What is Linux? [A Comprehensive Insight]

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One needs to understand what Linux is if one wishes to become acquainted with Linux distributions. The beginner ought to understand the fundamentals of Linux. In this article, I will try to make it easy by giving the definition, characteristics, and components of Linux.

Definition of Linux

Linux is a Unix-like operating system that is based on the Linux Kernel which is an open-source free system used to manage the hardware and resources. The Linux kernel includes a shell, Graphical, and command line interface which is used to run the application that the user wants. KDE Plasma and elementary OS are the user interfaces. With all these unknown terms, you might feel confused and some questions might arise in your mind. For example,

  • What is an Operating System?
  • What is a Unix-like Operating System?

So let’s break each of these terms & let me introduce them to you one by one:

What is an Operating System?

First, one has to understand what is an operating system. An operating system is a collection of programs that manages the computers’ basic functions such as managing the files, hardware, and software resources and their allocations. See the following graphical presentation of an operating system to see how it serves as a mediator between software & hardware:

The structure of the operating system

What is a Unix-like Operating System?

Unix is a stable operating system with a command line interface providing multiuser, multitasking facilities for the computers and servers. The operating system that acts like Unix and holds its properties but is not Unix-certified is called the Unix-like operating system. Many popular operating systems behave like Unix, such as MacOS X, Linux, Sun Solaris, and BSD. The Linux operating system is packed in a form called Linux distribution.

How Was Linux Created?

Because of the proprietary property, the operating systems used to be very expensive. In 1991, the inventor of Linux, Linus Benedict Torvalds was at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and back then he was using Minix which was a non-free operating system, and felt the necessity of a free and open-source OS that fulfilled the cause of GNU. By September, of that year, he first created the code for the Linux kernel which was named version 0.01. Then after the change of the code frequent times, and after 4-5 editions the complete kernel was ready which was then modified with time and released modified versions. Nowadays around 32.8 million people use Linux.

What is the Architecture of Linux?

The architecture of the Linux operating system can be divided into layers that facilitate the functions, configurations, and flexibility. Below I have shown the structure of the operating system:

Architecture of the Linux kernel

Hardware: It includes the peripheral components of the system like RAM and CPU. It does the operations that it sent by the Kernel through the function calls.

Kernel: Linux Kernel is the lowest-level software that is the heart of the Linux Operating system. You can call it the interface of the hardware and also the interface of all the applications. It directly interacts with the hardware and hides all its complexity. Here are some basic functions of the kernel:

  • Execution of processes
  • Allocation of memory
  • Storage management
  • Device management
  • Access the peripheral components that link to the computer.

Shell: Hiding all the complexity of the kernel, the shell makes an interaction with the user and kernel. It is a user-friendly environment that performs the applications that a user wants. The operating system is typically categorized into two graphical shell and command line shell.

System Utilities and Applications: All the applications and commands that are applied by the user are sent to the kernel.

Some Other Basic Components of Linux

As Linux is designed considering the Unix operating system its functionality is quite similar to the Unix operating system.

Some basic components of Linux are shown below:

  1. Bootloader
    The startup or restarting process of the operating system is called booting. So for this booting every operating system needs a bootloader. The bootloader initiates the booting when you turn on your computer. LILO, GRUB, and BURG are the popular bootloader in Linux distribution.
  2. Init System
    While booting the system, there is an initialization in which the short form is init. It is a daemon process which is the direct or indirect parent process for other child and orphan processes and continues until the shutdown of the system.
  3. Applications
    These applications are the programs that the user runs on top of the architecture. The applications include database applications, media players, web browsers, and presentations.
  4. Server
    Linux is known for providing a great server facility. It creates the structure for hosting several server facilities like web servers, database servers, and email servers. The popular server software is Apache, MySQL, and OpenSSH.
  5. Desktop Environment
    The users mainly interact with the desktop environment which provides a user-friendly interface. Common Linux desktop environments are GNOME, KDE Plasma, Cinnamon, and Mate. It has built-in applications that help the user to manage the system.

How Does the Linux Operating System Work?

If one wants to use the Linux operating system then he has to understand how it works. The system can be divided into two modes. 1. Kernel Mode 2. User Mode. The main difference between these two is Kernel mode is a privileged mode that can access the hardware resources and the user mode is the mode in which the applications are running.

  • First, the system mainly the Linux kernel should be loaded and booted.
  • Then the process is executed and sends the system calls.
  • After Switching into the kernel mode, the system calls are executed.
  • Once the applications are executed then the system mode is changed into The user mode.

In this process, the applications are performed and execute the program.

Why Should You Use Linux?

