J.Kirchartz Web Yinzer

Intro to Linux for Web Devs on Windows

I’ve been spending a lot of time using the linux CLI lately, and I know it can seem difficult at first. When I started with computers everything ran off the CLI and nobody got all freaked out, that was back before color monitors, now we have color monitors in our pockets so don’t worry, it’s not that hard, you can do this.

Logging In:

To remotely access a server you’ll need a telnet/ssh client, for windows PuTTY is a good choice , so download & install PuTTY. When you open putty you’ll see a space for your host name or IP address for the server you’re going to access, input the relevant information and hit open at the bottom of the window. You’ll be promped for your username & password when PuTTY connects. Now take a deep breath, you’re in a linux CLI, huzzah!

To learn more about PuTTY check the PuTTY docs.

Getting Around:

On windows you can list folders and directories like C:/Program Files/ or C:\Program Files\, on linux it’s /var/www/html (for apache’s default html directory), so linux is /-only, where windows doesn’t care if you use / or .

Let’s see where we are on the server, type in pwd at the command line (you should see /home/ or /root/).

To see what files are in this folder type ls, this will print out columns of files in the current directory, but if you want to see more details you can add to this command with flags, ls -a will list all files, ls -l will list details about the files, you can mix these flags like ls -al to list details for all files. You’ll notice a .. and a . directory, In linux the path to the current directory is ./ and the path to the parent directory is ../ Not much fun being stuck in one place huh?

Here’s the last command in this section cd just typing in cd will usually take you to your home directory, which is where you currently are anyhow if you’ve been following along. cd is there to help you Change Directories, so to move to the parent directory of your current folder you do cd ../ but you can move anywhere with this command as long as you know where you’re going. If this is an apache server try cd /var/www/html to get to the default main directory for the files. Some servers keep this directory at /sites so you could try there too.

Here’s a quick reference of commands for moving around:

  • pwd = display current directory path (Print Working Directory)
  • ls = list files, you can add flags to see more info on each file, I like to use ls -alF (LiSt)
  • cd = change directory, use cd ../ to move up one directory, or cd /var/www/html to move to an entirely different directory (Change Directory)

for more on these, check the wikipedia pages for cd, ls, and pwd.

Editing Text-based files:

My favorite is VIM, so to try it out type vim into the command line to open it and lets go. Notice that typing isn’t changing anything? Yeah, vim has input mode and command mode, and you start in command mode. So hit i to switch from command mode to input mode and you can finally start typing, to get back to control mode hit esc, and to save and quit (from command mode) use :wq; to quit immediately without saving use :q!. To open an existing file use vim filename.ext, where filename.ext is the path to the filename and it’s extension. Vim is super powerful but this switching thing is radically different than most windows-based text editors. The learning curve is steep, but worth it. There have been books written about using VIM, it’s a huge entity unto itself to learn more about VIM try their docs or check out this nice VIM Cheat-sheet.

Lets use something simpler for now: nano. type in nano at the command line to open it, start typing you’re already in input mode, because there are no modes, and there’s a UI so it tells you what commands are available, but there’s much more than meets the eye. To open an existing file use nano filename.ext at the command line

Unlike VIM, nano doesn’t have code-highlighting by default so to set this up you have to edit /etc/nanorc, so type nano /etc/nanorc at the command line the section we’re looking for starts on line 240, so hit ctrl+/ and type 240 hit enter and you’ll see a list of nanorc files, erase the # before each one you want code highlight for, then hit ctrl+x it prompts you to save changes, hit Y, then it prompts for the file name just hit Enter to keep it the same.

Here’s a few nano commands that are useful:

  • ctrl+k = cut, you can cut out multiple lines by hitting this repeatedly.
  • ctrl+u = uncut, you can re-insert cutout lines by hitting this repeatedly.
  • ctrl+/ = goto line #
  • ctrl+w = search for a word or phrase, there are a few options here, ‘M-R’ is a regex search, try hitting esc+r to use this (M stand for Meta-key, so try the Apple key or Windows key if esc doesn’t work).

Nano’s UI shows options you can use to translate keystrokes you should know that ^ is the control key and M is the escape key.

For more information on nano, read the Nano docs

Moving, Copying, Renaming, and Deleting files:

Sometimes things are in the wrong place, or you don’t want to overwrite a file to test out something, so how the heck do you move or copy or rename or delete files!? The commands are mv, cp, and rm.

Moving a file is mv path/to/file/location/name.ext /path/to/new/location/name.ext if you’re currently in the directory with your file use mv file.ext /path/to/wherever/your/putting/it/file.ext you just got to know where you’re moving the file to, to move it up a directory use mv file.ext ../, multiple files are easy too mv file1 file2 ~/ would move those files to your home directory.

Copying a file is done with cp filetocopy.ext newfile.ext you can also copy the file to a new directory, you can even copy a directory with cp /dir/to/copy/ ~/new/dir/

Deleting files can be done with rm file.ext you can delete a directory and it’s content with the recursive flag rm -r, and the flag to force a deletion is -f but be careful, rm -rf / can delete the whole root directory and totally screw up the server. Most platforms and admins protect against this but it’s better to be safe than sorry.


The Command line can be intimidating at first, but don’t fear it’s power. It can be a very helpful tool. For a more in-depth look read the Ultimate Linux Guide For Windows Users, and for more information check out http://linuxcommand.org/, TuxFiles’ intro to the Linux CLI and Hypexr’s Bash Tutorial. You can also add a linux shell to your windows machine with cygwin, mingw (this is what git-bash uses) or lightweight alternative gow. If you’d like an excellent terminal emulator in a snap, try Cmder, it packages up ConEmu and a few other things with a nice config file to provide a beautiful environment.