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Red Hat Linux rhl02

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Types of Linux Available

This chapter covers the many types of Linux systems and distributions available. I strongly recommend that you read this chapter at least once before starting the installation process. Included in this chapter are the following topics:

  • The various distribution types in Linux

  • The types of disk sets for each distribution

  • Which distribution sets are important for you

  • How to look for files on the CD-ROM

  • How to get Linux from FTP sites

  • How to get Linux from BBS sites

  • How to find FTP sites where you can get Linux updates

Linux Releases

There are many independent releases of Linux, each with its own list of unique features. Some of these releases are available free of charge if you have access to the Internet. Some releases are available for a nominal fee ($20 to $90) for distribution on CD-ROM or disks. Typically, the CD-ROM versions are cheaper and are easier to use than the floppy-disk distributions because the cost of one CD-ROM is less than the cost of 30 or more floppy disks. Another plus for the CD-ROM is the convenience of having everything on one source media. It beats swapping disks!

What's a Linux Release?

A Linux release is a set of files for a complete Linux system. Various changes made by the Linux community are incorporated into each release.

Linux releases are identified by numbers. These numbers are of the form X.YY.ZZ, where X is between 0 and 9, and YY and ZZ are numbers between 0 and 99. Generally, the higher the number, the newer the release. Some release numbers also include pNN, where NN is a number between 1 and 20. These refer to patches to a specific Linux version (a patch is a fix or an update to the software). For example, 0.99p15 would mean the fifteenth patch to the Linux release 0.99.

A release consists of several components called series of disks, or a collection of disks. For example, the X series of disks comes on 10 disks. Each series is referred to by its name. A name generally tells you who put the software together and what its date is.

Some of the releases of Linux are as follows:

  • The Red Hat Software Inc. Release
    This is a release of Linux from Red Hat Software Inc. The latest version is 3.0.3, which is included on the CD-ROM at the back of this guide.
    The highlight of the installation package is the Red Hat Packet Manager (RPM). Using the RPM enables you to safely install and uninstall packages. By far, the uninstall capability of the package is the best feature because most upgrades to critical packages require a complete Linux installation. Red Hat Linux is also notable for the ability to install from an X session, assuming the video card and monitor are supported by Linux.

  • Slackware
    This is a popular release of Linux included with this guide's sister guides: Linux Second Edition and Linux System Administrator's Survival Guide. You can get versions of this release on CD-ROM from various vendors for about $25.
    The primary distributor for this release is Patrick Volkerding, who can be reached at

  • The Softlanding Linux System Release (SLS)
    This release consists of about 23 disks for Linux and 10 for X11. The first disk (a1) must be "rawritten" (using rawrite.exe in Chapter 3, "Installing and Updating Linux") on floppies, and the rest of the images must be put onto DOS-formatted floppies using the DOS copy command. This release contains all the software package(s) you need to get started with Linux, and for newcomers it is easy to install.
    The SLS release can also be found at in the directory /pub/linux/packages/SLS and on in the directory /pub/Linux/SLS. By snail mail, SLS is available from
    Softlanding Software
    910 Lodge Ave.
    Victoria, B.C.
    Canada V8X-3A8
    (604) 360-0188

  • The TAMU (Texas A&M University) Linux Release
    This release is supposedly like the SLS release, but it has some different software packages and a different installation procedure than SLS. The installation procedure is the main difference from SLS. A single boot diskette, which boots directly into an automated installation program, is used. This installation program asks a few questions about the desired configuration and sets up everything, including your file systems, booting from the hard drive with LILO (see Chapter 5, "Odds and Ends") and a simplified X configuration.
    This release is a full-featured package, including X Window, emacs, networking tools, boot utilities, and a list of sources for all installation programs without any use restrictions. TAMU is available from in pub/free_unix4.

  • H.J. Lu's bootable rootdisk
    This is a release of the Linux kernel and basic binaries on a single floppy. It, along with Lu's gccdisk, libdisk, and so on, is good for upgrading or installing a basic Linux system by hand. It's not recommended for newcomers, because there's no real install script; it's mostly meant as an upgrade of the basic system software.
    H.J. Lu's bootable rootdisk release is found at in the directory /pub/linux/packages/GCC.

  • The Manchester Computing Centre Interim Release
    This is the fabled MCC-Interim Linux release, which was originally the de facto standard Linux distribution. This release has almost all of the important Linux software, such as Slackware, but does not contain emacs or X Window.
    MCC-Interim can be found on in the directory /pub/Linux/distributions/MCC and also at in the directory /pub/linux/mcc-interim.

