Intro to UNIX

This tutorial discusses:

  1. What computer accounts you need
  2. How our UNIX system stores files
  3. Making and going to directories (organizing your work)
  4. Downloading a file from the web
  5. Viewing/printing text files
  6. Editing text files
  7. Copying/renaming/moving files
  8. Output redirection
  9. Recording command input/output
  10. Looking up UNIX commands
  11. Returning to your home directory

  1. What computer accounts you need:

    Students in this course must get an account on our CSA network, which consists of machines that run the UNIX operating system. Students will also need to get an NT account to use the machines in our teaching lab, although we will often log into the CSA network from those NT machines.

  2. How our UNIX system stores files:

    Like other common operating systems (the Mac operating system or MS Windows) information on our UNIX systems is stored in files. Besides files, UNIX allows the creation of directories, in which other files and directories can be placed (a directory is the same as a folder in Mac-speak).

    Note: UNIX is case-sensitive, i.e., upper- vs. lowercase usually matters for file, directory and command names.

    All the files and directories on the CSA network form a file hierarchy, something like:

    File Hierarchy (or File System)
              /  <-- root directory (a slash)
            /   \
          home  ...
          /  \
      ugrad  course
             /    \
           ... ... 
                   / |  \
                 ... ... username <-- your home directory

    So that those that have accounts for this course (except CS majors) will have an account in the location:


    Note: Declared CS majors should have their accounts in:

    This is called the path of your home directory, the directory you (X) are placed in when you log in.

    A path just represents the location of a file or directory in the file hierarchy. For example, the first path above says that under the root (/) directory, there is a home directory, under it, a course directory, under it, a directory, and under that is where your username directory is.

    Since this path starts at the root (/), it is called an absolute (or full) path.

    Aside: There are two uses of the slash (/). It represents the root directory when at the beginning of a path. And, it is used to separate parts of the path.

  3. Making and going to directories:

    You should use separate directories to store files associated with a tutorial, lab or particular homework. Make a directory for this UNIX material by typing:

    % mkdir unixlab

    Aside: The "%" represents the UNIX prompt. Stuff you type is in bold.

    This added another directory to our picture:

    Bottom of File Hierarchy
       / |  \
     ... ... username <-- your home directory
              / X
            unixlab <-- new directory

    Go into that new directory by typing:

    % cd unixlab

    which will change your present location in the file hierarchy:

    Bottom of File Hierarchy
       / |  \
     ... ... username <-- your home directory

    To make sure you are there, you can type:

    % pwd
    to list the path of your present working directory (also called the current directory). It will be something like:

  4. Downloading a file from the web:

    Let's look at a file. We've written a letter about what we're learning here today that you can send to your friends or family. The letter just needs your signature.

    The letter is available to download as letter.txt.

    To download this file into your unixlab directory, do the following in :

    1. Click on the letter.txt link above to see the file.
    2. Choose Save As... from the browser's File menu.

    To make sure the file got saved correctly, go to your UNIX window and type the ls command to list the files in your current directory. See that it is there.

    Files like letter.txt that contain only text (i.e., letters, digits and punctuation) are called text files.

  5. Viewing/printing text files:

    One way to display a text file is to use the cat command. You need to type "cat" followed by the name of the file you want to view, as in:

    % cat letter.txt

    It will display the contents of the file on the screen. However, if the file is too long to fit in the window, you'll only see the end of the file on the screen.

    Since long files won't fit in the window, you can use less to view such files instead of cat. Do...

    % less letter.txt

    Less will allow you to page forward through the file using the <Space> bar and page backward using the b key. In that sense, it is a bit more useful than a similar utility called more.

    When you are done looking at the file, type q to quit less.

    If you needed a printout of this code, you could use lpr to send a copy to the printer, as in:

    % lpr letter.txt


  6. Editing text files:

    Since we need to sign the letter, we'll want to edit the file letter.txt. To edit or even create a text file, we can use the editor emacs.

    Type the following at the UNIX prompt:

    % emacs letter.txt &

    Note: We always put the ampersand (&) at the end of commands that bring up their own window, since doing so gives us another prompt back right away where we can type more UNIX commands.

    Once Emacs is up and has loaded the source file, we can go directly to the end of the letter. To do so, type the command <Esc> > (i.e., press and release the <Esc> key and then press and release the > (greater than) key).

    Aside: Emacs has many capabilities that can be accessed via keystrokes.

    Emacs should place you at the end of the file. Go ahead and sign it by typing in your name.

    Editing letter.txt in Emacs, you have really only edited Emacs' copy of that file in memory. We'll have to save the edits back to disk in order for the file letter.txt to be actually updated.

