Perhaps you’re a Windows admin who is interested in making the jump to Linux, or perhaps you are a Mac OS user who may soon be administering a Linux-based network. Either way, you need to know some of the basics of Linux, just to get started gaining some hands-on experience. In this post, that’s exactly what you’ll get!

Where do I get Linux?

To get started with Linux, you need to download a Linux distribution, such as RedHat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, CentOS or Cumulus Linux. You want to make sure that you obtain a Linux distribution that is compatible with your hardware. For example, you might select a 32-bit i386 image or a 64-bit amd64 image.

For example, if you want to start with the Debian distribution, you can download an ISO-formatted image that you would use to install Debian Linux.

While some people will want to run Linux directly on a physical server, desktop or laptop, many people start learning Linux for the first time by running it inside of a virtual machine. With a VM option, you can run Linux inside your existing Microsoft Windows or Apple macOS operating system using virtualization tools such as VMware Workstation or VMware Fusion, both of which offer a free, limited-time evaluation license. You can also go with a free product from Oracle called VirtualBox. Another option is to run Linux as a VM in the public cloud via a provider such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.

Do I use a CLI or GUI?

Linux can be administered through a graphical user interface (GUI) or command line interface (CLI). Most direct uses of Linux by consumers/individuals are done with a GUI, as with Android phone users or Linux desktop users. Most Linux servers are administered through the CLI, as administrators typically find it to be more efficient.

Get an SSH client!

Most Linux administration is done with something called an SSH client. The good news is that SSH clients are all over the place! If you’re a Windows user, one of the most popular clients is PuTTY. If you’re a Mac user, you can just use the Terminal application that is already built into macOS. If you’re on a mobile device, head to your device’s application store and look around. You’ll find a multitude of options.

How do I log in to Linux?

Because most Linux administration is done using a CLI, you log in to Linux at either the console of the Linux host machine or by remotely connecting to the Linux server over a network. For a new installation, you typically log in to the console to install system packages and then set up initial users with passwords and network access.

Most Linux servers are set up to allow users to connect via the network using the Secure Shell (SSH), an encrypted communications protocol. SSH is a secure alternative to the insecure telnet that was used in the past. With SSH, your SSH client connects to the SSH server running on the Linux host where you log in with a username and password.

Here’s how establishing a connection might work from a system that already has an SSH client (such as macOS in this case) connecting to a Linux host (Cumulus Linux in this case) over the network:

macos1:~ david$ ssh cumulus@192.168.1.107
cumulus@192.168.1.107's password: ********
Welcome to Cumulus VX (TM)
Cumulus VX (TM) is a community supported virtual appliance designed for experiencing, testing, and prototyping Cumulus Networks' latest technology.
For any questions or technical support, visit our community site at: http://community.cumulusnetworks.com
The registered trademark Linux ® is used pursuant to a sublicense from LMI, the exclusive licensee of

As you can see, with SSH, you connect using the command ssh, followed by the Username, an @ symbol and then the Hostname or IP Address of the Linux host to which you are trying to connect. You will be prompted for your password to log in. In the example above, the password is required, but is not echoed and therefore not shown.

Getting Help

Linux commands can, at times, be confusing and can become complex. In Linux, help is always available!

Use the man command (shorthand for “manual”) to provide detailed documentation for just about every Linux command. For example:

        david@Debian$ man ls
        NAME
                ls - list directory contents
        SYNOPSIS
                ls [OPTION]... [FILE]...
        DESCRIPTION
                List information about the FILEs (the current directory by default). Sort entries alphabetically if none of
                -cftuvSUX nor --sort is specified.
                Mandatory arguments to long options are mandatory for short options too.
                -a, --all
                        do not ignore entries starting with .
                -A, --almost-all
                        do not list implied . and ..

(output truncated)

Depending on the command, other options to get help are to append “-h” or just “help” after the command.

Next Steps

To learn more about getting started with the Linux OS, continue on to part 2 of this series on Getting Started with Linux – The Basics!

Want to learn more about Linux in the datacenter? Download the full ebook titled “The Gorilla Guide to… Linux Networking 101” or visit cumulusnetworks.com/learn to learn more!