Don’t use Linux every day? A bit rusty? No problem, here’s a brief review of some of the basics:

Why Linux?

Linux is just another operating system (OS), like Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s OSX, but it is much more suited to performing tasks related to high-performance computing. Although several Linux “flavours” such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint generally come with graphical environments, the Palmetto cluster does not offer such an environment. Instead, you will interact with the operating system via a simple command-line interface. This is required because there’s no room for the computational “overhead” of running a graphical user interface (GUI), especially not on a large HPC cluster with hundreds of users connecting to the system through remote network connections. In addition, the command-line makes it very easy to automate tasks, and it can be much more efficient to work with the command line compared to a graphical user interface.

Palmetto consists of hundreds of compute nodes (the nodes that do the computational work), plus a few service nodes that handle other activities. The most important service node is the “head” node, also called the log-in node. This node (named login001) is where you begin when you connect to Palmetto.

When you log-in

See the Logging in section of the User’s Guide for instructions for logging in to the cluster. When you log-in, you’ll be presented with a system message called the “message of the day” (MOTD). It looks something like this, with your command prompt waiting for you below this message:


   * Email with questions or to report problems.

   * Palmetto "office hours" are every Wednesday 8am-11am in 412 Cooper Library.

   * Quarterly maintenance periods:  May (followed by Top 500 benchmark),
     August, November and Feb.  Email will be sent before each period with
     details of cluster availability.

        User guide:
   Sample programs:

   Useful commands:
     module avail             - list available software packages
     qstat -xf jobid          - check status of your job
     qstat -Qf queuename      - check status of a queue
     checkquota               - check your disk quota
     checkqueuecfg            - check general workq max running limits
     cat /etc/hardware-table  - list node hardware: ram,cores,chip,etc.
     qpeek                    - look at a running job's stdout or stderr
     whatsfree                - see what nodes are free right now

   Please do not use /home as your PBS working directory.  Jobs with /home
   as working directory may be killed as performance deteriorates.

   They will be terminated without notice. No exceptions.

 -------------- This file is: /etc/motd -------- Last Updated: 21-FEB-2018 ----

Notice that the command prompt indicates what node (login001) you are currently connected to. The ~ (tilde symbol) indicates that you are in your home directory /home/username. When you log-in to Palmetto, you will start in your home directory. When logged-in to Palmetto, you’re using the bash shell (a.k.a. the Bourne-Again shell). The shell is a simple interface program that:

  1. Reads (interprets) the command you type
  2. Tries to make sense of it
  3. Runs whatever programs your command needs
  4. Prints the output of those programs, and then waits for another command

This is known as a Read-Evaluate-Print-Loop, or REPL.

Basic Commands

Try running some basic commands to see what the output looks like:

Command Description
pwd (“print working directory”) prints your current working directory in the filesystem
cal (“calendar”) prints a little calendar for the current month
date prints the current date and time
ls list the contents of the directory you’re in
env list all environment variables/settings

Most commands accept or require arguments (a.k.a. “flags” or “options”) that customize or specify how they work:

Command Description
cd /scratch1/username (“change directory”) in this example, changing to your directory in the /scratch1 filesystem
echo "Hello there, how are you?" prints the string of characters inside the “” quotes
echo $PATH print the value of the PATH variable
which gcc prints the full path to the gcc command (gcc is the GNU C compiler)
cp compute.log /home/username/logfiles copying the file compute.log to to the logfiles in the home directory

A manual page (“man page”) serves as the “user manual page” for any particular command, including detailed information about how to use or customize each command:

$ man ls

From the man page for ls, we can see that the following command:

$ ls -latr

lists the contents of the current directory, all files (including hidden files), and sorts them by time.

Using a Text Editor

Because graphical applications cannot trivially be run on the Palmetto cluster, you cannot use common text editors like Notepad, Atom, or Gedit to create and edit files. Instead, you will have to use a text editor that runs entirely within the terminal window. A very simple, easy-to-use terminal-based text editor is nano. You can start nano and begin editing a filewith this command:

$ nano my-file.txt

At the bottom of the nano interface, you’ll see a menu of common commands, such as ^O (that’s CTRL-o) to save or “write” a file that has been edited, and ^X (that’s CTRL-x) to exit nano.

Working with Palmetto cluster will require you to frequently create and edit text files. So it’s important that you learn how to do this effectively. There are other terminal-based text editors that you can use that are much more powerful than nano, but take more effort to learn, for example vim and emacs. Type vimtutor to start a short tutorial on vim.

I/O redirection

I/O redirection is a way of manipulating the input/output of Linux programs, allowing you to capture output in a file, or send it to another program.

The > character instructs bash to take the output of a command and write it to a file, for example:

$ ls /scratch1/username > list.txt

writes the output of the ls /scratch1/username command to list.txt.

Similarly, >> can be used to append to the end of a file without overwriting what’s already there:

$ echo "Right now it's `date`" >> list.txt

Another useful technique is to redirect one program’s output (stdout) into another program’s input (stdin). This is done using a “pipe” character ( | ). For example:

$ env

will print all of your current environment variables to the screen. And

$ env | grep PBS

will send all of the env output to the grep PBS command, and the result will be a list of all environment variables that contain the string PBS.

