10 common mistakes made by Linux users

Be human: Make mistakes. Learn from them.

Photo by Greg Biche

Be humanMake mistakes. Learn from them

Working on a Linux machine is a matter of proud and gravity for a lot of geeks. I could never know why! But there are a few ubiquitous mistakes which a lot of them make while administering a Linux box. If kept in mind, these mistakes can be avoided to keep a smooth work flow in a Linux environment.

Out of many, I would like to enlist a few of them;

  1. Root User Log in: Always try to avoid logging in as a root user, because logging in from root gives you access to all permissions which has a couple of dilemmas. The first being a probable mistake via GUI can hamper the system extensively and the second being the running of X via a root which makes a PC more susceptible.
  2. Avoiding updates: As a good administrator it is always expected on one’s part to keep updating your system to make it a more secure one. This will make the system more resistant to attacks hence make it more stable.
  3. Installing applications from different binary types: Installation of various files from .deb package and their dependencies from source, or vice-versa might not always work, because the dependencies are more complex in nature. So, it is advisable to install files from .deb package as many related applications become simple to upgrade from within the package management system.
  4. A server boot to X: In order to make a few administrations tasks trouble-free, the server boot to X ultimately results in memory wastage and loss in CPU cycles. This also helps in restricting the access to your system and results in utmost privacy.
  5. Low password strength: Passwords should always have the utmost security and their strength should be good. It is better to keep a password which is hard to memorize than keeping a password more prone to the hacking fraternity.
  6. Misunderstanding the file permissions: The rwx method which stands for r=read, w=write, x=execute is used to handle permissions effectively. Proper permissions can help a system in many ways while improper permissions can lead to a system getting hacked. Therefore, an administrator must have good enough knowledge of the unique code of permissions.
  7. Zero backup of critical configuration files: To avoid unnecessary problems, it is always better to have a backup of all important configuration files. Necessary backups include those of Samba, Apache, and MySQL.
  8. Ignoring log files: /var/log is the default destination for all log files. Log files are used to locate all generic errors. The use of third party applications is also growing day by day and thus an application called logwatch has come into prominence which creates various reports for us to solve the discrepancies in /var/log files.
  9. Neglecting the command line: It is actually a tough task to memorize all the commands and this is taken care of mostly by GUI. But at times, ignoring command lines which is faster, easier, more secure, and more reliable is a moronic decision on the user’s part. A basic understanding of the working of command lines can help a user and lead to correct judgments.
  10. Non-installation of a working kernel: A machine requires a kernel and its proper updating. An update of a current kernel, if it works well, is actually a better thing to do than deleting previous kernels. If an update is successful deleting previous kernels which acted as backup is advisable.

These were few of the top mistakes which a Linux administrator/user can avoid to help use the resources in a better and safer way.

5 Reasons Why a Newbie should try Ubuntu

Ubuntu Linux: Why Me?
Ubuntu Linux: Why me? (source : Rebecca)

To quench my thirst of experiencing Linux, I started my journey way back in the year 2000 with RedHat 6. It was not a love at first sight and I had to reinstall Windows 2000 on my machine since I was too young to understand the concept of dual-boot! LiveCD was something I never knew in my dreams even! The very thought of messing up my windows installation while trying to get things fixed with Linux haunted me for days.

Things are very different today from what they were a decade ago. With the advent of LiveCDs, the perception for Linux has changed quite dramatically. What was one believed to be a geek’s operating system is now being used by school kids, doctors and grandpas too! One more valid reason for immense popularity of Ubuntu Linux is that it doesn’t need prior knowledge about *nix system and architecture to visit your favorite website. You can do it just by booting up your machine with a LiveCD. I’ve myself been an Ubuntu fanboy!

Though geeks prefer a distro which gives freedom and power to conceive what they’re actually trying to do and what’s happening within the operating system. However, there are people who want an operating system which is free and easy to install, configure and most importantly, use.