As for all computers, the popular operating systems Windows and OS are available so the question is where one can use Linux. When the operating system was introduced, it was a server OS, but it has become trendy and widely used on the desktop. Below I will show some reasons which makes one uses Linux:

  • Being lightweight and capable, it is used from hand watches to powerful computers.
  • It has an end-to-end encrypted system that provides a secure key, shell, and feature.
  • Provide Multiuser and multitasking
  • A hierarchical file structure where all files are categorized by their type and stored in a specific directory.
  • Provide a high level of customizable key

How Does Linux Differ From Other Operating Systems?

There are many commercial operating systems like MacOS, Microsoft Windows, and Oracle’s Solaris but Linux gets its popularity because of some differences. Here I have properties that make Linux different from other Operating systems:

  • Open-source Nature

As it is free and open-source software that means the source code can be modified by the user according to their need so you can customize the code. Again it is free software so you do not need anything to modify it whereas other operating systems need a high maintenance fee as it is proprietary.

  • Hardware Support

For its versatilities, its hardware can be used from a small device to a supercomputer. A large number of drivers are available for the elements of hardware.

  • Kernel Architecture

Linux has a monolithic kernel that provides high performance and simplicity by scheduling the CPU and managing the file and memory system. Other operating systems use combined kernels which include monolithic and micro kernel.

  • Software Distribution

The software is managed by a central management system that is called a package management system and it is done by the package manager. The user can install, remove, update, and clean the software with this package manager.

  • Development Model

As it is an open-source project anyone can edit and customize the code and can also share it with others which enlarges the developer community. The improvement of the code makes the Linux distribution a development model.

Some Applications of the Linux Operating System

Users can use the Linux operating system according to their preferences. To increase system performance and productivity Linux provides a wide range of applications. So it is important to learn which applications work on this operating system. Below I have shown a few applications:

Server OS

Linux operating system can be used for multiple server applications like email servers, web servers, and database servers for its security, stability, and open-source nature.

Desktop OS

Users can use the operating system as the proprietary operating system of Windows or MacOS. Distributions like Ubuntu, RHEL, Fedora, and Linux Mint are used as desktop OS providing a user-friendly environment.

Cloud OS

For open-source nature, scalability, stability, and reliability many cloud computing providers offer Linux for desktops and cloud servers.

Network OS

Users can use Linux as a network operating system when the configuration of Linux is like that it can serve as the core operating system. It is used in routers, and home networking devices.

Headless Server OS

For remotely managing the server and devices, Headless Server OS can be used to directly connect with the terminal and keyboard. The graphical interface is not required for this Operating System.

Embedded Device OS

For its flexibility and Customizability, it can be used for embedded devices from a wristwatch to supercomputers. It is used in various types of devices as an embedded operating system.

Software Development OS

For its various compatibilities with languages, libraries, and command-line tools many software developers use Linux as a Development OS.

How One Can Learn Linux?

To learn Linux one can follow the steps shown below:

  • Firstly Choose the appropriate Linux distribution that is compatible with your system.
  • Install the distribution and explore the OS.
  • Find the Basics (structure, file system, navigation, Input, and output) from appropriate resources.
  • Learn the commands and functions.
  • Choose a problem and apply what you have learned.
  • Enhance your skills by practicing problems.


An overview of the Linux operating system’s definition, components, and learning process is given in this article. In conclusion, you can understand this highly customizable, stable operating system is very lightweight that you can use from wristwatches to supercomputers.

People Also Ask

What is the Advantage of Open Source?

As Linux is an open source anyone can modify and customize the source code according to their preference because it has a single license worldwide.

What Are GUI and CLI?

CLI is the Command Line Interface that takes the command via text into the terminal or console window. GUI is the graphical user interface that allows the user to interact with a mouse and keyboard with the system.

What Are the Names of Linux Distributions?

There are many Linux distributions that one can use on their PC. Some popular distributions that are mostly used are:

  • Ubuntu
  • RedHat
  • Debian
  • Fedora
  • CentOS

What Are the Different Types of Shells?

The shell is the interface or bridge between the kernel and the user. Some different types of shells are:

  • Bourns Shell
  • ZSH
  • Korn Shell or KSH
  • Bourns Again Shell or Bash
  • C Shell or CSH
  • TCSH

How is Linux So Stable Despite Using a Monolithic Kernel?

As you know the microkernel is so stable and if a failure occurs in one part, it won’t hamper the rest of the system. But failure occurs mainly because of poorly written code which is not implied for Linux. The kernel code was so well written because Torvalds didn’t compromise with the code and development of the software. That’s the reason why the Linux kernel is so stable despite having a monolithic kernel.

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Afia Zahin Oishi

Assalamualaikum, I am Afia Zahin, completed my graduation in Biomedical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, currently working as a Linux Content Developer Executive at SOFTEKO. A high achieving professional with a strong work ethic and able to work in a team in order to consistently achieve my goal and build my skillset. Able to handle difficult problems with patience and swift decision-making. Read Full Bio

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