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The truth about Linux today is that one may never have to actually touch a terminal or issue a single Linux command in order to run some versions of this flexible alternative operating system. While there are times when using the Linux command line could be expeditious and the benefits of possessing the ability to use it are numerous, many users can be intimidated by the prospect.

They may think it’s too difficult or too much to remember. But once a user becomes accustomed to using the command line interface, it soon becomes the preferred method in many tasks. Not only is it much quicker to accomplish just about any given task at the command line, it opens a whole new world of possibilities. It allows the user to begin to understand how an operating system is structured and functions. It gives the user very powerful tools to do the things graphical interfaces will never be able to reproduce. And best of all, it’s just fun.

There are several shells, the interface between the user and the system, with their own set of built-in functions and commands. The most popular is probably Bash, which is an improved clone of the Unix Borne Shell. Not only does Bash include lots of handy built-in commands, but a user can execute (or fork) a multitude of other application executables from within it.

There is a short list of commands that one can learn to get started. With this short list, you can begin to build your toolbox and with the help of a few good reference sites, become a command line master yourself. Not only will this enable you to feel comfortable running just about any Linux distribution available, but every programmer working today began with that first command.

But how might one go about trying to use the dreaded command line? Once open, the user stares at the prompt wondering what to do first. They know folks work from the command line all day every day, but what do you do? Fortunately, you’re not on your own. There are a plethora of sites with all the information you’ll need to take you from beginner to advanced user or anywhere in between.


One of the best places to get started is LinuxCommand. This site gently introduces the first time user what a shell is and how to use it. Then, if desired, it will instruct the user on how to write their first shell scripts.


The homepage of this site is very relaxing. It merely shows an image of a terminal and reassures the user “Don’t worry, we’ll show you what to do.” Its Table of Contents addresses usage in an task oriented manner. Instead of listing the command and explaining what it does, it lists an operation one might want to perform.

For example, the first thing any user might want to learn is navigation. With a reference to the graphical hierarchy, it begins the user with the first babysteps of moving around their system with the command line.


Then one is taken on a tour of the Linux filesystem hierarchy and shown how to manipulate files such as renaming, moving, or deleting, and permissions. Once you learn this beginning information, you are already on your way to fixing a Linux system on which the Graphical User Interface is broken.

Next the site gets more involved walking the user through writing shell scripts, first easy then more and more complicated. If you finish this latter section, you are already almost a master.

O’Reilly’s Linux Command Directory

O’Reilly’s Linux Command Directory is a wonderful quick reference chart-like guide. This page lists not only the built-in commands, but also many little utilities commonly included in all Linux distributions. This is great for the beginner or even more advanced users as the listed commands are links to full information as to what the command is and how to use it.

While this information may be available right on your system as Main pages, it comes in handy for those who forgot the command or perhaps doesn’t know which to use. For example, you’d like the current system date and time, so you visit this page and see the command


. This must be it, so you click on it and find out that


is actually used to measure the elasped time of a given process. So, you know that isn’t it. Then you scroll down and spot


. Ah yes, that’s the one. What was that command to quickly check to see if a certain word or phrase is in a file? Oh yes, you remember now that you see the command



By clicking it you’ll find all sorts of ways it can be manipulated to output just what you need. A favorite activity is just reading through the list for unfamiliar or forgotten commands and learning what they do. This is just a particularly handy site to bookmark.


The Linux Cookbook

The Linux Cookbook fits in somewhere between LinuxCommand’s Learning the Shell and Writing Shell Scripts. It takes the user from logging in to as deep as they want to go.

However, its best resource is its intermediate instruction. After learning a few commands one might want to know how to edit a file and the cookbook features introductions to common text editors.  It also tells a user things such as how to change their password, listing directories in color, and how to understand help files and documentation.


Later, it instructs on how to configure the X Windows System, how to start X, and all other aspects of using X.  Then it even goes further into using the graphical interface and includes things like audio, printing,  networking, and communications.  It basically gives the user a full overview of using Linux.

This site is the online version of a hard copy book sold in many stores and featured on Amazon. Once you complete this book and the instruction, you’ll be a Linux Kung Fu Master.

Do you have any favourite websites for mastering the Linux command line?   If so, let us know about them in the comments.

