Class 4 notes - Running Linux

  • FabLab: Intro to the 3D printer
  • Running Linux: Intro to the Command Line
  • Studio: Work on project, 1-on-1 consultations


Intro to 3D Printing

Linux Apps

The Snap Store is a Website to easily find thousands of free and open source Linux apps.

Raspbian also comes with the free (a bit ugly) package manager Synaptic, a wrapper around the command line apt-get.

Running Your Computer From the Command Line

What is the command line?

The command-line interface, sometimes referred to as the CLI, is a tool into which you can type text commands to perform specific tasks—in contrast to the mouse’s pointing and clicking on menus and buttons. Since you can directly control the computer by typing, many tasks can be performed more quickly, and some tasks can be automated with special commands that loop through and perform the same action on many files—saving you, potentially, loads of time in the process.

The application or user interface that accepts your typed responses and displays the data on the screen is called a shell, and there are many different varieties that you can choose from, but the most common these days is the Bash shell, which is the default on Linux and Mac systems in the Terminal application.

The philosophy behind the command line

The command line is the place where you type commands to manipulate files on your computer or launch programs that perform tasks. In some ways the command prompt is the simplest kind of computer interface possible. It is likely that you are more familiar with interfaces that have windows and buttons, but the command prompt is an interface entirely driven by text input. As mentioned earlier, Linux was originally an open source clone of Unix. In Unix (and Linux), programs are intended to be minimal, modular, “do one thing well”, be clear, transparent, and extendable.

How to Access the Command Line on a Mac

On a Mac you access the Terminal application, located inside the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder on your hard drive. You can also access the terminal from Spotlight, which looks like a magnifying glass in the top right of your menu bar. Once you have the basics down, you may wish to download iTerm a free replacement Terminal for Mac with nice color and style options and multi-screen support.

Accessing the Command Line on a PC

PC’s come with a default Powershell, but it is not a Linux-style shell. In other words, the programs and tools for working on the command line in this intro will not work in Powershell. As of the time of writing (Spring 2018), I recommend downloading the free terminal program Cmder for a Linux-style shell on PC, including the underlying Git-Bash and Linux for Windows. You may also wish to read about Windows Subsytem for Linux.

Your file system

Understanding what folder you are located in is important when working on the command line.

The home folder is the default location that you start in when you open the terminal. When you are moving around the computer in your file system with the Terminal, you specify the name of the folder you want to move into or work in. Linux allows you to specify a full path or a relative location. Think of the full path as a specific address, like 500 Main Street, New York, NY 11101. A relative path is exactly what it sounds like. To use our street metaphor, a relative path would sound something like 2 blocks west and 1 block north of where you’re currently located. In other words, the location specified by the relative path changes based on where you are currently located. If you’re at your house and follow the directions specified by the relative path, you’ll wind up in a very different location than if you were at your work address and then followed the directions of the relative path.

This is an important concept because you always have a choice of what path you write when working on the command line. You can specify an exact location or a relative location. When you don’t specify a path, the terminal assumes the location is the directory you are currently inside.

Sometimes in online tutorials you’ll see something that looks like this: path/to/file. You will never actually type path/to. It simply is trying to indicate that you’ll need to replace it with the proper location on your own computer. The Mac Terminal has a cool feature to make this easier for beginners. You can drag a file or folder onto the terminal and it will fill out the exact path.

Your basic terminal commands

Most Bash commands and programs have a built-in manual page. You can access it by typing man before the program you want to run. There’s even a manual for the manual. You can access it by running man man.

Use this command to remind you what folder you’re currently located in. As you move around files or move between directories it’s easy to get lost. pwd will remind you exactly where you are.



List Files, ls

ls is the list function. It lists all of the files in a directory, including text files, images, audio and sub-folders, among other files.


ls just outputs the content of your folder in a mass.

ls -1 lists files alphabetically, each file or folder on its own line to make it easier to read.

ls -a will list all files including hidden files in the folder.

