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Linux in a Nutshell covers the core commands available on common Linux distributions. This isn't a scaled-down quick reference of common commands, but a complete reference to all user, programming, administration, and networking commands with complete lists of options.Contents also include:

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Linux in a Nutshell covers the core commands available on common Linux distributions. This isn't a scaled-down quick reference of common commands, but a complete reference to all user, programming, administration, and networking commands with complete lists of options.Contents also include:

  • LILO and Loadlin (boot) options
  • Shell syntax and variables for the bash, csh, andtcsh shells
  • Pattern matching
  • Emacs and vi editing commands
  • sed and gawk commands
  • Common configuration tasks for the GNOME and KDE desktops and the fvwm2 window manager
New material in the third edition includes common configuration tasks for the GNOME and KDE desktops and the fvwm2 window manager, the dpkg Debian package manager, an expanded investigation of the rpm Red Hat package manager and CVS, and many new commands.Linux in a Nutshell is a must for any Linux user; it weighs less than a stack of manual pages, but delivers everything needed for common, day-to-day use. It also covers a wide range of GNU tools for Unix users who have GNU versions of standard Unix tools.

This excellent desktop reference reviews the basic commands and features found in popular Linux distributions. It's not a man page download, but a well organized guide and reference with explanations, parameters and options. For best understanding, you should be familiar with the Linux operating system, installation requirements and utilities. A basic understanding of shell scripts will also help. This is not a tutorial, but a guide and reference for intermediate to advanced users and programmers.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The authors offer concise, precise discussions of probably 98 percent of what you'll need to know to run or administer Linux on a day-to-day basis! The brand-new Third Edition reflects the latest Linux kernel and distributions, with scads of new coverage: GNOME and KDE configuration, dpkg Debian package manager, new commands, expanded coverage of the rpm Red Hat package manager, and more. Plus everything that made previous editions great: crisp, to-the-point coverage of 800+ commands, more than 100 pages on Linux shells, detailed help with Emacs, vi and sed editing, pattern matching, RCS and CVS revision and version control, and more -- all organized splendidly!
Reflecting the rapid and continuous development of the Linux operating system, the reference has been published in 1997, 1999, and again now. Not a tutorial for new users, but a concise handbook of commands (most, but not, for example cdp!), network administration, boot methods, package managers, shells, editors, scripting, version control, and window managers. O'Reilly's series is highly respected in the community by those who recognize what it is and is not. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780596000257
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/8/2000
  • Series: In a Nutshell (O'Reilly) Series
  • Edition description: Third Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 816
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 2.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen Siever is a writer and editor specializing in Linux and other open source topics. In addition to Linux in a Nutshell, she co-authored Perl in a Nutshell. She is a long-time Linux and Unix user, and was a programmer for many years until she decided that writing about computers was more fun.

Stephen Spainhour co-authored Webmaster in a Nutshell, Perl in a Nutshell, 1st Edition, and contributed to many other OReilly titles. He is an avid fan of professional tennis, and when hes not checking for tennis scores on the Web, he enjoys cooking, electronic music, troubleshooting his home-built PC, and watching too much television.

Stephen Figgins is a programmer, animal tracker, musician and life-long learner. He honed many of his computer skills while working as O'Reilly's book answer guy. Now living in Lawrence, Kansas, he works as a writer, editor and consultant.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 5: Red Hat and Debian Package Managers

This chapter describes the two major Linux packaging systems, the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) and the Debian GNU/Linux Package Manager.

When you want to install applications on your Linux system, most often you'll find a binary or a source package containing the application you want, instead of (or in addition to) a .tar.gz file. A package is a file containing the files necessary to install an application. But note that while the package contains the files you need for installation, the application might require the presence of other files or packages that are not included, such as particular libraries (and even specific versions of the libraries), in order to be able to run. Such requirements are known as dependencies.

Package management systems offer many benefits. As a user, you may find you want to query the package database to find out what packages are installed on the system and their versions. As a system administrator, you need tools to install and manage the packages on your system. And, if you are also a developer, you need to know how to build a package for distribution.

Among other things, package managers:

  • Provide tools for installing, updating, removing, and managing the software on your system.

  • Let you install new or upgraded software directly across a network.

