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Best Books about Unix Tools


Selected Computer Books General programming issues Classic Unix Utilities Awk Sed Make Lex and Jacc
Configuration Management              


Emacs Perl Javascript GCC/GDB Expect and TCL Shells Etc

Classic Unix Utilities are covered well in O'Reilly books. Unix CD Bookshelf is probably the best way to get them. Some system administration books include a decent coverage of tools as well. I can recommend Essential System Administration, 2nd Edition .

Vi also can be considered classic Unix tool but with the exception of Vi iMproved books on VI are outdated and far from being impressive. See also Softpanorama Western Orthodox Editors Page

There are two Unix tools that makes the difference between a good sysadmin and an average one (even if the latter has solid knowledge of shell and Perl):

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov

If you did not read the books listed in our Classic Books section it might be a time to do so. At least to try (not all of them are an easy reading).

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Old News ;-)

Vi iMproved (VIM) by Steve Oualline

This is a very good book to learn VIM. Highly recommended

Actually not a bad book. Covers a lot of ground. Nice examples.

3 out of 5 stars Does anyone actually read the books they review???, July 23, 2001
Reviewer: David F DelGreco (see more about me) from Bay Area, CA
I decided to learn Vim because I work on WinNT/2K, Linux, and Macintosh boxes. Using a single editor makes it easier to work on mulitple platforms.

My review of this book is mixed. First, it's the only book on Vim and it contains a lot of information, so that's a plus. Also, it shed a lot of light on using the editor that, frankly, the help files did not (you can look up *ANYTHING* via ":help <topic>", but the documentation is not very accessible to the new user). However, the typos, errors, bad grammar, and personal idiosyncracies of Mr. Oualline just have to be seen to be believed.

You can figure out most of the errors easily enough. For example, there's a reference to the non-BUI version of Vim (I think he meant GUI)and for some reason, in the word "filename", when used as an example (e.g., "type 'vim filename'"), the "fi" is sans-serif while the rest of the example text is in bold Courier. There are, however, numerous places where the diagrams don't match the example being discussed in the text or are just plain wrong. Some of these left me wondering if I had missed something, but trying out a command in Vim quickly showed the diagram was wrong. My favorite goof is where '#' (the command to search backwards for the word under the cursor) is shown in numerous places in Appendix C (pp. 445, 449, and elsewhere) as a British money sign (e.g., "/count/ L"), where L is the pound sign. Get it? Pound sign? Obviously the person who did the Appendices and Index (and copy-editing???) was not Mr. Oualline.

With regard to the content, I found that Mr. Oualline is very idiosyncratic. Vim is VERY flexible, using ancient Vi ways of doing things, as well as more modern ways that are easier to use. Take yanking (copying) a block of text to a register (like the clipboard). *Mouse way*: select lines, press y. *Visual way*: move cursor to top of lines to be selected, press V, select lines, press y. *Vi-ish way*: go to top of lines to be selected, press "ma" to drop a mark labeled "a", go to bottom of lines, type y'a (yank from current position to mark "a").

If you consider these different styles (mouse, visual, or Vi-i ame general problem, Mr. Oualline always goes with the Vi-ish style, to the point of also showing you in many cases how to precede the command with a line range instead of using marks. Where Ctrl-Wn (open a new window) will do, we get Ctrl-W Ctrl-N (equivalent). Where Ctrl-W<down> moves down one window, we get Ctrl-W Ctrl-J (the arrows aren't mentioned). My guess is that this is not how the majority of new users will use Vim (though it might be handy if you find yourself using Vi or Vim via telnet).

A real barrier to learning the editor is the immense number of variations for accomplishing a given task. Multiple keystrokes to accomplish the same thing, as well as different approaches. What would be great for Vim is an attempt to break down tasks into functional groupings (movement, formatting, programmer stuff, managing buffers/windows) and choose a style (probably visual mode, which is almost interchangeable with mouseing) so you can say "here's a good way to get started." The many variations can be left as an excercise for power users. They are available in the online help, anyway.

All in all, I learned a lot about Vim from this book. But if I hadn't been determined to do so, I would have given up. If you want to learn Vim and the online docs aren't doing it for you, buy this book. You've been warned, so just chuckle when you come across errors and general weirdness. Kudos to Mr. Oualline for writing a book, but don't give up your day job. :-) BIG raspberries to New Riders for letting this slip through without proper editing. And thanks to Bram, who put up an unofficial list of errata at

Unix Power Tools, Third Edition

Some vi tips are included in the book

4 out of 5 stars Reviewer: A reader from USA Mixed Feelings, December 19, 1999

This may go without saying, but if it would've been stated here I would've saved some money: I found that since I owned almost all of the other O'Reilly's on the subject matter that this book was virtually useless. Of course if you aren't lucky enough to have a nice O'Reilly library, this book seems to be a good substitute for those books. I wish someone would've pointed that out to me before I bought it!

willem leenen: 4 out of 5 stars A Good Big Book - but worth the hype?, September 26, 2000

A Good Big Book - but worth the hype?

