Basic Linux Training

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Read this entire page CAREFULLY!
Everything you need to know about the course
is on this page or one of the links.

This is NOT a prep course for Linux certification!

Table of Contents

Course description

Basic Linux Training is a brief, introductory level course written specifically for those coming from a DOS/Windows background, without any knowledge of Unix or programming. (Those coming from Apple/Mac are welcome and should get a lot out of this course despite the orientation. Just be aware that Mac users have always been rare on the mailing list so you'll almost certainly have to supplement this course with other Mac users who have Linux installed.) The course is designed to be used with virtually any introductory Linux textbook, and is vendor and distribution neutral.

The lessons cover the initial installation and configuration of GNU/Linux on your PC. They begin with a brief overview of the history and origins of UNIX, GNU, and Linux, describing the 'philosophy' underlying the system design. The lessons also address the choice of a distribution, preparing your hard disk, and the actual installation of the base system. Once the basic system is properly installed and configured, we continue with lessons on making your ISP connection, adding additional programs, setting up the graphical user interface, rebuilding the kernel, updating software packages, understanding the filesystem, the basic commands and programs, and the essentials of administering your new system. There are also lessons to give you a more in-depth introduction to shells and shell programming, booting and boot managers, XFree86 and X applications, networking, text editors, programming tools, bug tracking, software testing, security, customizing your system the way you want it, and tips for performance tuning.

Who will benefit from the course?

Anyone looking for systematic and detailed basic information about GNU/Linux should benefit from this course, whether you already have it installed, or have not yet decided on a distribution.

Learning a new operating system will take some time and effort on your part. There is a lot of new information you need to know before any of it begins to make any sense because it is essentially a whole new way of doing things. This course and the mailing list will guide you through that as quickly and painlessly as possible.

A few words of caution:

Most Linux users are dual-booting with Windows or NT . (It's just a guess, but much better than 95% are dual-booting, and less than 5% of users are 100% pure GNU/Linux.)

Digital classroom

Getting Linux installed is not going to do much for you unless you know how to use it, and that's what this course is really about.

This course is not going to be easy - you're going to have to make a commitment to get much out of it. You will have to put some effort into learning about many things that are not required with pre-installed operating systems - for example, exactly what hardware is installed on your system, exactly where your partitions start and end, your ports and IRQs. If all goes well during the installation, you'll probably have to do very little tweaking here and there to get Linux and XFree86 up and running. None of this is particularly difficult it you approach it systematically and take time to understand what is happening BEFORE you just barge in and expect everything to work perfectly. This is an extremely powerful operating system, and virtually everything can be customized to suit your needs or preferences. Understandably, there are a lot of new things that you have to know and be able to do; new terms and concepts, etc.

I try to keep the length of the lessons to a minimum, and provide links to relevant, quality information. Almost all of these links do not rely on graphics, so the course is very useful for the blind and visually impaired, those with a low-speed connection, paying by the kilobyte, or using a text-based browser. There is, however, considerable duplication among many of the links - I suggest you look at all of them though.

The restricted mailing list set up especially for this course has been moderately active; only one or two messages on a very slow day, but often averaging 25 to 40 messages a day, occasionally much more. For the most part, students helping other students has many advantages - you're reading the same lessons and documentation, and trying to get the same tasks done.

Roughly half the subscribers are taking the course, and not all of them are entirely new to GNU/Linux and other Unix variants. (Remember, even a newbie only needs to be a few hours ahead of where you are at any given time to help you ;-) ) Some have had their GNU/Linux system(s) up for several years; collectively they have a wide variety of hardware, special interests and experience as users; we also have several programmers and sysadmins; all have volunteered to help new users get off on the right foot. Frankly, without them we'd both be in a world of hurt ;-)

There are also weekly IRC sessions (optional) over the weekend. There will be a reminder of the schedule and channel sent to the mailing list every Friday. (Since this is an international class, we will try to schedule at reasonable times to accommodate the majority of those interested in participating; so the schedule may change from time to time. If there is sufficient demand, supplemental IRC sessions can be scheduled.)

How much you get out of this course will depend entirely upon you - how much time and effort you put into the learning process, and, of course, how much knowledge, training, and skill you bring with you. There is virtually no limit to how much help you can get from the mailing list, but no one can do all the work for you. If you put a little effort into it, the members of mailing list will help; but rest assured we're not in the baby-sitting business and this is not a therapy group for co-dependents ;-)

The bottom line is simply that all of us would like for you to succeed. There's a certain amount of 'grief' factor that we cannot eliminate, that's just the nature of doing things (like defragging your hard disk, making partitions, knowing what hardware you actually have installed and what ports your modem and mouse are on, who your ISP is, etc.). This is really not insurmountable from your end - with a little effort, but nearly impossible for the rest of us to guess! We've been there, done that, so we can help make this as quick and painless as possible.

Hardware requirements

Before you buy a distribution or attempt to install Linux, make sure that your hardware is compatible. There are some hardware devices that simply will not work with Linux, or require some effort on your part to get them up and running (usually with a patch freely available by anonymous ftp). See for specific details. If any of your hardware is incompatible, you have no alternative but to replace it with something that will is supported and will work. Generally, this will be less than US$100, and more often less than US$50, but may be cost prohibitive for some of you if you have to replace several components, and may not be worth it on some machines.