Keeping all these factors in mind, we would like to evangelize on of the best distro’s for newbies, advocating the following 5 reasons:

  1. The ability to have a glimpse: With the support of LiveCD, a fanboy can actually have a good enough look into the distro if not a full experience. It gives a chance to visualize and build a thought for the distro, based on one’s preferences and use case.
  2. Ease of installation and configuration: You need not be a master of terminal windows and an ace of shell commands/scripts to run a mighty Ubuntu on your machine. The latest release of the distro has a much faster and easier installation wizard. Installing Ubuntu through Windows using Wubi, or performing a single or dual boot installation is far more easier than it was in the past. You need not bother much about the partitioning act or the swap space to make a complete Ubuntu installation.
  3. Out of the box support: The Ubuntu developers have done exceptionally great in making it an “out-of-the-box” Linux distro. The seamless support it offers for the third party devices like digital cameras, usb drives, wireless connectivity, the ability to use restricted device drivers (if you wish to), etc. is a so very different and appreciable for people with varying desires and skills.
  4. Ease of upgrade: As times change, desires often grow symmetrically. This leads to periodic software and security upgrades. Owing to the use of apt-get package installer, the upgrade for the installed softwares is just a click away. One doesn’t need to do much apart from entering the root password of course. Even the upgrade to a newer release of Ubuntu is a cake walk, provided you have an Internet connection.
  5. Community support: Having a good community backup can do wonders in spreading a word about a technology, application or an OS for that matter. There is absolutely no denial of the fact that Ubuntu users cherish a large community support. Be it development or support, Ubuntu outlives several other distros in this classification.

Having said so much is so little to help evangelize Ubuntu Linux. You need to give it a shot if you haven’t by now. Saying so doesn’t mean Ubuntu is the best Linux distro. But, it is definitely a Linux distro which created a wave-pool in the Linux ecosystem. and a must try for all noobs out there.

Sharpen your Linux Vocabulary

Linux Vocabulary

Photo by Thoenieva

Brush up your Vocabulary It’ll always pay off.

We have seen a large number of mundane, how-to articles on Linux in the past few days on this website. Having a strong belief that it would have helped the geeks and pro’s to brush up their skills and the newbies to dirty their hands with at least a few Linux distro’s, let’s move on to a different stage today where we shall learn and remember some basic terminologies which we would probably come across in day-to-day Linux world.

Remember, there is no limit to this list. Henceforth, I’ll try to add whatever I can at this point of time. I wish this article was a Wiki page so that all you Linux lovers can update it to keep it fresh, forever! However, you may append any new words you come across as a comment to this post.

Here we go in an alphabetical order:

  • APT: Advanced Packaging Tool.This tool is responsible for simplification of process which involves managing packages on Linux by automating the retrieval, configuration and installation. Generally, you’ll find APT on a Debian based distro.
  • Bash: Bourne Again Shell is generally known to be the default shell in most Linux distributions. When someone refers to a shell or the command line it is the Bash shell what they are usually referring to.
  • CLI: The CLI is known as the Command Line Interface. When you open a terminal, or if you do not use a Window Manager, or X11, you are operating on what is often abbreviated as the CLI.
  • Dependency: A application, library, or development set that a package depends upon to work.
  • Distro: A short form of – Distribution, a distro is a set of programs combined with the Linux kernel which together creates an Operating System.
  • GNOME: It is one of the few available desktop environment for Linux. Gnome is the default desktop on the popular Ubuntu distribution, which we have referred to in our previous articles.
  • GRUB: It is a boot loader for Linux. Allows users to have several different Operating Systems on their system at once, and choose which one to run when the computer boots.
  • KDE: KDE or the K Desktop Environment, is desktop environment for Linux workstations, something similar to GNOME but different visualization and default set of applications and tools.
  • Kernel: The core, or the brain of a Linux operating system. The kernel is what controls the hardware and makes them interact with the software. It is what every Linux distro is built upon.
  • LILO: Linux Loader is pretty similar to Grub in its functionality. However, different in terms of its fabrication. LILO is again a boot loader for Linux. LILO usually writes to the Master Boot Record (MBR) on your device.
  • Linus Torvalds: I doubt you’ll need this! But the letter “L” reminds me his name before anything else. The man who wrote the first Linux kernel in 1991.
  • Man: Short form for manual. If you need some help about an available command on the terminal, just type – man (command name).
  • Root: The superuser account on all Linux systems.
  • RPM: A package manager, which can be used to build, install, verify, update, and remove individual software packages. RPM is used by default on the Red Hat and Fedora distributions.
  • Sudo: Stands for Super User DO and allows a user to have a temporary root access without logging in as root.
  • Tux: The name of the Linux mascot – A Penguin.
  • YAST: Stands for Yet Another Setup Tool. Typically used on the SuSE distro. Yast is a setup and configuration tool.
  • YUM: An automated update program which can be used for maintaining systems using rpm. Yum is also used on Red Hat and Fedora by default.
  • X / X11: Also known as the X Window System, X is a windowing system that provides the standard toolkit and protocol with which to build graphical user interfaces (GUIs). KDE and GNOME are built upon X11.