The Unix Power Tools has already established a reputation of being a classic. The behemoth has no less that 1073 pages and goes accompanied by a CD with a lot of small shellscripts that are described in the book. The authors show a thorough understanding of the subject and are able to explain the ways of Unix in a casual talkative way. Much work is devoted to the layout and the text edition. For example, the crossreferences are well done, greyed out in readable italics.

The publisher seems to understand the importance of easy readable text. Many of us know how a good book can be spoiled by hasty and bad editing, and it's a relief to see that O'Reilly takes this issue seriously. The text is divided into paragraphs of about 1/4 to 1 page in size. These paragraphs deal with the Unix commands, the shells, the history of unix or the included nifty shellscripts.

One might think that the authors view Unix as a collection of structured trivia - a view I personally like. You won't read this book 'cover to cover' (to use that awful cliche), but you'll start joyreading for that bit of advice or for that handy tool they've written. (For example: the thing that got me up the wall was that filenames can have empty spaces at the end, so it seems you cannot delete them. I should have known that one way earlier :^( )

Sometimes the authors write down some very casual paragraphs: a flame from usenet (Why NOT to use the C-shell for programming), the history of a command ( grep is: g from global, RE is regular expression, and the P stands for print, hence g/RE/P) or other fun to read items.

It will not be the book you'll grab for serious studying or when the system goes down unexpectedly.

The problems with big books are usually twofold and this one suffers rather badly from it.


Although lot's of information isn't relevant to your need, unix-implementation, shell or skill-level, this book is easy to read thanks to the good layout and small paragraphs. The authors truly have years of experience and have made many handy shellscripts. For those of you who want to like to master the commandline of Unix and like to skim for the golden hint, this book is a true find. But if you know what you want to learn then dedicated books present a better alternative to this somewhat unfocussed book.

A reader from San Francisco, CA USA 3 out of 5 stars Lots of tips and tricks, April 4, 2001
This book consists of page after page of UNIX tips and tricks -- mostly tricks.

The book is appropriate for someone who already knows UNIX and wants to learn some fancy ways to save keystrokes writing commands, make a fancy UNIX prompt, etc. In fact, Chapter 7 is devoted entirely to modifying your UNIX shell prompt. One example: have the prompt include the server name, and make the name flash on and off.

There is no way in the world this should be the first UNIX book anyone buys. Beginners will be lost as the authors skip from one tip to the next, in a haphazard fashion.

And it's not one of those books that provides overall coverage of a subject. A book of tricks is, without a doubt, not a book that could serve as your one and only UNIX book. There's simply too much left out. For example, check out the two chapters on shell scripting. They don't come close to providing coverage of most of the important things you need to know -- it's just a series of tips for people who already know shell scripting and want to learn some extras that are fancy or flashy or maybe save a few keystrokes.

The chief flaw of this book is how immature it seems. It devotes a couple of pages to explaining how to code something, and I'm left wondering why anyone would waste their time. It has the feeling of several 14 year old boys coming up with tricks and showing them to each other. Cool! Yeah, cool!

If you want to become one of those people who are very technical, but lack business sense, this is your book. Just be prepared when the senior VP says, "You wasted your time doing WHAT?!"

To be fair, this book is probably a good one for the system administrator who uses UNIX all day long and already has a firm grasp of the job. At that point, why not add a few extras? Go ahead, make the prompt blink.

jmagave (see more about me) ( Brazil): 4 out of 5 stars These tips may save you a lot of time, April 24, 2002
This book has many scattered Tips on Unix from the user's point of view. It doesn't mention TCP/IP and protocols. You won't see Perl, here. Basically, it tells you how to write fine Bash scripts to take full advantage of Unix to solve mundane tasks, like changing your login prompt to display:date, time, hostname, etc. Setup terminal options. Very fine introduction to Regular Expressions (Regex). Nice tutorial on Awk. Fine chapter on Vi (not Vim). The chapter on How Bash interprets your commands will make you stop wondering why your ``*'' and variables ``$1'' are being misinterpreted. You must read it.

So, why not five stars? This book is old. No word about GNU/Linux, the most proeminent *nix outcome. The tools included in the CD-Rom duplicate some GNU utilities, now included in every distro. Some tips on formatting text using ``troff'' are hardly useful today (with X Window all around). BTW, no word about X Window.

Finally, if you're looking for Unix administration tips buy Nemeth (Unix administration). If you are looking for ``gotchas'' tips, that could save your time, this is THE book.

Every now and then I come back to it.

Learning the vi Editor (6th Edition) by Linda Lamb, Arnold Robbins

The book is actually pretty average...
A reader from San Francisco
Quite good -- if only there were more examples..., September 6, 2003
First, I unequivocally recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn the vi editor used on UNIX and Linux systems. The book is well laid out and well written.

There are, however, two things I think would make this good book even better: (1) step-by-step examples of some of the more complex vi techniques and (2) some on-line example files available from the O'Reilly Web site. On-line example files are employed to advantage by other O'Reilly books (O'Reilly's "sed & awk" comes immediately to mind). Providing some hands-on example files to work with would definitely help anyone using this book to learn the vi editor.

