Computer Laboratory

Course pages 2012–13

Unix Tools

Principal lecturer: Dr Markus Kuhn
Taken by: Part IB

No. of lectures: 10
Suggested hours of supervisions: 0-1 (non-examinable course with exercises)
Operating Systems provides a useful foundation for this course.


This non-examinable course provides students with basic Unix/Linux experience some important practical skills in using the Unix shell as an efficient working environment. It also introduces some popular software-engineering tools for working in teams, as well as formatting and data-analysis tools for preparing dissertations and scientific publications. These skills are essential not only for future practical CST projects, but for participating effectively in most real-world software projects.


  • Unix concepts. Brief review of Unix history and design philosophy, documentation, terminals, inter-process communication mechanisms and conventions, shell, command-line arguments, environment variables, file descriptors.

  • Shell basics. Program invocation, redirecting standard I/O, pipes, file-system navigation, argument expansion, quoting, job control, signals, process groups, variables, locale.

  • Shell script programming and configuration. Efficient command entry with history and alias functions. Scripts, plain-text file formats, control structures, functions. Customizing user environments. Basics of X Window System configuration. Some notes on PWF Linux.

  • Common tools. Overview of common text, shell, and network utilities and their most frequently used options, including sed, grep, chmod, find, ssh, rsync, packaging and compression tools.

  • Revision control systems. diff, patch, RCS, Subversion, git.

  • Software development tools. C compiler, linker and debugger, makefiles.

  • Perl. Introduction to a powerful scripting and text manipulation language. [2 lectures]

  • LATEX. Typesetting basics, introduction to the most popular tool for scientific document formatting.

  • Number crunching and data visualization. Use of MATLAB on PWF machines.


At the end of the course students should

  • be confident in performing routine user tasks on a POSIX system, understand command-line user-interface conventions and know how to find more detailed documentation;

  • appreciate how a range of simple tools can be combined with little effort in pipes and scripts to perform a large variety of tasks;

  • be familiar with the most common tools, file formats and configuration practices;

  • be able to understand, write, and maintain shell scripts and makefiles;

  • appreciate how using revision control systems and fully automated build processes help to maintain reproducibility and audit trails during software development;

  • know enough about basic development tools to be able to install and modify C source code;

  • have gained experience in using Perl, LATEX and MATLAB.

Recommended reading

* Lamport, L. (1994). LATEX - a documentation preparation system user’s guide and reference manual. Addison-Wesley (2nd ed.).
Robbins, A. (2005). Unix in a nutshell. O’Reilly (4th ed.).
Schwartz, R.L., Foy, B.D. & Phoenix, T. (2011). Learning Perl. O’Reilly (6th ed.).