The list is endless, keep pouring in your comments and suggestions. Remember, more than actually being difficult, Linux has been taught to be so. We would like to adhere to a new statement saying, Linux is different and not necessarily difficult.

The power of ‘root’ in Linux

After our previous recitation — Filesystem and File Organization in Linux — we hope the picture of the complete Linux file system would be resident in your minds. We are now equipped enough to try our hands on the beautiful operating system – Linux. But before we take you to the next stage, a very old saying boggled my mind – look before you leap!

The power of root in Linux

Let us go a little deep about the access privileges and rights which a root user has on a Linux system. Root is the default name for system administrator in a *NIX system – a super user who can do anything and everything within the operating system. As a result, root login should be used with special care. While working with a root login, we can end up doing a lot of harm to our system as well as the data, accidentally.

Need for the root account

Root login is required to perform actions which change the settings for all system-wide users or to modify the users’ accounts. We shall also have to use the root account for certain system operations.

Like,

  • To add new users to the system and administer the user data.
  • To install system-wide software.
  • To configure I/O devices like – a scanner or a TV tuner card, for example.
  • To configure system services like – a web or FTP server.

Is root really dangerous ? Why?

Yes, the main reason being security. One of the important rules of Linux operating system states that root account shall be used only in case when we are unable to perform an operation as a normal user. If you are logged in as a root, your system is much more vulnerable to the external attacks. For example, your favorite web browser may probably have a security loophole and if you happen to use it from the root account, you expose the whole operating system the world! If you work on the same web browser using an unprivileged account, it could only affect your personal configuration and data (if it is unencrypted). Here lies the difference.

How to use the root account safely and efficiently?

Ideally, one should avoid logging on to the root account via the GUI. Working continuously as root isn’t recommended for the reasons cited above. It is advisable to switch to the super user using the sudo command before another command (That’s with reference to Ubuntu Linux. This may vary from distro to distro.) This gives a temporary root access to the current user to run a single command, without having the need to actually log on as root. Using sudo command is said to be a little more secure than logging directly as root. Several distros enable sudo for the first user by default and disabling the direct root login via the GUI. Ubuntu is a prime example of this very approach.

This was all about the super user access privileges which we needed to know before we start to install applications and try them on our Linux installation. In our next article, we shall emphasize on how easy, fast and interesting it is to install a software application on a Linux distro. We’ll dig into all the possible ways of installing a software on Linux – the command line way to the modern GUI way!

(Image: XKCD)

File Access Denied on Windows XP and how to take ownership

In a recent hard disk crash, I had to do a restore from my back-up. Some of the files on a back-up drive was somehow avoiding me with an “Access Denied” even though I was logged in as the Administrator. I looked around and finally got the solution on how to take ownership of a file or folder in Windows.

Here are the simplified steps.

  1. Log on to the computer with an account that has administrative credentials. If you are running Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, you must start the computer in safe mode, and then log on with an account that has Administrative rights to have access to the Security tab.
  2. If you are using Windows XP Professional, you must disable Simple File Sharing.
  3. Right-click the folder/file that you want to take ownership of, and then click Properties.
  4. Click the Security tab, and then click OK on the Security message (if one appears).
  5. Click Advanced, and then click the Owner tab.
  6. In the Name list, click your user name, or click Administrator if you are logged in as Administrator, or click the Administrators group. If you want to take ownership of the contents of that folder, select the Replace owner on subcontainers and object check box.
  7. Click OK, and then click Yes when you receive the following message:
    You do not have permission to read the contents of directory folderName. Do you want to replace the directory permissions with permissions granting you Full Control?
    All permissions will be replaced if you press Yes.
  8. Click OK, and then reapply the permissions and security settings that you want for the folder and its contents.

That’s it.