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What is "the shell"?

Simply put, the shell is a program that takes your commands from the keyboard and gives them to the operating system to perform. In the old days, it was the only user interface available on a Unix computer. Nowadays we have graphical user interfaces (GUIs) in addition to command line interfaces (CLIs) such as the shell.

On most Linux systems a program called bash (which stands for Bourne Again SHell, an enhanced version of the original Bourne shell program, sh written by Steve Bourne) acts as the shell program. There are several additional shell programs available on a typical Linux system. These include: ksh, tcsh and zsh.

What's an xterm, gnome-terminal, konsole, etc.?

These are called "terminal emulators". They are programs that put a window up and let you interact with the shell. There are a bunch of different terminal emulators you can use. Most Linux distributions supply several such as: xterm, rxvt, konsole, kvt, gnome-terminal, nxterm, and eterm.

Starting a Terminal

Your window manager probably has a way to launch programs from a menu. Look through the list of programs to see if anything looks like a terminal emulator program. In KDE, you can find "konsole" and "terminal" on the Utilities menu. In Gnome, you can find "color xterm", "regular xterm", and "gnome-terminal" on the Utilities menu. You can start up as many of these as you want and play with them. While there are a number of different terminal emulators, they all do the same thing. They give you access to a shell session. You will probably develop a preference for one, based on the different bells and whistles each one provides.

Testing the Keyboard

Ok, let's try some typing. Bring up a terminal window. You should see a shell prompt that contains your user name and the name of the machine followed by a dollar sign. Something like this:

[me@linuxbox me]$

Excellent! Now type some nonsense characters and press the enter key.

[me@linuxbox me]$ kdkjflajfks

If all went well, you should have gotten an error message complaining that it cannot understand you:

[me@linuxbox me]$ kdkjflajfks

bash: kdkjflajfks: command not found


for filename in $@; do
    if [ -f $filename ]; then
        result="$filename is a regular file"
        if [ -d $filename ]; then
            result="$filename is a directory"
    if [ -w $filename ]; then
        result="$result and it is writable"
        result="$result and it is not writable"
    echo "$result"

You're not logged in as root are you?

Don't operate the computer as the superuser. You should only become the superuser when absolutely necessary. Doing otherwise is dangerous, stupid, and in poor taste. Create a user account for yourself now!

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