Basic Linux Commands for Beginners

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Learn basic commands for Linux, a free and open-source operating system that you can make changes to and redistribute.

What is Linux?

Linux is an operating system’s kernel. You might have heard of UNIX. Well, Linux is a UNIX clone. But it was actually created by Linus Torvalds from Scratch. Linux is free and open-source, that means that you can simply change anything in Linux and redistribute it in your own name! There are several Linux Distributions, commonly called “Distros”.

  • Ubuntu Linux
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux
  • Linux Mint
  • Debian
  • Fedora

Linux is mainly used in servers. Linux servers powers about 90% of the internet. This is because Linux is fast, secure, and free! The main problem of using Windows servers is their cost. Linux servers solve this problem. Most of the viruses in the world run on Windows, but not on Linux!

Linux Shell or “Terminal”

So, basically, a shell is a program that receives commands from the user and gives it to the OS to process, and it shows the output. Linux’s shell is its main part. Its distros come in GUI (graphical user interface), but basically, Linux has a CLI (command-line interface). In this tutorial, we are going to cover the basic commands that we use in the shell of Linux.

To open the terminal, press Ctrl+Alt+T in Ubuntu, or press Alt+F2, type in gnome-terminal, and press enter. In Raspberry Pi, type in lxterminal. There is also a GUI way of taking it, but this is better!

Linux Commands

Basic Commands

1. pwd — When you first open the terminal, you are in the home directory of your user. To know which directory you are in, you can use the “pwd” command. It gives us the absolute path, which means the path that starts from the root. The root is the base of the Linux file system and is denoted by a forward slash( / ). The user directory is usually something like “/home/username”.

2. ls — Use the “ls” command to know what files are in the directory you are in. You can see all the hidden files by using the command “ls -a”.

3. cd — Use the “cd” command to go to a directory. “cd” expects directory name or path of new directory as input. For example, if you are in the home folder, and you want to go to the downloads folder, then you can type in “cd Downloads”. In this case, when you type in “cd Raspberry Pi”, the shell will take the second argument of the command as a different one, so you will get an error saying that the directory does not exist. Here, you can use a backward slash. That is, you can use “cd Raspberry\ Pi” in this case (Using Escape Sequence for ‘ ‘). To go back from a folder to the folder before that, you can type “cd ..”. The two dots represent previous folder.

4. mkdir & rmdir — Use the mkdir command when you need to create a folder or a directory. For example, if you want to make a directory called “DIY”, then you can type “mkdir DIY”. Remember, as told before, if you want to create a directory named “DIY Hacking”, then you can type “mkdir DIY\ Hacking”. Use rmdir to delete a directory. But rmdir can only be used to delete an empty directory. To delete a directory containing files, use rm.

5. rm – Use the rm command to delete a file.  Use “rm -r” to recursively delete all files within a specific directory.

6. touch — The touch command is used to create an empty file. For example, “touch new.txt”.

7. man & –help — To know more about a command and how to use it, use the man command. It shows the manual pages of the command. For example, “man cd” shows the manual pages of the cd command. Typing in the command name and the argument helps it show which ways the command can be used (e.g., cd –help).

8. cp — Use the cp command to copy files through the command line.

9. mv — Use the mv command to move files through the command line. We can also use the mv command to rename a file. For example, if we want to rename the file “text” to “new”, we can use “mv text new”. It takes the two arguments, just like the cp command.

10. locate — The locate command is used to locate a file in a Linux system, just like the search command in Windows. The locate command works so fast because it runs a background process to cache the location of files in your file system. To update that local cache, you need to run sudo updatedb command. Then, when you want to find the file you’re looking for, you can just use the command like I showed previously. It’s that easy.

Intermediate Commands

1. cat — Use the cat command to display the contents of a file. It is usually used to easily view programs.