  • Trans-Ameritech
    This is available only on CD-ROM. The CD-ROM offers a complete, uncompressed, bootable Linux file system. This feature has two distinct advantages: You have instant access to the file of your choice without having to uncompress or unzip any archives, and it saves the disk space that you would use uncompressing these archives.
    The CD-ROM is based on the Slackware distribution of Linux with all the source code, an uncompressed file system, and NetBSD source and binary distribution.
    To minimize the possibility of hardware conflicts, many extra kernels are provided for different configurations. They are usable for installation and normal use. Many online documents are provided for quick reference, including the Linux Documentation Project files in source, dvi, and ps formats. This distribution also includes the FlexFax, a package that enables you to send and receive faxes on either class 1 or class 2 fax modems.
    To help first-time Linux users, many of the provided documentation files are readable from DOS even before Linux is installed.
    All source files for Linux are available on the CD-ROM. The most often needed source code files are uncompressed and can be used directly from the CD-ROM. An uncompressed Linux file system is available for reference and disk-space conservation. You can run programs directly from the CD-ROM. There is a large information directory, including many man pages, for online reference.
    For a hacker's reference, an uncompressed FreeBSD source tree is provided. You can order by phone (408) 727-3883, or e-mail at

  • The Linux Support Team Erlang Distribution (LST)
    This release is for you if you speak German. The menus, manuals, and installation instructions are in German. You can get this release from under /pub/Linux/LST.distribution.

  • Yggdrasil Plug-and-Play Linux
    This is a complete CD-ROM distribution of the Linux operating system. It includes a great deal of software covering nearly every package that you would expect to find on a complete UNIX system. A complete file list is available via FTP from
    They also offer The Linux Bible, a full library of Linux and UNIX documentation, including three guides from the Linux Documentation Project, their Yggdrasil installation manual, and the complete set of Linux HOWTO guides.
    Yggdrasil's Plug-and-Play Linux is named for plug-and-play operation, which means that you can place a floppy in drive A, turn the computer on, and answer all the questions. That's all there is to installation. The reality is a little more complicated, because you have to know whether your hardware is compatible before you begin.
    The login screen lists a number of preconfigured usernames, including install, which installs the system, giving paragraphs of explanation about every question it asks the user.
    The install script even searches for a modem, and upon finding it, configures mail and UUCP so that mail sent to an Internet address is transparently delivered through a bulletin-board system at Yggdrasil. Some people might not like this, so don't say that I didn't warn you!
    The X Window configuration is automated, too, with forms to fill in as you run X for the first time, as well as a graphical control panel that enables additional forms for configuration of networking, SLIP, outgoing UUCP, the printer, and so on. You can call them, toll-free, in the U.S. at (800) 261-6630 or e-mail them at
    Yggdrasil Computing, Incorporated
    4880 Stevens Creek Blvd., Suite 205
    San Jose, CA 95129-1034

  • InfoMagic Developer's Resource CD-ROM Kit
    This is a complete snapshot of the and archives. It also includes the complete GNU software collection (in source form). The following Linux distributions are included on the discs: Slackware, Debian, SLS, TAMU, MCC, and JE (Japanese Extensions).
    The Linux HOWTO documents have been formatted for use with the Microsoft Multimedia Viewer (which is included) to allow browsing and full text search under Microsoft Windows. You can contact them at (800) 800-6613 or via e-mail at
    The contents of the CDs can also be found at the site in the directory
    /pub/Linux or in the directory /vendor/InfoMagic/cd-roms/linux.

There you have it. This list of locations where you can get Linux from is incomplete. In fact, I should apologize to the folks whose company names didn't get listed here. There was not enough time for me to fully review all the distributions before this guide went to press. If you would like a more complete list, please look at the newsgroups comp.os.linux.announce and comp.os.linux.misc.

The document Distribution-HOWTO is archived on a number of Linux FTP sites, including in pub/Linux/docs/HOWTO.

Other Linux Information Sources

If you like magazines, you will love The Linux Journal, a monthly publication covering the Linux community. Most material in LJ is new (that is, derived from a bunch of USENET newsgroup topics). Each issue includes columns and articles on Linux programming, GNU, Free Software Foundation issues, systems administration, questions and answers, interviews, and more. This is a darn good magazine. You can reach the publishers at

      Linux Journal

      P.O. Box 85867

      Seattle, WA 98145-1867

      (206) 527-3385

If you want to keep up-to-date with the latest releases of Linux, try to get quarterly updates to your Linux system via a subscription to Morse Telecommunication, Inc.'s Linux Quarterly CD-ROM. Each CD contains the complete contents of This is one of the most popular Internet Linux sites. It provides both source and binary files of major Linux distributions, utilities, source code, and documentation. This quarterly update includes Slackware, SLS, MCC, and Debian releases of Linux. Get information through e-mail from

Lastly, the Linux Systems Labs ( can also provide commercial software for Linux, including manuals, database applications, and other applications software not in the shareware or public domain. You can contact Linux Systems Labs at (800) 432-0556.