  • Tell you what software package a particular file belongs to or what files a package contains.

  • Maintain a database of packages on the system and their state, so you can find out what packages or versions are installed on your system.

  • Provide dependency checking, so you don't mess up your system with incompatible software.

  • Provide PGP, MD5, or other signature verification tools.

  • Provide tools for building packages.

Any user can list or query packages. However, installing, upgrading, or removing packages generally requires superuser privileges. This is because the packages normally are installed in systemwide directories that are writable only by root. Sometimes you can specify an alternate directory, to install, for example, a package into your home directory or into a project directory where you have write permission.

Both RPM and the Debian Package Manager back up old files before installing an updated package. Not only does this let you go back if there is a problem, but also if you've made changes (to configuration files, for example), they aren't completely lost.

The Red Hat Package Manager

The Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) is a freely available packaging system for software distribution and installation. In addition to Red Hat and Red Hat-based distributions, both SuSE and Caldera are among the Linux distributions that use RPM.

Using RPM is straightforward. A single command, rpm, has options to perform all the package functions. For example, to find out if the Emacs editor is installed on your system, you could say:


rpm -q emacs

In addition, the GNOME-RPM program provides an X-based graphical frontend to RPM (that can be run even if you are not running GNOME). This section describes the rpm command and then the gnorpm command that runs GNOME-RPM.

The rpm Command

RPM packages are built, installed, and queried with the rpm command. RPM package names usually end with a .rpm extension. rpm has a set of modes, each with its own options. The format of the rpm command is:

rpm [
options] [
With a few exceptions, as noted in the lists of options that follow, the first option specifies the rpm mode (e.g., install, query, update, build, etc.), and any remaining options affect that mode.

In the option descriptions that refer to packages, you'll sometimes see them specified as package-name and sometimes as package-file. The package name is the name of the program or application, such as gif2png. The package file is the name of the RPM file: gif2png-2.2.5-1.i386.rpm.

RPM provides a configuration file for specifying frequently used options. The system configuration file is usually /etc/rpmrc, and users can set up their own $HOME/.rpmrc file. You can use the --showrc option to show the values RPM will use for all the options that may be set in an rpmrc file:

rpm --showrc

The rpm command includes FTP and HTTP clients, so you can specify an ftp:// or http:// URL to install or query a package across the Internet. You can use an FTP or HTTP URL wherever package-file is specified in the commands presented here.

Any user can query the RPM database. Most of the other functions require superuser privileges.

General options

The following options can be used with all modes:

--dbpath path

Use path as the path to the RPM database.

--ftpport port

Use port as the FTP port.

--ftpproxy host

Use host as a proxy server for all transfers. Specified if you are FTPing through a firewall system that uses a proxy.


Print a long usage message (running rpm with no options gives a shorter usage message).


Update only the database; don't change any files.

--pipe command

Pipe the rpm output to command.


Display only error messages.

--rcfile filename

Use filename as the configuration file instead of the system configuration file /etc/rpmrc or $HOME/.rpmrc.

--root dir

Perform all operations within directory dir.


Print the version number of rpm.


Print debugging information.

Install, upgrade, and freshen options

Install or upgrade an RPM package. The syntax of the install command is...

