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Best Books about Unix Tools


Selected Computer Books GCC Make Awk Sed VIM, Emacs and other editors Lex and Jacc
Configuration Management Books on Software Testing Best books about C++ debugging Awk Tcl/Tk and Expect Books Best books about Regular Expressions Shells GDB


Best Red Hat Books for Preparation to Certification LAMP Bookshelf  Unix History with some Emphasis on Scripting Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering ysadmin Horror Stories Humor Etc

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

And it is very important to understand that Unix is a culture and should be studied as such. Unix tools are important part, but just a small part of this culture.

There are multiple categories of Unix tools

There are also some unique tools, that belong to multiple categories. I think 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):

This two tools can also be used as a fine text in interviews on advanced Unix-related positions if you have several similar candidates. Other things equal, their knowledge definitely demonstrate the level of Unix culture superior to the average "command line junkies" level ;-)

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 ;-)

Unix Power Tools, Third Edition

Outdated. It makes sense to buy this book with O'Reilly Unix CD bookshelf only.

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.

Build your own LINUX C Toolbox by Jack Dennon

Paperback - 178 pages (September 8, 2000)
Two Moon Press; ISBN: 0970275455

From the Author

While yet a child, the originator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, working at the VIC 20 command line, wrote BASIC programs in what is now considered to be an obsolete dialect. Soon he was writing hand-assembled machine code for the VIC 20. The straightforward architecture of Chuck Peddle's 6502 perhaps encouraged Linus to explore and such explorations evidently gave young Linus an excellent grounding in the fundamentals. Where would a young Linus of today find such an accessible rung?

Short of digging a VIC 20 out of the attic, where can today's beginner find a starting place comparable to where Linus started? The thesis of this book is that a beginner is well served by starting at the command line; with programming tools designed primarily for simplicity, tools that assist by helping you explore the consequences of your own decisions rather than attempting to make those decisions for you. This book gives the reader experience at the keyboard, sans mouse, using text mode to communicate with the computer via the time-honored command line.

We cannot know for certain that command line experience contributed to the success of today's top programmers. What we do know for certain is that many of the really skillful programmers of today, such as Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox, Richard Stallman, Theodore Ts'o, Eric S. Raymond, W. Richard Stevens, and so on, did as a matter of fact, begin programming when such experience was the norm. It's true, we don't know for sure, but the odds are, such experience is essential.

Readers who can put this book to advantage include those have been using DOS, and who have found the migration path to Linux seems to ford a rather deep channel. In this book they will find tools to build their own bridge to Linux.

It is a small book. My approach aligns with that of Kernighan & Ritchie who remarked in the preface to their second edition, "C is not a big language, and is not well served by a big book."

Linux Application Development by Michael K. Johnson, Erik W. Troan

Great book. IMHO the best on the topic.

Hardcover: 576 pages
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1st edition (April 20, 1998)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0201308215
ISBN-13: 978-0201308211
Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds

Publisher WEB page: Linux Application Development and Red Hat mirror

I would not agree that the fact that the authors skipped X windows programming is a problem, but generally would agree with the Amazon reviewer other statements:

5 out of 5 stars Enlightening Introduction plus Excellent Reference Book, July 3, 1999
Reviewer: A reader from Ontario, Canada

This book was written with an easy to read style, and the content is excellent. I'll forgive them for not including anything related to X11 programming, but they mention that their reason was that X Windows programming is not specific to Linux, and this is a *LINUX* programming book. Well fine, but I still have to find a book on X Programming. Imagine a book on Windows NT Programming that skipped all the GUI parts. I guess the Unix crowd is 10 years behind the NT crowd in acceptance of GUIs.

Reading this book made many of the arcane details of Unix architecture make sense, finally. I have read many Linux books, and most are long on technical drivel and short on enlightenment. If you are enlightened, you don't need the drivel, because the technical details are easy to absorbe and remember once they make sense.

This book excels at making sense of Linux. It should have been called "Making Sense of Linux Application Development", because that's what it is. You could probably get a lot out of it, even if you don't know C very well or you aren't all that interested in C programming in Linux. The explanations are clearly presented, and the chapters stand alone, and are a great reference material, as well as interesting general reading for those interested in the internals of Linux.

This book explains a lot of services that the kernel provides, especially in regards to the Linux process model and unix filesystems, as well as interprocess communications (Unix domain sockets) and network programming (TCP/IP sockets).

CAVEAT: This shouldn't be your *first* Linux book. There's a lot of material besides the writing of the code that you need to cover first. To get you comfy in the classic Unix shell environment read Hands On Unix, by Mark Sobell.

Beginning Linux Programming by Neil Matthew and Richard Stones

Paperback, 980 pp/ Published 1999, second edition Wrox Press Inc; ISBN: 1861002971 /$31.99
Source code available from the;

Publisher page: Wrox Press Inc.

Paperback - 980 pages 2nd edition (September 1999)
Wrox Press Inc; ISBN: 1861002971 ; Dimensions (in inches): 2.08 x 9.17 x 7.26 Sales Rank: 2,256
Avg. Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Number of Reviews: 46

Table of contents

I did not read the second edition, but many Amazon readers suggest that the authors managed to improve the book. Still the main problem is that you need to be very careful in selecting topics for the beginning programming course and not to overload the boat. I do not recommend this book to be used in the introductory course and I would agree with one of Slashdot readers -- "Beginning Linux Programming" tries to cover way too much in too small of a space. It covers everything from shell scripting to X11 programming (but tells you it's a waste of time and you should use a toolkit) to Tcl/Tk. It covers just about everything, but covers nothing well. See SlashdotReviewBeginning Linux Programming. The main problem for authors of "Beginning" books is to decide on a minimal subset of topics they should cover. The authors seems decided to avoid this hard decision by including as much as possible. But it can be considered as a decent "Tools" book. Here is another comment from Amazon reader that address the same problem:

3 out of 5 stars good book - could be great, July 13, 2000
Reviewer: jk_ny (see more about me) from Poughkeepsie, NY United States
This book will bring you up to speed on the Linux API. My only complaint is that it skims the surfaces. Take out the sections on Tcl, HTML, Perl, and CGI; they are so basic that they are useless anyway, and they don't fit in here. "Beginning Linux Programming" has the potential be the master of all of the Linux books if they would cut out these non-Linux topics and replace them with more Linux information.

For example, I loved the compiler section but it stopped short on shared libraries to save room for Perl and CGI later in the book. If the authors are listening: the cover of the book says Linux programming, not web programming.

As for the presentation of the book: Great examples, great explanations, and very clear.

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

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 Network Management Tools (Unix Tools)

Steven Maxwell, Steve Maxwell / Hardcover / Published 1999

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%)

Managing Projects With Make (A Nutshell Handbook) by Andrew Oram, Steve Talbott, Steve Talbot

3 out of 5 stars
Number of Reviews: 7

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