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Top Ten Concepts for Linux Beginners - Number 1, Files

By: Levi Reiss

Of course if you are used to Microsoft Windows you are familiar with the concept of files. This familiarity means you won't have to start from zero to learn about Linux files. However, you will have to relearn several concepts and techniques to work with files in the Linux environment, whether using Damn Small Linux or other versions. You can do several great things with Linux files that you can't do easily or at all under Windows. This could be just one more reason to switch from Windows to Linux.

Files have unique names. This rule is not as simple as it may seem. There is no conflict between a hard disk file named pay12june and a file named pay12june on your removable USB flash drive. In fact, be sure to backup all your important files. Don't worry if your hard drive file is erased or becomes corrupted and illegible, simply access the one on your flash drive. You could also have two files named pay12june on your hard drive in different directories. Directories, collections of directories and files, will be discussed in the next article in this series.

Linux distinguishes between lower-case and upper-case characters in file names. Microsoft Windows does not. For example, Linux treats pay12june and Pay12june as two different files, as different as pay12june and heighho. Windows users will have to adapt to this major difference. Even though I am a Linux fan I don't see any advantage in the Linux way of naming files. Maybe I have spent too much time in the Windows environment.

File names should be relatively short. The allowed maximum is 255 characters but working with long file names is no fun and in fact is asking for trouble. Linux file names may not contain the character / which has a special meaning. To avoid misunderstanding don't include special characters such as $ and & in your file names. Doing so could cause confusion and lead to hard-to-find errors. For the same reason don't call your files by special Linux names such as etc.

Linux sometimes applies file extensions; common examples include .c to indicate a C-language program and .htm or .html to indicate one type of web page. Savvy Linux users often avoid coding the file extension but rely on the file directory to indicate the file type. Don't give a Linux file a misleading file extension.

Use an editor to create or modify a text file. The old fashioned vi editor has been replaced by more powerful, user-friendly editors. Most versions of Linux come with several editors. Damn Small Linux, a popular version that runs under Windows, includes several editors such as Beaver that come quite close to being intuitive.

Linux provides an enormous variety of commands for processing files. Many of these commands are mnemonic; for example the command cp is used to copy files. Many commands include a wide variety of options. Consider the ls command, somewhat similar to the DIR command in the Windows environment. This seemingly simple command is quite rich and offers dozens and dozens of options many of which have no equivalent in the Windows environment.

Linux commands can be thought of as verbs. Just like most English sentences include more than a verb (go, jump) complete Linux commands contain the command itself and one or more objects. To copy a file you not only need to specify cp but also What and Where. For example, the command cp pay12june backuparea means copy the pay12june file into the backuparea directory.

Linux syntax (grammar rules) is quite strict and does take time to learn. But mastering Linux and associated technologies can lead to employment. The next step is mastering Linux directories.

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About The Author, Levi Reiss

Once upon a time Levi Reiss wrote ten computer and Internet books either alone or with a co-author. Now he has moved on to building websites, including global wine (, Italian wine, Italian travel, and health and nutritional aspects of wine. He has taught various and sundry computer courses including Linux and Windows operating systems at an Ontario French-language community college for decades. His new website will get you to run Linux even on that outdated Windows computer in your basement but first you must remove the dust bunnies.

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