Having said that, this book in its current form will teach you more than enough to use vi effectively. For those who are just starting to use vi to do real work, I'd also recommend acquiring the companion "vi Editor Pocket Reference."

This book covers vi, nvi, elvis, vim, and vile, August 1, 2000
[email protected] (see more about me) from Arlington, Texas USA
The Topics include:

The examples are quite clear and plentiful.

Sams Teach Yourself Emacs in 24 Hours by Jesper Pedersen

Paperback / Published 1999
Average Customer Review: 1 out of 5 stars

Unix Cd Bookshelf (Contains 6 books and software) by Daniel Gilly


The UNIX CD Bookshelf contains six books from O'Reilly plus the software from UNIX Power Tools -- all on a convenient CD-ROM. A bonus hardcopy book of UNIX in a Nutshell: System V Edition, is also included. The CD-ROM contains three good and tree average books:

Unix Programming Tools by Eric Foster-Johnson

Eric Foster-Johnson / Paperback / Published 1997

Maximum Rpm by Ed Bailey

Published 1997
Amazon price: $31.99 ~ You Save: $8.00 (20%)

Expect and TCL

***** Exploring Expect A Tcl-Based Toolkit for Automating Interactive Programs by Don Libes

  • Price: $26.36
    Paperback - 602 pages (December 1994)

    Steve Wainstead
    A completely different tool July 17, 2000

    Expect is completely unlike any other tool I have ever used. Think of any language you've used and how long it would take to: write a program that can update 1000 user passwords on 20 different machines; make two chess programs play each other; connect two users to the same shell program and type at the same time; allow you to rewrite the command arguments to any command line tool?

    Expect really does make all these things trivial. It takes a lot of patience to master this tool though; Tcl is a very unforgiving and terse language. I've done things in Expect that I never thought were possible: I scripted Minicom (a modem term program that uses ncurses) to answer a phone after 7 seconds, and either: receive a zmodem file or send a login prompt. Then hang up the modem and wait again. Try that in a shell or systems language!

    It's unfortunate that Expect is such a radically different beast and takes so long to understand; every person running regression tests or doing systems administration will benefit from this book. While it may not be great for just "looking up" things, search Usenet for all of the author's posts (comp.lang.tcl) and his answer is almost always, "This is on page XXX of the book." Because the book really does cover everything Expect does!

  • **** Tcl/Tk for Real Programmers ~ Usually ships in 2-3 days

    Clif Flynt / Paperback / Published 1998
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    **** Building Network Management Tools With Tcl/Tk (Prentice Hall Series in Computer Networking and Distributed Systems)

    Dave Zeltserman, Gerard Puoplo / Hardcover / Published 1998
    Amazon price: $50.00

    *** Tcl/Tk Tools

    Mark Harrison, et al / Paperback / Published 1997
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    The Complete Tcl/Tk Training Course

    Brent B. Welch, Dave Zeltserman / Paperback / Published 1998
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    Effective Tcl/Tk Programming : Writing Better Programs in Tcl and Tk (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series)

    Mark Harrison, Michael J. McLennan / Paperback / Published 1997
    Amazon price: $39.95

    Graphical Applications With Tcl and Tk

    Eric Foster-Johnson, Johnson Eric Foster / Paperback / Published 1997
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    Interactive Web Applications With Tcl/Tk

    Hattie Schroeder, et al / Paperback / Published 1998
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    Practical Programming in Tcl & Tk

    Brent B. Welch / Paperback / Published 1997
    Amazon price: $42.00

    Tcl and the Tk Toolkit (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing)

    John K. Ousterhout / Paperback / Published 1994
    Amazon price: $44.95

    Tcl/Tk for Dummies (For Dummies)

    Tim Webster, et al / Paperback / Published 1997
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    Tcl/Tk for Programmers With Solved Exercises That Work With Unix and Windows

    J. A. Zimmer / Paperback / Published 1998
    Amazon price: $45.00

    Tcl/Tk for Real Programmers ~ Usually ships in 2-3 days

    Clif Flynt / Paperback / Published 1998
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    Tcl/Tk in a Nutshell : A Desktop Quick Reference (Nutshell Handbook)

    Paul Raines, et al / Paperback / Published 1999
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    Tcl/Tk Pocket Reference

    Paul Raines / Paperback / Published 1998
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    Web Development With Tcl/Tk 8.1 : A Complete Resource for Programmers and Developers

    Steve Holzner, Steven Holzner / Paperback / Published 1999
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    Tcl Reference and Tk Reference

    Paperback / Published 1996
    Amazon price: $4.50 + $2.35 special surcharge r)

    Tcl/Tk for Real Programmers

    Clif Flynt / CD-ROM / Published 1998
    Amazon price: $1.95

    Tcl/Tk Programmer's Reference (Programmer's Reference Series)

    Chris Nelson / Paperback / Published 1999
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    Tcl/Tk Tutorial Scripting

    Gerald Lester / Paperback / Published 1999
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    Tcl/Tk Unleashed (Unleashed)

    Red Hat Press / Paperback / Published 1999
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