    To convince yourself that we have not changed the version on disk, go back to the UNIX prompt and display the file:

    % cat letter.txt

    Aside: You can use the up arrow to get back to the previous cat command and re-do it by pressing <Return>.

    Now, to save the edits to file, choose Save Buffer from the Emacs Files menu.

    Redisplay letter.txt to see that the changes were saved.

    Finally, when you are done with Emacs, choose Exit Emacs from the Emacs Files menu. Note that Emacs creates backups (that end in ~) for files you edit.

  7. Copying/renaming/moving files:

    Suppose we want 2 different versions of our letter, one for friends and one for family. We can create those based on our initial letter letter.txt.

    Let's start out by making a copy of the letter, named friends.txt, as the version for our friends.

    To make a copy of a file, we can use the cp command:

    % cp letter.txt friends.txt

    Note that letter.txt still exists since we just copied it.

    We can use the original letter.txt as our letter to family, but we'd like that file to have a more appropriate name. To rename a file, we can use the mv command:

    % mv letter.txt family.txt

    Note that letter.txt is no longer there since we gave it a new name.

    Finally, mv can also be used to move files, so let's put our letters in their own subdirectory. First, make a subdirectory:

    % mkdir letters
    and move the files there:
    % mv friends.txt family.txt letters

    Note that the last thing listed to the command is the destination, with all the source files lists before.

    You can make sure the files got moved by listing the files in directory letters:

    % ls letters

    On your own time, edit the letter to your friends, adding more detail. How can you go into the letters directory to edit friends.txt or how can you edit it while staying in the current directory?

  8. Output redirection:

    You've already seen how to run UNIX commands by just typing their names, possibly with arguments:

    % ls letter

    Many commands produce their output on the screen. Sometimes, however, you'll want the output to go to a file. For example, let's store a calendar for the current month in a file named calendar. We can do so by using output redirection with the cal command. Do:

    % cal > calendar

    This makes UNIX send the output to the file calendar. Display the file:

    % cat calendar

    Using ">" followed by a file name is what tells UNIX to redirect the commands output. Be careful, though, it may overwrite a file named calendar if one already exists.

    Sometimes, we just want to append some output to the end of a file--we can do so with ">>". Let's append the date to our letter to our family:

    % date >> letters/family.txt

    Note that we had to use a path to tell it where family.txt is.

    Aside: The path starts from the current directory, i.e., "letters/friends.txt" says to look for a directory called letters in the current directory, then, look for the file friends.txt. Paths that start from the current directory are called relative paths.

    Remember, paths that start from the root (/) directory, like /home/course are call absolute (or full) paths.

    To see that the date was added, display the file:

    % cat letters/family.txt

  9. Recording command input/output:

    Sometimes, you don't want to just capture the output of one command, but rather, both the input to and output from a bunch of commands.

    You can do so with the utility script. To start recording, use:

    % script

    Then, just run some commands:

    % pwd
    % calc
    Enter equations.  Blank line to terminate.

    When you are done using commands you want recorded, type exit:

    % exit

    The recorded input and output can be found in a file named typescript:

    % cat typescript

    Aside: Everything you type will be recorded, including when you hit things like <Backspace>, which will appear as weird strings of characters.

  10. Looking up UNIX commands:

    Since you have limited disk space for this course, you may want to remove unnecessary files. If you do not know what command is used to remove files, you can look it up on our system.

    The UNIX Manual Pages let you look up information on UNIX commands, including how to use them. To view Manual Pages, we use the man command.

    Let's first look for a command to remove files:

    % man -k 'remove files'
    rm              rm (1)          - remove files

    The -k tells it to look up the key phrase 'remove files', which has to be in quotes because of the space between the 2 words. (In practice, you might have to try different key phrases or words before you find what you are looking for.)

    It tells us that we want the rm command in Section 1 of the Manual Pages. Now, we can look at the documentation for rm by using:

    % man rm

    Man displays the info just like the utility less. Reading the documentation given by man, you can see that all we need to type to remove a file is "rm" followed by the names of files to be removed.

    Remove the files calendar and family.txt by using:

    % rm calendar letters/family.txt

  11. Returning to your home directory:

    Finally, since we are done with the files in the unixlab directory for now, let's go back up to our home directory. Since you are one directory below your home directory, you can just type:

    % cd ..

    to go up one level. Dot dot (..) is a way to refer to the directory above.

    We could also use:

    % cd ~
    since tilde (~) is shorthand for your home directory at the UNIX prompt (and in some applications, like Emacs). This works even if our home directory is not right above where we are.

    Finally, we could also just use:

    % cd
    by itself, which also goes to your home directory.

    You can confirm where you are by using pwd.

BU CAS CS - Intro to UNIX
Copyright © 1993-2000 by Robert I. Pitts <rip at bu dot edu>. All Rights Reserved.