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O'Reilly Network: Living Linux: Linux and the Tools Philosophy

Jul 29, 2000, 14:06 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Michael Stutz)


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"A product of the late 1960s, the Unix operating system and related software was invented by Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan, and many other hackers at Bell Labs... That this operating system has survived in form for more than thirty years should tell us something about the temerity of its design considerations. And one of these considerations -- perhaps its most endearing -- is the "tools" philosophy."

"Unix-like operating systems do not put so much weight on application programs. Instead, they come with a lot of small programs called "tools." Each tool is generally capable of performing a very simple, specific task, and performing it well -- one tool does nothing but output the file(s) or data passed to it, one tool spools its input to the print queue, one tool sorts the lines of its input, and so on."

"An important early development in Unix was the invention of "pipes," a way to pass the output of one tool to the input of another. By knowing what the individual tools do and how they are combined, a user could now build powerful "strings" of commands. ...multiple tools could then be combined to perform a task unpredicted by the function of the individual tools. This is the concept of "synergy," and it forms the basis of the Unix tools philosophy."

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