2. nano, vi, jed — nano and vi are already installed text editors in the Linux command line. The nano command is a good text editor that denotes keywords with color and can recognize most languages. And vi is simpler than nano. You can create a new file or modify a file using this editor. For example, if you need to make a new file named “check.txt“, you can create it by using the command “nano check.txt”. You can save your files after editing by using the sequence Ctrl+X, then Y (or N for no). In my experience, using nano for HTML editing doesn’t seem as good, because of its color, so I recommend jed text editor. We will come to installing packages soon.

4. sudo — A widely used command in the Linux command line, sudo stands for “SuperUser Do”. So, if you want any command to be done with administrative or root privileges, you can use the sudo command. For example, if you want to edit a file like viz. alsa-base.conf, which needs root permissions, you can use the command – sudo nano alsa-base.conf. You can enter the root command line using the command “sudo bash”, then type in your user password. You can also use the command “su” to do this, but you need to set a root password before that. For that, you can use the command “sudo passwd”(not misspelled, it is passwd). Then type in the new root password.

Only those users can run sudo command who has entry in /etc/sudoers file. A common misconception about sudo is that it is used solely to provide root permissions to an ordinary user.

5. df — Use the df command to see the available disk space in each of the partitions in your system. You can just type in df in the command line and you can see each mounted partition and their used/available space in % and in KBs. If you want it shown in megabytes, you can use the command “df -m”. In df, “-h” flag gives the output in most readable format.

6. du — Use du to know the disk usage of a file in your system. If you want to know the disk usage for a particular folder or file in Linux, you can type in the command df and the name of the folder or file. For example, if you want to know the disk space used by the documents folder in Linux, you can use the command “du Documents”. You can also use the command “ls -lah” to view the file sizes of all the files in a folder.

7. uname — Use uname to show the information about the system your Linux distro is running. Using the command “uname -a” prints most of the information about the system. This prints the kernel release date, version, processor type, etc.

8. apt-get — Use apt to work with packages in the Linux command line. Use apt-get to install packages. This requires root privileges, so use the sudo command with it. For example, if you want to install the text editor jed (as I mentioned earlier), we can type in the command “sudo apt-get install jed”. Similarly, any packages can be installed like this. It is good to update your repository each time you try to install a new package. You can do that by typing “sudo apt-get update”. We can also upgrade the distro by typing “sudo apt-get dist-upgrade”. The command “apt-cache search” is used to search for a package. If you want to search for one, you can type in “apt-cache search jed”(this doesn’t require root).

9. chmod — Use chmod to make a file executable and to change the permissions granted to it in Linux. Imagine you have a python code named numbers.py in your computer. You’ll need to run “python numbers.py” every time you need to run it. Instead of that, when you make it executable, you’ll just need to run “numbers.py” in the terminal to run the file. To make a file executable, you can use the command “chmod +x numbers.py” in this case. You can use “chmod 755 numbers.py” to give it read, write, execute permissions for owner and only read and execute permissions for group and others. Here is some more information about the chmod command.

10. hostname — Basically, it displays your hostname and IP address. Just typing “hostname” gives the output. Typing in “hostname -I” gives you your IP address in your network.

11. ping — Use ping to check your connection to a server. Simply, when you type in, for example, “ping google.com”, it checks if it can connect to the server and come back. It measures this round-trip time and gives you the details about it. The use of this command for simple users like us is to check your internet connection. If it pings the Google server (in this case), you can confirm that your internet connection is active!

Tips and Tricks for Using Linux Command Line

  • You can use the clear command to clear the terminal if it gets filled up with too many commands.
  • TAB can be used to fill up in terminal. For example, You just need to type “cd Doc” and then TAB and the terminal fills the rest up and makes it “cd Documents”.
  • Ctrl+C can be used to stop any command in terminal safely. If it doesn’t stop with that, then Ctrl+D can be used to force stop it.
  • You can exit from the terminal by using the exit command.
  • You can power off or reboot the computer by using the command sudo halt and sudo reboot.

Once you’ve mastered the Linux commands for beginners, you can move onto these Useful Intermediate Linux Commands.

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