Finding Linux Updates on the Internet

As I mentioned previously, a CD-ROM is not the only place for you to get Linux or information about Linux. After all, you might not have a CD-ROM reader. If you don't, you aren't out of luck. You can still get Linux goodies from the Internet sites in the following listing. The catch is that you have to be on the Internet.

So, you may well ask, why am I showing you how to get Linux from the Internet when you already have it on a CD? Well, some of the files on the CD might be different a year from now. In fact, some of the locations you see listed here might be different, too. By showing you how to find out more, you can use the archie method at a later time to locate updates to Linux and more information easily.

If you want to learn more about the Internet and archie, read The Internet (Sams Publishing, 1994).

I used the telnet program to log into, a good site from which to use the archie program. The archie program is a searching utility for locating files on the Internet by specifying keywords. I logged in with the name archie and didn't have to provide a password. (See Listing 2.1.)

The archie> prompt is where I issued the find Linux command. The search type of sub means that we'll ask archie to search for all strings in its database with the word Linux anywhere in it.

The output from Listing 2.1 shows only a few files. I have edited it to fit in the guide. Your listing won't match.

Listing 2.1. Using archie to find Linux.

$ telnet


login: archie


Welcome to the InterNIC Directory and Database Server.


# Bunyip Information Systems, 1993, 1994

# Terminal type set to 'vt100 24 80'.

# 'erase' character is '^?'.

# 'search' (type string) has the value 'sub'.

archie> find Linux

# Search type: sub.

# Your queue position: 1

# Estimated time for completion: 16 seconds.


Host (

Last updated 23:37 22 Nov 1994

Location: /pub/sunsite/pub

DIRECTORY drwxr-xr-x 1024 bytes 21:32 16 Nov 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 23:37 22 Nov 1994

Location: /pub/walnut.creek/XFree86/binaries

DIRECTORY drwxr-xr-x 1536 bytes 20:26 13 Nov 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 18:31 16 Nov 1994

Location: /

FILE -rwxrwxrwx 13 bytes 15:05 12 Nov 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 23:39 6 Nov 1994

Location: /pub/os

DIRECTORY drwxrwxr-x 512 bytes 01:44 5 Nov 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 03:23 6 Nov 1994

Location: /pub/ise

DIRECTORY drwxr-xr-x 1024 bytes 18:49 31 Oct 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 21:12 23 Nov 1994

Location: /pub/linux/docs/faqs

FILE -r—r—r— 96319 bytes 16:25 30 Oct 1994 Linux-FAQ

Host (

Last updated 20:06 11 Nov 1994

Location: /HDF/contrib

DIRECTORY drwxrwxr-x 512 bytes 01:02 30 Oct 1994 Linux


Host (

Last updated 18:31 16 Nov 1994

Location: /mirrors/Linux/docs/faqs

FILE -rwxrwxrwx 15 bytes 00:56 30 Oct 1994 Linux-FAQ

Host (

Last updated 21:27 17 Oct 1994

Location: /pub/linux/docs/faqs

FILE -rw-r—r— 96568 bytes 23:39 21 Sep 1994 Linux-FAQ

Host (

Last updated 03:10 23 Nov 1994

Location: /pub

DIRECTORY drwxrwxr-x 512 bytes 10:31 29 Aug 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 22:27 23 Nov 1994

Location: /uniovi/mathdept/src

DIRECTORY drwxr-xr-x 1024 bytes 10:36 28 Jul 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 17:38 15 Nov 1994

