Unix is an operating system that was developed in the Bell Laboratories of AT&T. An operating system is a software that manages the hardware resources of a computer system, and provides an interface for the user to interact with the hardware.
There are multiple variants of Unix available in the market. The most common ones include Solaris Unix, BSD, HP Unix, and AIX. One of the very popular operating systems — Linux — is a flavor of Unix as well. It is a multi-user multitasking operating system, meaning multiple users can simultaneously operate it. In this article, we take a look at how you can learn Unix as an operating system, and what are the various uses of this skill.
How to Learn Unix
Unix, as an operating system, consists of a vast number of concepts. Learning every concept in their entirety is a huge task to undertake. Therefore, you must first gain an overview of what you need to learn before setting down.
What is Unix?
As mentioned previously, Unix is an operating system. It comprises three essential components: Kernel, Shell, and File System.
The kernel is considered to be the core of the Unix operating system. The kernel gets loaded into the memory whenever the system boots up, and it checks with all hardware components. Then, it moves on to fetching the appropriate software applications that can enable these devices, which are also called device drivers. Once these tasks are completed, the kernel then moves on to the various application software that is installed in the system.
The kernel has to carry out the following tasks:
- Primary Memory Management. Responsible for allocating memory to running processes in the system.
- Data Transmission Management. Responsible for the efficient transfer of data across the various storage devices in the system.
- Access Management. Responsible for enforcing restricted access to various resources available in the system.
- Task Management and Scheduling. Responsible for managing CPU time and ensuring that all running processes are executed in the most efficient manner possible.
- Shell Management. Responsible for communicating with the user via the shell, and carrying out tasks that are requested by the user.
The shell is a command-line interface that connects the user with the kernel. The shell provides users with a platform to run commands and scripts. It processes them and sends them to the kernel for execution.
It is the primary use of the shell to enable users to run commands and scripts. As a developer, scripting is the fastest way to get work done. This is so because even though graphical interfaces may provide a great experience, they can slow you down when you’re looking to complete repetitive tasks. In these cases, shell commands and scripts can help you automate work easily. The shell supports command auto-completion as well as maintains a history of previously run commands for convenience.
There are two variants of the shell available in Unix — Bourne shell and C shell. The Bourne shell uses a $ character as the default prompt, while the C shell uses a % character for the same.
The last piece to this puzzle is the file system. It supports file management in the operating system and allows storing and organizing huge amounts of data for easy retrieval. In Unix, the smallest unit of data is a file, and everything in the system is stored in the form of files. Raw data is stored inside files.
There can be different kinds of files depending upon their location and existence. They are:
- Ordinary Files. These are general files that can store any type of data.
- Symbolic Links. These are references to existing files, and do not hold any data of their own.
- Special files. These are located in the /dev directory and they represent special resources like hard disk drives, printers, etc.
What is Unix Used for?
Unix finds its way to a lot of general-purpose as well as dedicated use cases, which include:
Flavors like Linux are used extensively by software developers around the globe due to their open-source nature, and high customizability. Unix systems are lighter and faster than their counterparts, so they make up great solutions for heavy-duty software production.
Cloud Support Systems
Contemporary cloud infrastructure, such as Oracle Cloud, supports some flavors of Unix, including Solaris. It provides the system ability to power cloud applications in an optimized manner. Cloud support engineers, as well as DevOps engineers, often find themselves on a Unix interface in their day to day jobs.
Data Center Applications Support
Flavors like Solaris still underpin data center infrastructure and applications, thanks to their robust filesystems. They also find their way into distributed scientific computing, virtual server deployments, databases, and web servers.
Kali Linux — a flavor of Linux — is every cybersecurity researcher’s go-to when creating or using penetration testing tools. Kali offers a great level of freedom to the user, thereby allowing the creation of powerful tools that make the most out of the hardware.
Having gone through all of the use cases as well as features of Unix, let’s now take a look at the most popular resources used for learning Unix.
The Best Unix Courses
- Platform: Coursera
- Duration: 19 hours
- Price: Free
- Prerequisites: None
One of the best courses in Coursera at the moment, The Unix Workbench is offered by John Hopkins University and has been taken up by over 40,000 students. It is a beginner-friendly course and has a great rating of 4.7 stars as well.
- Platform: Coursera
- Duration: About 60 hours
- Price: Free
- Prerequisites: None
Offered by The Linux Foundation, this specialization is for those who understand the subject and are now looking to build their understanding stronger as well as learn related topics like open source development and Git.
- Platform: Udemy
- Duration: Nearly 24 hours
- Price: About $42
- Prerequisites: Basic understanding of Linux
While the previous two courses are beginner-friendly, this one requires a basic understanding of the subject to begin with. However, the level of the content offered in this course is exceptional, and as the landing page mentions, you can build a solid understanding of a System Administrator’s role with this course.
Priced at $63.99 on Amazon, this handbook is a detailed guide to the Linux and Unix ecosystem. Over 500 system calls and library functions from the operating system have been described in great detail, which makes it a great resource for beginners as well as experienced learners alike.
Priced at $21.46 on Amazon, this book is a bestseller on Unix. It covers all sections of the operating system, like booting, kernel, networking interfaces in great detail, and also contains a section on writing effective shell commands — a skill that is often overlooked.
’The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction’
Priced at about $15 on Amazon, The Linux Command Line is your one-stop solution for everything related to scripting in Unix based operating systems. While the book does not cover other fundamental concepts like the kernel and file system, it does explain scripting very well and is a useful, practical asset to any Unix user.
There are quite a few free tutorials available on the internet that can help you get running if you have some prior understanding of the system.
UNIX/LINUX Tutorial by Tutorialspoint
It is a beginner-friendly tutorial, and it breaks down the entire learning journey into individual topics that are covered in great depth in independent blog posts.
UNIX/LINUX Tutorial for Beginners by Guru99.com
Another beginner-friendly tutorial, the UNIX/LINUX Tutorial for Beginners lists out its outline on the landing page itself and is a great alternative if you’re looking for relevant video content along the way.
Bash Track by Exercism
Bash or Shell is one of the most crucial aspects of Unix based operating systems. While you may easily cruise through the hardware concepts used in Unix, scripting requires practice and consistency. The Bash Track is an awesome resource to help you get going on this path. It covers the Bourne shell in great detail and can be an awesome refresher whenever you’re looking to revise this tricky topic.
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How Long Does It Take to Learn Unix?
Considering the vast subject that Unix is, it takes nearly a month of continuous learning to properly understand every concept in detail. You can keep practicing shell commands on the terminal to speed up the process.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to learn Unix while pursuing other things at the same time, two months would be a reasonable amount of time to catch up on the basics, given that you have a few hours of time to spare for Unix every week.
Should you learn Unix?
After having described the subject, its uses as well as the various methods available to learn it, the most important question to ask is, should you learn it? If you’re aiming for a job as a systems engineer, system administrator, or software engineer, Unix is something you can not miss out on. However, if you have your eyes on becoming a front-end developer, or a full-stack developer, Unix might not hold exceptional importance for you.
Once again, if you’re looking for an operating system to learn and use, Unix is the way to go, but the answer to whether or not you should learn an operating system depends on what you aim to do in your career.
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