The Basics of Linux
Linux is an operating system developed by Linus Torvalds and a community of developers that integrates the GNU software components with its own kernel. Linux is one of the most popular and widely used Unix-like operating systems, powering large cloud infrastructure environments, on-premises converged infrastructure appliances, application servers, desktop computing environments, and embedded systems.
The most basic part of a Linux system is its kernel. The kernel is a program that loads the operating system into a computer’s main memory and initializes the hardware. Once the kernel is loaded, other programs can start to run. The first process to run is the init system, which initializes the system by bringing up all the necessary processes for running the operating system.
A variety of graphical user interface (GUI) programs are included in most Linux distributions, and users can use these to perform tasks such as browsing the web, email, or managing their files. Many distributions also offer centralized application stores, called app centers, where applications can be searched and installed.
Other components of a Linux system include the CLI, a command-line interface; the kernel, which is the core program running on a computer’s CPU; and the userland, or the set of software applications that a Linux system uses to execute its commands. The CLI is the most common shell used on a Linux system, as it provides simple inter-process communication and is designed to be automated.
Using a Linux system is usually straightforward for the average user. It can be used to replace Windows or macOS, and can be installed on a wide variety of computers including desktops, laptops and servers.
There are hundreds of different versions of Linux, or distributions, and most distinguish themselves from each other by addressing a specific goal, philosophy, function or target market. Some are commercial and intended for enterprise use, like Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server; others are community-developed and available for personal or non-commercial purposes, such as Debian and Gentoo.
The GNU General Public License, which originated the Linux kernel and stipulates that anything taken for free and modified must be freely distributed, ensures that a Linux distribution remains open source. However, some vendors may charge for support or other value-added services in addition to providing the OS itself.
Another advantage of open source software is that it’s easy to update the operating system with new features and bug fixes. This enables Linux to become increasingly stable and secure over time, and is a key reason why it has become so popular.
As a result, Linux has become a powerful development environment for programmers and a strong competitor to the proprietary OSes of Windows and macOS. Developers can take advantage of the many software tools that have been ported to Linux, such as git for distributed source control; vim and emacs for editing text files; compilers and interpreters for almost any programming language; and a multitude of other applications.
If you’re new to Linux, you can start by trying out a distribution that’s aimed at beginners such as Ubuntu or Elementary OS. Once you’re comfortable with Linux, consider using a more advanced distribution such as Debian or Fedora.