Local Idiot Online

Linux Basics

So, you’ve finally managed to get your hands on a shiny new Linux distro, whether it’s on your VM or bare metal, if you were bold enough to do that. First of all, I salute your bravery, but I assume you already knew that you’d have to relearn a lot of things from scratch. It’s completely fine though, you probably took many years to learn or maybe even master Windows or MacOS by now, so maybe it’s time for you to dedicate a little more time to get used to using Linux.

So let me give you a few tips on what your first steps might be:

Package manager

A package manager is one of a few things that define the distribution. Depending on what yours might be based on, you may have something like apt (Debian, Ubuntu etc.), dnf (Fedora/Red Hat), pacman (Arch Linux) or something else, if you picked a less common distro. Either way, it is essential that you know exactly which one is on your system. You might even have a GUI wrapper for your package manager, which usually resembles your average app store and might help you out if you’re starting out, and it even might include a system tray applet or another form of reminding you whether your system is up-to-date or not.

No matter which one you’ll be using, consider your package manager the most reliable source of apps and utilites you might want on your system, so if you want to install something, check if it’s in the official package repositories first. You can do it in your terminal by using one of the following commands for the most common package managers:

  • apt search [...]
  • dnf search [...]
  • pacman -Ss [...]

Refer to your distro’s documentation for further information (and yes, RTFM is very much what you have to do to learn Linux, so you should get used to it).

Command line

It may sound intimidating at first, but even in not-so-proficient hands, invoking commands from your terminal might be one of the fastest ways to get the job done, whatever it might be. GUIs are nice and all, but the terminal is always here for you, so I suggest you get used to it. Besides, whether you’re trying to debug an issue, install something or just use a ready solution you copied from the interwebs, it will usually come for Linux users in a form of terminal commands.

One of the things you might want to keep in mind is whether to run the command as a regular user or as root (superuser). Some commands may explicitly start with sudo, which is the default way of running commands as root on most systems, and most of the time it is as easy as just appending that magic word in front of your command.

xkcd: Sandwich

On some rare occasions you may find the commands prefixed with either an $ or # symbols. These are NOT meant to be pasted in your command line, and simply indicate whether you should run it as a regular user or as a root (the former and latter ones respectively). To switch to a root user in your terminal session, run sudo -i for an interactive root shell, and use Ctrl-D to close it and go back to your regular user one.

Now, I should remind you that running anything as a root user means giving the command unrestricted privileges to your entire system, so unless you know what you’re doing, verify the command, carefully read through it, see what it does and only then execute it. Measure twice, run once, as they say. And RTFM, of course. I told you this will be your MO for the nearest future.


Now, I do not claim that this little tutorial will cover most of the use cases you will encounter when starting out with Linux, but I also do not wish to overwhelm anyone who’s only trying it out. So it is only natural that I finish this little tutorial with some general advice: be ready to learn, don’t be afraid to ask, and stay curious no matter what. You might even break your entire OS and have no access to your backups (which you should be doing regardless of your confidence and skill, FYI), but it’s only part of the learning process. At least 99% percent of your issues will be because of your screw-ups and not a product of some globo corpo’s bad decision, and in most cases they will be reversible as well. Make mistakes and learn from them, what can I say.

And once again, welcome to Linux.