudo – The sudo command is used to temporarily execute a command with root privileges. By requiring the user to enter the root password system security can be maintained because only root should know the password. You’re not one of those people who shares their passwords are you?

SynapticSynaptic is the GUI front end for apt. Every package your distro has available can be installed, uninstalled, and inspected with Synaptic.

Terminal – A terminal is a wrapper around the shell to present it to the user on his desktop. If the shell is the gatekeeper then the Terminal is the guardhouse in which he resides. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a Terminal is the same thing as a shell, though. A Terminal may provide several different shells depending on how it is configured.

Ubuntu – The most common Linux distro, Ubuntu focuses on usability out of the box. If you’re new to Linux then Ubuntu should be your first distro because of how easy it is to use and because of the excellent documentation available for it.

xfce – GNOME and KDE are the most popular desktop environments, but xfce offers par usability while demanding fewer system resources. xfce is the third most popular Linux desktop and is the default on Xubuntu .


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