Linux is a member of the large family of Unix-like operating systems. A relative newcomer experiencing sudden spectacular popularity starting in the late 1990s, Linux joins such well-known commercial Unix operating systems as System V Release 4 (SVR4), developed by AT&T (now owned by the SCO Group); the 4.4 BSD release from the University of California at Berkeley (4.4BSD); Digital Unix from Digital Equipment Corporation (now Hewlett-Packard); AIX from IBM; HP-UX from Hewlett-Packard; Solaris from Sun Microsystems; and Mac OS X from Apple Computer, Inc.

Linux was initially developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991 as an operating system for IBM-compatible personal computers based on the Intel 80386 microprocessor. Linus remains deeply involved with improving Linux, keeping it up to date with various hardware developments and coordinating the activity of hundreds of Linux developers around the world. Over the years, developers have worked to make Linux available on other architectures, including Hewlett-Packard's Alpha, Itanium (the recent Intel's 64-bit processor), MIPS, SPARC, Motorola MC680x0, PowerPC, and IBM's zSeries.

One of the more appealing benefits to Linux is that it isn't a commercial operating system:

its source code under the GNU Public License^1! is open and available to anyone to study (as we will in this book); if you download the code (the official site is or check the sources on a Linux CD, you will be able to explore, from top to bottom, one of the most successful, modern operating systems. This book, in fact, assumes you have the source code on hand and can apply what we say to your own explorations.

[1] The GNU project is coordinated by the Free Software Foundation, Inc. (; its aim is to implement a whole operating system freely usable by everyone. The availability of a GNU C compiler has been essential for the success of the Linux project.

Technically speaking, Linux is a true Unix kernel, although it is not a full Unix operating system because it does not include all the Unix applications, such as filesystem utilities, windowing systems and graphical desktops, system administrator commands, text editors, compilers, and so on. However, since most of these programs are freely available under the GNU General Public License, they can be installed onto one of the filesystems supported by Linux.

Since the Linux kernel requires so much additional software to provide a useful environment, many Linux users prefer to rely on commercial distributions, available on CD-ROM, to get the code included in a standard Unix system. Alternatively, the code may be obtained from several different FTP sites. The Linux source code is usually installed in the /usr/src/linux directory. In the rest of this book, all file pathnames will refer implicitly to that directory.

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