The .bashrc File

Every time you log in, the .bashrc script in your home directory is executed (note the dot . at the beginning of the name – this means it’s a hidden file, so use ls -a to see it). You can add lines to the bottom of this file to run additional, custom commands every time you login. For example, you can set a new environment variable in your .bashrc script:

$ export MPI_HOME=/software/openmpi/1.8.4_gcc

If you log out and log back in, you can check that the variable $MPI_HOME is set:

$ echo $MPI_HOME

File and Directory Permissions

Control access to files and directories by setting permissions (r = read, w = write, x = execute). Use ls -l (“long listing”) to see permissions settings:

[username@login001 ~]$ ls -al
total 3750128
drwx------ 102 username cuuser     143360 Mar 13 14:34 .
drwxr-xr-x 862 root  root        81920 Mar 13 13:51 ..
-rwx------   1 username cuuser        176 May 26  2010 .bash_profile
-rwx------   1 username cuuser       5667 Feb 27 10:54 .bashrc
-rwxr-xr-x   1 username staff      622783 Mar 13 14:33 dictionary.txt
-rwxr-xr-x   1 username staff      891777 Mar 13 14:34 personnel.txt
drwx------   2 username cuuser       4096 Jul  6  2010 petascale
drwx------   2 username cuuser       4096 Mar  5 15:14 tools

That first column of information listed here contains the permissions settings for each file or directory. For example,

A permissions setting of -rwxr-xr-x can be broken-down in this way:

-   rwx   r-x   r-x

-: The first character just indicates if this is a file (-) or a directory (d).

rwx: The next 3 characters are the permissions of the file’s owner, and here she has full rwx permissions.

r-x The next 3 characters are the permissions for members of the owner’s user group, and here they have only r and x permissions.

r-x: The last 3 characters are the permissions for all other users, and here they have only r and x permissions.

You can set or modify permissions settings using 3-digit octal notation, where:

Digit Permission
0 ---
1 --x
2 -w-
3 -wx
4 r--
5 r-x
6 rw-
7 rwx
-rwxr-xr-x   1 username staff      622783 Mar 13 14:33 dictionary.txt

chmod 740 dictionary.txt With this command, you are changing permissions so that this file will be read-only (r--) for members of your group and other users will have no access (---). Now, members of your group can read or copy this file, but they cannot modify, move, or delete the original:

-rwxr-----   1 username staff      622783 Mar 13 14:38 dictionary.txt

Linux Commands “Quick Reference” Cheat Sheet

File commands

Command Description
ls directory listing
ls -al formatted listing with hidden files
cd dir change directory (move) to dir
cd change to your /home directory
pwd show current directory
mkdir dir create directory named dir
rm file delete file
rm -r dir delete directory dir
rm -f file force deletion of file
rm -rf dir force deletion of dir
cp file1 file2 copy file1 to file1
cp -r dir1 dir2 copy dir1 to dir2
mv file1 file2 rename or move file1 to file2
mv file1 dir move file1 into dir
ln -s file link create symbolic link to file
touch file create or update file
cat > file redirects stdin into file
more file output contents of file
head -8 file output first 8 lines of file
tail -8 file output last 8 lines of file
tail -f file output contents of file as it grows

Process Management

Command Description
ps display your currently active processes
top display all running processes
kill pid kill process with ID number pid
killall proc kill all processes named proc
bg lists stopped or background processes
fg brings most recent process to foreground
fg n brings process n to the foreground

File & Directory Permissions

Command Description
chmod octal file change permissions of file (4 = r, 2 = w, 1 = x)
chmod 777 file read, write, execute for all
chmod 700 file rwx for owner only
chmod 755 file rwx for owner, rx for everyone else
chown userid file change ownership of file
chgrp group file change group ownership of file


Command Description
ssh user@host connect to host as user
ssh -p port user@host connect using port number port
ssh -X user@host connect with X11 forwarding
scp file1 user@host:directory/file2 secure copy file1 to file2 on remote system
scp user@host:directory/file1 file2 secure copy file1 from remote system to file2 on your local system


Command Description
grep pattern file search for pattern in file(s)
grep -r pattern dir search recursively for pattern in dir
command \| grep pattern search for pattern in output of command
locate file find all instances of file
find . -name "file.txt" recursively find all instances of file.txt starting in current directory

System Info

Command Description
date show current date and time
cal show current month’s calendar
who display who is logged-in
whoami display username of current login
uname -a display OS and kernel version info
cat /proc/cpuinfo display CPU info
cat /proc/meminfo display memory info
man command display manual page for command
df -h show disk usage
du show directory space usage
which app show full path to app


Command Description
tar -cvf file.tar file(s) create a .tar file containing file(s)
tar -xvf file.tar extract contents of file.tar
tar -cvfz create .tar file with Gzip compression
tar -zxvf extract contents of a Gzip compressed .tar file
gzip file compresses file and renames it to file.gz
gzip -d file.gz decompresses file.gz back to file

Installing Software

Command Description
./configure run the configure script
make build the software based on configure info
make install run the installation process
rpm -Uvh package.rpm install an RPM package

VI and VIM

Command Description
vim file edit file with VIM
i start “insert” mode (so you can edit the file)
ESC return to “command” mode
:q! force quit, from “command” mode
:wq write (save) the file and quit, from “command”


Command Description
Ctrl+C halts the current command
exit log-out of current session
Ctrl+D log-out of current session (same as exit)
!! repeats the last command
cd - change directory to previous location
Ctrl+Insert copy selected text
Shift+Insert paste text

Additional Useful Commands

Here are a few more “advanced” utilities that some users may find useful.

Print a list of directories and libraries available for linking (in this example, “name” could also be just part of the name):

ldconfig -p | grep name

Print all shared library dependencies for an executable (a way to see if the libraries you need to run that exe are available):

ldd myprogram.exe