This is a jumping-off reference point for new users who may be
completely unfamiliar with Linux commands. It does not contain all
the information you need about using the Linux console, but instead
just gives you enough information to get started finding the
information you need.
To run a command, type the command at the prompt, followed by any
necessary options, and then press the Enter or Return key.
Most commands operate silently unless they are specifically asked to
say what they are doing. If there is no error message, the command
should have worked.
The operation of most commands can be changed by putting command
options immediately after the command name. There are several styles
of options used, and you have to check the documentation for each
command to know what options it can take, and what they do.
Linux commands are case-sensitive, and almost always are all
lower-case. ls is a valid command; LS is not.
In most cases you can use the tab key to ask the command shell to
auto-complete the command, directory or filename you have started
to type. If a unique completion exists, the shell will type it. If
not, you can press tab a second time to obtain a list of the
Commands for Reading Documentation
In the following command examples, the [ ] characters are not
typed, they mean that whatever is enclosed is optional. For
example, you can also start `info' without any subject at all.
When a given keyboard shortcut is preceded by ctrl- or alt- , that
means hold the control or alt key down, and type the given key
while holding it down (the same way you use the shift key). A
shorthand notation for ctrl- is ^ (^C means ctrl-C).
man shows the manual page on the command (use q or ctrl-C to
get out of it if it doesn't terminate at the end of the
A lot of Debian Linux documentation is provided in info
format. This is similar to a hypertext format, in that you
can jump to other sections of the documentation by following
links embedded in the text. An info tutorial is available
within info, using ctrl-h followed by h.
Use help for on-line help about the shell's built-in commands.
help by itself prints a list of subjects for which you can
ask for help.
pager displays a plain text file one screen at a time.
Additional screens can be displayed by pressing the space
bar, and previous screens can be displayed by pressing the b
key. When finished viewing the help, press q to return to
Using -h --help with | pager
Most commands offer very brief built-in help by typing the
command followed by
-h or --help
If the help scrolls up beyond the top of the screen before
you can read it, add
to the end of the command.
zmore is a document pager -- it displays the contents of
compressed documentation on your disk, one screenful at a
time. Compression is signified by filenames ending in .gz .
lynx [document] or lynx [directory] or lynx [url]
lynx is a text-based web browser. It can display documents
(plain-text, compressed, or html), directory listings, and
urls such as www.google.com. It does not display images.
Commands for Navigating Directories
Displays your current working directory. The p stands for
print, which is a carryover from when unix was designed,
before the advent of computer screens. Interactive computer
responses were printed on paper by a connected electric
typewriter instead of being displayed electronically.
Change your current directory to the named directory. If you
don't specify directory, you will be returned to your home
directory. The `root' directory is signified by / at the
beginning of the directory path ( / also separates directory
and file names within the path). Thus paths beginning with /
are `absolute' paths; cd will take you to an absolute path
no matter what your current directory is. Paths not
beginning with / specify paths relative to your
current directory. cd .. means change to the parent
directory of your current working directory.
ls lists the contents of directory. If you don't specify a
directory name, the current working directory's list is
find directory -name filename
find tells you where filename is in the tree starting at
directory. This command has many other useful options.
The standard doc-linux-text package installs compressed text linux
Particularly helpful HOWTOs for new users are
Individual package documentation is installed in
New user website references include
Recording User Sessions
Use script to record everything that appears on the screen
(until the next exit) in filename. This is useful if you
need to record what's going on in order to include it in
your message when you ask for help. Use exit, logout or
ctrl-D to stop the recording session.
Turning Echo On/Off
To turn off echoing of characters to the screen, you can use
ctrl-S. ctrl-Q starts the echo again. If your terminal suddenly
seems to become unresponsive, try ctrl-Q; you may have accidentally
typed ctrl-S which activated echo-off.
By default, six virtual consoles are provided. If you want to
execute another command without interrupting the operation of a
command you previously started, you can switch to another virtual
console (similar to a separate window). This is very handy for
displaying the documentation for a command in one console while
actually trying the command in another. Switch consoles 1 through 6
by using alt-F1 through alt-F6.
exit or logout
Use exit or logout to terminate your session and log
out. You should be returned to the log-in prompt.
Turning Off the Computer
Turning the computer on and off is really a system administration
subject, but I include it here because it is something that every
user who is his own administrator needs to know.
halt or shutdown -t 0 -h now
This command shuts the computer down safely. You can also
use ctrl-alt-del if your system is set up for that. (If you
are in X, ctrl-alt-del will be intercepted by X. Get out of
X first by using ctrl-alt-backspace.)
To display this file one screen at a time, type