Image Credit : Slashcrisis

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  1. Jadu Saikia
    December 29, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    'The linux cookbook' and Mendel Cooper's 'Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide' are really useful. The IBM linux tutorials are also a good resource.

    // Jadu

  2. hapihakr
    November 21, 2009 at 2:25 am

    IBM has a great set of tutorials to prepare for the Linux Professional Institute Certification (LPIC). They start with the basics and work through the higher levels of mastery. Might be a little too much for some, but if you really want to master Linux, then work your way through the tutorials. One Caveat... you do have to register on DeveloperWorks to gain access to the tutorials. Check it out:

    • Susan Linton
      November 21, 2009 at 1:33 pm

      Yeah, they do have some really in-depth articles there. It may be obvious, but they employ some of the most knowledgeable experts in the business there. Those articles are some of the most respected in Linux circles. I agree with you. Thanks for mentioning it.

  3. Susan Linton
    November 17, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    When I first realized that I could make the switch to Linux I still felt a bit lost and confused. So, I found this great introduction much like that Linux Cookbook and read it practically start to finish, word for word.

    Not only did it allow me to feel more comfortable and to use Linux more proficiently, but it enabled me to understand those cryptic man pages and those hard core users who attempted to help others. To this day I still strongly believe that reading that guide was the best thing I ever did for myself.

    • greg nam
      June 1, 2016 at 5:47 pm

      What is the name of this guide that helped you so much?

      • ronan
        June 7, 2016 at 3:17 pm

        7 years later man lol, she says it in the comment: The Linux Cookbook

  4. Dann
    November 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    A great way to learn the command line is to use a great 'newbie' friendly distro such as ubuntu, which comes with a great forum database as well as command auto-completion, a large selection of manual pages, as well as performing easy but repetitive tasks on it. (updating, upgrading commands, using command line text editors for configuration files, etc.)

    Another great way to learn the command line, but notsomuch for new users, is learning to compile your own programs. Or better yet, read up on gentoo or arch tutorials and see how things are built. (even if you don't actually install it).
    For users who really want to learn it quick, installing gentoo in a virtual machine is probably a very useful and safe way to learn.

  5. julio
    November 17, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Command line sucks! those who use it are nerds low life people and basically they hate microsoft because they invented the GUI. GROWN up linux does not even meet the standards for everyday computing! the terminal makes it even worse! i think linux is the worse piece of software ever created i am sayin this cuz of the stupid low life terminal that every fat geek with fat glasses has to use. truth hurts i know

    • Linux Affic
      November 17, 2009 at 5:14 pm

      Open a dictionary. Look up "Ignorant" .. Ohh look there's a picture of 11 year old julio taking up the entire page.

      Fact: Linux is faster, more stable, more customizable, and just plain better in every single conceivable way.

    • David
      November 17, 2009 at 10:11 pm

      Who invented the Gui??
      Wrong it wasn't Microsoft
      Like all there other good ideas they "borrowed" it from someone else.

    • jymm
      May 3, 2015 at 11:10 am

      I use Linux, and NEVER use the terminal.

  6. Susan Linton
    November 16, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    commandlinekungfu is probably fun for those already scripting. and the tldp is a good reference, but it's kinda hard for new learners to navigate.

    • JBu92
      November 16, 2009 at 8:36 pm

      Well yeah, CMF is definitely for those who already have the basics down, as I said, but as this post is about how to become a Master...

  7. MiST
    November 16, 2009 at 6:54 pm
  8. Gerry
    November 16, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Forgot the granddaddy of them all: The Linux Documentation Project

  9. JBu92
    November 16, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    howabout CommandLineFu(.com)?
    it's not like a database, but once you've got the basics down, it's interesting to poke around there for odd tips like these-
    replacing text strings in multiple files
    finding cover art for an album
    listening to BBC radio
    (all these from the front page today)
    usually they post several new command strings a day

  10. Noah
    November 16, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Yep, I don't need websites, never had - easy peasy -
    "man command" or "command -h | less"

    • CT
      December 26, 2009 at 6:02 am

      man command?

      Sure... especially since it's so intuitive. I'm not saying it's not useful, rather that it's not very user friendly.