Change Directory, cd

cd stands for change directory and is the workhorse function to let you navigate around the computer. A directory is a folder. .. stands for the larger umbrella directory that holds the directory you are currently inside of. If you type cd .. it will take you back to one directory broader than the one you are currently located in. The tilde character ~ stands for your home directory.


cd directoryName to move into the directory titled directoryName currently sitting inside the directory you are presently located in. If you type the folderName incorrectly or it doesn’t exist then you’ll get an error message telling you that the folder doesn’t exist.

cd .. will take you to the larger directory that holds the directory you are currently located in. If you were in the directory refrigerator and then you made a folder inside that called drawer, maybe you have gone into that drawer with cd drawer to see its contents. If you cd .. then you will leave and go back into the directory called refrigerator from before.

cd will take you to your home folder, no matter where you were before.

cd ~ does the same as above, taking you to your home folder.

cd ~/Desktop/junk will take you to a folder called junk located on the Desktop folder, which is sitting inside your home folder on your hard drive. Remember that the tilde means your home folder. junk is a directory I made on my computer but Desktop is already a directory built-in to OS X.

Copy a file, cp

The command cp is used to duplicate a file, in whatever format it’s already in. You specify the file you want to copy, and then give a name for what you want your copy to be called.


cp fileYouWantToDuplicate nameForTheDuplicateFile

Move a file (and/or rename a file), mv

The command mv works almost exactly the same as cp but instead of copying it moves the location of a file. You specify the file you want to move, and then give the path where you want to move it. If you specify a different name, the file’s contents will remain the same but the filename will change. You could even use this, for example, to just change the filename but keep it in the same folder it’s located in. Note: It’s important to be mindful of what folder you are located in.


mv fileYouWantToMove path/to/directoryWhereYouWantToMoveIt will move a file inside your current directory to a different specified folder.

mv fileName newFileName will keep the file inside your folder but rename it.

Remove a file or directory, rm and rmdir

Want to get rid of a file? You could drag it to the trash, or you could use the remove command. One thing to note is that by default, using rm does not check in with you to confirm you really do want to eliminate the file. To remove a directory, you must use rm -d or rmdir. By default, you cannot delete a directory if it is not empty. You must first delete the individual files inside that directory.


rm filename to delete a file in your current directory.

rmdir folderName to delete a specified directory inside your current dir

Clear your screen, clear

When you need a refresh and want to clear all of your previous commands and output from your field of view, run clear. It doesn’t delete your history (see history below for more info on this), but it does help declutter your screen.



Read a file, cat and less

There are a variety of ways to access and read text in a file on the command line. The simplest is to use cat which stands for concatenate. You specify the file and it dumps the text onto the command line and exits. If you’re trying to read a text file and it’s too large to fit in a single screen of the terminal you will probably prefer to use less. less is a reader program that lets you move back and forth in a text file. You can move forward a screen at a time by hitting the space bar or scroll down or up with the arrow keys. There are a variety of other options that you can read about if you run man less. When you get to the end of the file, press q to exit back onto the command line.


cat filename.txt

less fileName.txt

History and Command Completion, and Tab ↹

To repeat a terminal command you typed previously press the up key and it will recall the last command you typed in. If you press up again, it will recall the line you typed prior to that. And repeatedly pressing up will move further back in time. You can move back and forth in your history with the up and down arrow keys.

Another timesaver is using the tab key. If you type the first few letters of a filename or directory and press tab the command line will attempt to fill out the rest of the file or directory name. If there are multiple files with the same root, it will complete the part of the name that they share. You can then add more letters and try hitting tab to see if it will complete the file name.


Cancel is Control-C.

If you are typing a command and realize you don’t want it anymore, type Control-C and it will be deleted.

Similarly, if you are running a program and want to quit out of it, you can usually do so with Control-C once or several times in a row.


The Terminal tutorial.

Linux For Makers book

An illustrated shell commands tutorial

Chris Fenton projects