Location: /pub/Oberon

DIRECTORY drwxrwxr-x 512 bytes 07:31 22 Jul 1994 Linux

Host (

Last updated 23:39 6 Nov 1994

Location: /pub/os/Linux/Local.EUnet/Kernel/Linus/net-source

DIRECTORY drwxr-xr-x 512 bytes 04:23 19 Jul 1994 Linux

archie> find LDP

# Search type: sub.

# Your queue position: 1

# Estimated time for completion: 16 seconds.


Host (

Last updated 18:49 13 Nov 1994

Location: /mirrors/.scsi0/linux/docs

FILE -rwxr-xr-x 17 bytes 20:42 4 Nov 1994 LDP

Host (

Last updated 18:31 16 Nov 1994

Location: /mirrors/Linux/docs

FILE -rwxrwxrwx 17 bytes 23:14 24 Oct 1994 LDP

Host (

Last updated 20:32 10 Nov 1994

Location: /os/linux/doc

FILE -rwxrwxrwx 12 bytes 14:22 18 Sep 1994 LDP


Common Extensions for Filenames

Table 2.1 is a list of common filename extensions for the files you will see in Linux archives. The fname in the following table implies the filename with which you want to work.

Table 2.1. File extensions used in Linux releases.

Extension Used By
.Z compress/uncompress. Use uncompress fname foo.Z to uncompress the file, where fname is the name of the file that was uncompressed.
.z, .gz gzip. gzip is now used by many archive sites instead of compress. If you don't have gzip on your system, get it! To uncompress one of these files, use gzip -d fname.z. .gz is the new gzip extension.
.tar Tar file. Use tar xvf fname.tar to unpack it. Or you can use tar tvf fname.tar to get an index listing of the tar file.
.taz Compressed tar file. You can do something such as zcat fname.taz | tar xvf - or tar xvfz fname.taz to unpack it (some versions of tar don't have the z option).
.tpz, .tgz gzipped tar file. If you have gzip, zcat is linked to it, so you can do zcat foo.tpz | tar xvf to unpack it.
.tpz The old extension. All gzipped tar files should now end in .tgz instead.

Most distributions use gzipped tar files with the tgz extension.

Obtaining Linux from BBSs

A bulletin board system (BBS) enables you to transfer messages and files via your phone line. All you need is a computer with communications software and a modem. Some BBSs transfer messages among each other, forming large computer networks similar to USENET. The most popular of these in the U.S. are FidoNet and RIME.

Linux is available from various BBSs worldwide. Some of the BBSs on FidoNet carry comp.os.linux as a FidoNet conference.

While you are installing Linux, you might get the error You may have inserted the wrong disk when you insert the next disk in a series.
Each disk has a small file on it that contains the name of the disk. For example, the SLS a3 disk has a file on it called diska3. If it doesn't exist, or is named something else (such as diska3.z), create it or rename it. If you copied the files to the SLS floppies using copy *.*, you probably missed the diska3 file because it doesn't have an extension in the filename.
Also, the last disk in a series (for example, the a4 or b5 disk) has a file on it called install.end. You need this file as well. These files are used by the installation programs to keep track of when to stop installing a package.

Accessing DOS Files from Linux

Linux supports several features that you can use to access your DOS files from Linux. With the mtools package, included with most distributions of Linux, you can use commands such as mcopy and mdir to access your DOS files. Another option is to mount a DOS partition or floppy directly under Linux, which gives you direct access to your files by way of the DOS file system.

You will find the mtools package indispensable if you have to swap files between DOS and Linux. When you first start Linux from a DOS machine, it's comforting to know that you can transfer files easily between two machines that are running different operating systems, so don't worry; you will not have to give up your familiar DOS environment.

Why use mtools if you can just mount a DOS drive? mtools is good if you want to do something quickly—for example, if you want to get directories on a bunch of floppies. The mount procedure requires you to mount the drive, get a directory, and then umount it. With mtools you can get the directory with one command.

mtools also comes with the Slackware release of Linux and is available in source-code form on most Linux FTP sites. This mtools source tree can prove to be interesting reading, especially if you are a programmer.

There is also DOS Emulator available for Linux, and work is beginning on a Microsoft Windows emulator to run under the X Window system. The DOS Emulator isn't perfect, so don't expect to play DOOM on it—Dosemu is still in the development stages. You can use it to run some standard applications such as WordPerfect 5.1, Quicken, and Lotus 1-2-3. At the time I wrote this, Dosemu was slow and crashed frequently. However, you can work with it for some quick tasks.


This chapter has given you a whirlwind tour of what's actually available for Linux. You also learned about Linux releases and how to interpret the release numbers. Each Linux release consists of several disk sets. Some of these files in a disk set are just labels, and some are called packages. A package is generally a compressed tar archive containing binary files and directory trees.

Finally, for DOS fans, Linux provides a host of tools to read or write DOS disks and files. There is even an experimental DOS emulator for you to run DOS programs under Linux. Any DOS partitions can be mounted to appear as directory trees, so you can still work with your data on DOS disks.

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