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Table of Contents

Other Resources;
We’d Like to Hear from You;
Chapter 1: Introduction;
1.1 The Excitement of Linux;
1.2 Distribution and Support;
1.3 Commands on Linux;
1.4 What This Book Offers;
1.5 Sources and Licenses;
1.6 Beginner’s Guide;
Chapter 2: System and Network Administration Overview;
2.1 Common Commands;
2.2 Overview of Networking;
2.3 Overview of TCP/IP;
2.4 Overview of Firewalls and Masquerading;
2.5 Overview of NFS;
2.6 Overview of NIS;
2.7 Administering NIS;
2.8 RPC and XDR;
Chapter 3: Linux Commands;
3.1 Alphabetical Summary of Commands;
Chapter 4: Boot Methods;
4.1 The Boot Process;
4.2 LILO: The Linux Loader;
4.3 Loadlin: Booting from MS-DOS;
4.4 Dual Booting Linux and Windows NT/2000;
4.5 Boot-time Kernel Options;
4.6 initrd: Using a RAM Disk;
Chapter 5: Red Hat and Debian Package Managers;
5.1 The Red Hat Package Manager;
5.2 The Debian Package Manager;
Chapter 6: The Linux Shells: An Overview;
6.1 Purpose of the Shell;
6.2 Shell Flavors;
6.3 Common Features;
6.4 Differing Features;
Chapter 7: bash: The Bourne-Again Shell;
7.1 Overview of Features;
7.2 Invoking the Shell;
7.3 Syntax;
7.4 Variables;
7.5 Arithmetic Expressions;
7.6 Command History;
7.7 Built-in Commands;
7.8 Job Control;
Chapter 8: csh and tcsh;
8.1 Overview of Features;
8.2 Invoking the Shell;
8.3 Syntax;
8.4 Variables;
8.5 Expressions;
8.6 Command History;
8.7 Command-Line Manipulation;
8.8 Job Control;
8.9 Built-in csh and tcsh Commands;
Chapter 9: Pattern Matching;
9.1 Filenames Versus Patterns;
9.2 Metacharacters, Listed by Linux Program;
9.3 Metacharacters;
9.4 Examples of Searching;
Chapter 10: The Emacs Editor;
10.1 Introduction;
10.2 Typical Problems;
10.3 Summary of Commands by Group;
10.4 Summary of Commands by Key;
10.5 Summary of Commands by Name;
Chapter 11: The vi Editor;
11.1 Review of vi Operations;
11.2 vi Command-Line Options;
11.3 ex Command-Line Options;
11.4 Movement Commands;
11.5 Edit Commands;
11.6 Saving and Exiting;
11.7 Accessing Multiple Files;
11.8 Interacting with the Shell;
11.9 Macros;
11.10 Miscellaneous Commands;
11.11 Alphabetical List of Keys in Command Mode;
11.12 Syntax of ex Commands;
11.13 Alphabetical Summary of ex Commands;
11.14 vi Configuration;
Chapter 12: The sed Editor;
12.1 Conceptual Overview;
12.2 Command-Line Syntax;
12.3 Syntax of sed Commands;
12.4 Group Summary of sed Commands;
12.5 Alphabetical Summary of sed Commands;
Chapter 13: The gawk Scripting Language;
13.1 Conceptual Overview;
13.2 Command-Line Syntax;
13.3 Patterns and Procedures;
13.4 gawk System Variables;
13.5 Operators;
13.6 Variable and Array Assignments;
13.7 Group Listing of gawk Commands;
13.8 Alphabetical Summary of Commands;
Chapter 14: CVS and RCS;
14.1 Basic Concepts;
14.2 The CVS Utility;
14.3 CVS Administrator Reference;
14.4 CVS User Reference;
14.5 The RCS Utility;
14.6 Overview of RCS Commands;
14.7 Basic RCS Operations;
14.8 General RCS Specifications;
14.9 Alphabetical Summary of RCS Commands;
Chapter 15: GNOME;
15.1 Desktop Overview;
15.2 The Panel;
15.3 The Main Menu;
15.4 The GNOME Control Center;
Chapter 16: KDE;
16.1 Desktop Overview;
16.2 The Panel and Taskbar;
16.3 The KDE Control Center;
Chapter 17: An Alternative Window Manager: fvwm2;
17.1 Running fvwm2;
17.2 Configuration Files;
17.3 A Modular Approach;
17.4 How to Implement Window Manager Customizations;
17.5 A Quick Tour of the fvwm Environment;
17.6 Specifying Click-to-Type Focus;
17.7 Raising the Focus Window Automatically;
17.8 Changing the Size of the Desktop;
17.9 Having Multiple Desktops;
17.10 Making the Same Window Appear on Every Page;
17.11 Starting Windows on Different Desktops and Pages;
17.12 If It’s Too Hard (or Easy) to Move the Pointer Between Pages;
17.13 Adding Keyboard Shortcuts;
17.14 Customizing Menus;
17.15 The FvwmWinList: Switching the Focus;

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2002

    Right technical depth, right text length

    This one has a graceful technically-oriented summary of a great number of useful tools. Also for beginners, chapter 17 is a nice practical guide to getting the Linux box running.

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