Linux can be installed on a '386 with 4 MB of RAM - but it's terribly slow, not practical for production, and certainly is not recommended. I recommend at least a '486 and at least 16 MB of RAM for command line, and at least 32 MB for GUI. (The more RAM you have installed, the better the performance; there is no top end as far as the operating system is concerned.)

You can install Linux in 10 MB - but that's too spartan to be practical and certainly not nearly enough for the graphical user interface (X Window System, or, more commonly X); XFree86 which is the GNU version of X runs about 55 MB by itself). I would recommend an absolute minimum of 100 MB free hard disk space (250 MB or more if you need the compiler and source code to recompile your kernel, and upward of 500 MB if you're interested in X, the office suites, graphics, programming or multimedia development). We'll get into this in detail in the early lessons. Fortunately, all new computers are being shipped with multi-gigabyte hard disks, 32 MB RAM, and a 56 K modem. A "complete install" of any of the distributions will require better than 1 or 2 GB - plus whatever space you need for your data, and roughly twice that if you install all the source code.

Computer experience

You really don't have to be a computer technician or a programmer to use Linux. This course assumes that you have some knowledge about your computer and are comfortable at the command line. In other words, if you can drop out of Windows and type in commands correctly in DOS, you probably will not have much problem with adjusting to Linux. On the other hand, if you are totally dependent upon clicking icons, you're in for some pretty rough going. Be prepared to learn some basic Unix commands, its filesystem, and some basic utilities and programs. You will have to do a little 'hacking' - usually nothing more than editing a couple of lines of code in one or two of the configuration files. Again, if you have any experience editing your AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIG.SYS in DOS, you'll find that it's as easy to do in Linux as it was in DOS.

Linux will peacefully coexist with your current operating system on a separate partition on your hard disk, or on a separate hard disk. You do NOT need to delete your current operating system or any of its applications! And there are a number of ways to boot into your Linux partition without interfering with your other operating system(s).

Time requirements

Conscientious students should expect to devote an hour to an hour and a half per lesson to course work. That is a lot of time, and basically why the lessons are uploaded twice a week. An hour to 90 minutes a day devoted to Linux is about the optimum. Most can comfortably cover all the material here and a lot more from the mailing list in two months. If you need more time or want to stick around and help others get started, that's fine, too ;-)

Depending on the textbook, you'll probably need to allow for an additional half hour each day for reading; some sections you will read through only once, and others will require intense study. For example, modes and permissions are undoubtedly new concepts for Windows users, so be prepared to spend some extra time getting a good understanding of these new terms and concepts. Similarly, you'll have to spend some extra time learning the basics of vi regardless of your preference for an editor. (vi is likely to be the only editor available to you on 'rescue' disks. Things like this will be pointed out during the course.)

There is always the temptation to skip those parts that you feel you are familiar with, but I strongly advise against it - I'd rather have you be bored for a few minutes skimming though material you do know than to have you spend hours later trying to figure something out that was discussed in a section you skipped entirely because you thought you knew everything there was to know about it ;-) Again, to use modes as an example, there is a subtle difference between how these work on directories as opposed to files; and the permissions will likely be different for the 'owner' of the file or directory than for other users.

Similarly, the URLs are there to help you, not to waste your time. Some of them are more useful than others, and some of them present basically the same information. You are NOT expected to read every word of every link, but unless you check each one of them you'll never know what you're missing. Read the ones that grab your attention, bookmark those that you might want to come back to later.

The course has been online continuously since August 1997. Since then, over thirty thousand have registered. The course has also been adapted by several Linux Users' Groups and other non-profit organizations for local training and presentations. As with most things on the Internet, the course is still very much a work in progress. These webpages are actively maintained, so if you find a link that's broken, or have another that should be included, let me know about it .


The next steps are:

  1. Read the Terms of Service and the privacy statement.
  2. Register for the course.
  3. Subscribe to the mailing list.

    (Note that all hotmail, bigfoot, yahoo , and mydeja addresses will automatically be denied due to a chronic problem with spam and/or harvesting email addresses - any other domains will be acceptable, subject to change.)

    (Also note that Outlook has been banned from the mailing list because of of the inherent security risk it poses to the rest of the subscribers.)

You will need to get a copy of the distribution of your choice; and, a textbook (preferably one that matches your distribution)

The next term begins Monday, 4 November 2002. Registration for that class closes Saturday, 2 November 2002.

Something new (read 'why didn't something think of this years ago') is MEETUP. This *might* be a great way to meet other Linux users or wannabees in your area, and should be a real shot in the arm to all those who can't find a LUG within driving distance. If you check someone else might have already started the ball rolling ;-) Otherwise, set something up yourself and spread the word!

The course has always been free. However, our bandwidth is not.

Copyright 1997-2002 Henry White. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction or redistribution without prior written consent is prohibited. Address reprint requests and other inquiries to