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Logging In to and Working with Linux

You can access and use a Linux system in a number of ways. One way is at the console with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse attached to the PC. Another way is via a serial console, either by dial-up via a modem or a PC running a terminal emulator and connected to the Linux PC via a null modem cable. You can also connect to your system through a wired or wireless network using the telnet or ssh commands. The information in this section shows you how to access and use the Linux system using physical and remote text-based logins.

Text-Based Console Login

If you sit down at your PC and log in to a Linux system that has not been booted to a graphical login, you see a prompt similar to this one:

Fedora release 4 (Stentz)
Kernel 2.6.13-1.1532_FC4 on an i686


Your prompt might vary, depending on the version of Fedora you are using. In any event, at this prompt, type in your username and press Enter. When you are prompted for your password, type it in and press Enter.

Working with Virtual Consoles

After logging in, you are using an interactive command prompt known as a shell in the Linux text-based or console mode. While you are sitting at your command prompt, you can also use one or more virtual consoles or terminals. Virtual consoles allow you to log in to Linux multiple times. (Each login is called a session.) This can be useful if you are not using a graphical desktop, but want to use several interactive programs, such as a text editor and web browser, at the same time. To do so, after you log in, run a program and then jump to another login prompt, log in, and start another session. Linux supports 63 virtual consoles, but only the first 6 are configured for use. (You can use 7 if you do not run X11.) Here’s how to use virtual Linux consoles:

  1. Log in. You use the first virtual console, or vt1 by default.
  2. Press F2. You should then see another login prompt. Log in again, and you are then using vt2, the second Linux console.
  3. Press Alt+F1 to jump back to vt1.
  4. Press Alt+F2 to jump back to vt2.

You can jump back and forth between sessions by using the Alt key plus the F key number of the desired session, such as F3, F4, F5, or F6.

One caveat when using virtual consoles is that there is a default limit on the available number (usually six) if an active X Window session is occupying vt7. To jump to a virtual console from an X session, press Ctrl+Alt+F2; you will be at vt2. You can then jump back to your X session from the text console by pressing Alt+F7 (to go to vt7, in use by X). You should also be careful to save any work in progress before you exit each session and to log out of each session when finished. If you do not, you could leave an open login and shell prompt available at the keyboard to anyone who walks by!

Using Simple Keyboard and Mouse Techniques in a Linux Console Session

Working with Linux in a console-based session usually involves entering commands from the keyboard. However, you can also use simple mouse controls as well. Linux keyboard combinations and mouse support help provide virtual console navigation, start special system actions (such as rebooting or shutting down), provide shortcuts to save typing, and can aid in reading files or viewing program output.

For example, you can scroll the contents of your screen from the console by pressing Shift+PageUp or Shift+PageDown, and can copy and paste text using your mouse buttons. This section shows you how to access default or custom menus at the text console, which can be helpful to get system information or to launch new programs.

If you use a mouse with Linux (and you most likely do), you can use your pointing device for copy and paste operations. This support is provided by gpm, the general purpose mouse server. The gpm server must be enabled or started while booting Linux (see Chapter 15 for more details in the section “Controlling Services at Boot Using Administrative Tools”). To copy a section of text, click and drag text with the left mouse button (button 1) held down. To paste text, click an insertion point, and then press the middle mouse button (button 2).

Button assignment, like all mouse controls during text console use, is managed by command-line options given to gpm when it is started. For example, if you look at the gpm startup script named gpm under the /etc/rc.d/init.d/ directory, you will see that it uses the file named mouse under the /etc/sysconfig directory to hold options:

# Additional options for gpm (e.g. acceleration), device

You can add options, detailed in the gpm man page, to change how your mouse works, enable or disable features, or assign special commands to a specific mouse button click. For example, to change your button order from 123 (left, middle, and right) to 321, edit the /etc/sysconfig/mouse file as root and change the OPTIONS entry like so:

OPTIONS="-B 321"

After saving your changes, restart gpm like so:

# /etc/rc.d/init.d/gpm restart

Your mouse buttons are now reversed!

To aid users with a two-button mouse, Linux supports three-button emulation; emulation lets users simultaneously press the right and left mouse buttons to simulate a press of the middle button. You can enable this feature during installation or by using the mouseconfig command. Refer to the section “Configuring Pointing Devices in Linux” in Chapter 4, “Post-Installation Configuration,” to see how to use mouseconfig.

The gpm server also provides the ability to reboot or shut down the system with the mouse. Depending on the combination of mouse buttons you press, you have several reboot or shutdown options. Begin by holding down either the left or right mouse button and triple-clicking the opposite button; depending on which mouse button you press next, one of these actions occurs:

  • Pressing the left button causes an immediate reboot using the init command.
  • Pressing the middle button reboots the system using the shutdown command.
  • Pressing the right button causes the system to shut down immediately with the shutdown command.

You can also create custom menus that pop up at a text-based Linux console by editing the file /etc/gpm-root.conf (as root) and starting the gpm-root command. When you run gpm-root without making changes to its configuration file, by default a system status dialog (with the date, time, CPU load, free memory, and swap file usage) appears if you hold down the Ctrl key and press the middle mouse button.

You can change your keyboard layouts by using the loadkeys command. To use a different font for the console, try the setfont command. Fedora Linux comes with nearly 150 different console fonts, which are found under the /lib/kbd/consolefonts directory. Refer to the section “Configuring Keyboards with Linux” in Chapter 4 to see how to use these commands.

Logging Out

Use the exit or logout commands to exit your session. Type the command and press Enter. You are then returned to the login prompt. If you use virtual consoles, remember to exit each console before leaving your PC. (Otherwise, someone could easily sit down and use your account.)

Logging In and Out from a Remote Computer

Although you can happily log in on your computer, an act known as a local log in, you can also log in to your computer via a network connection from a remote computer. Linux-based operating systems provide a number of remote access commands you can use to log in to other computers on your local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), or the Internet. Note that not only must you have an account on the remote computer, but the remote computer must be configured to support remote logins—otherwise, you won’t be able to log in.

The best and most secure way (barring future exploits) to log in to a remote Linux computer is to use the ssh or Secure Shell client. Your login and session are encrypted while you work on the remote computer. The ssh client features many different command-line options, but can be simply used with the name of the remote computer, like this:

[andrew@laptop ~]$ ssh desktop
The authenticity of host 'desktop (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 91:7d:74:4b:1c:a1:96:06:ba:2f:d4:cf:78:44:ff:d7.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes

The first time you connect with a remote computer using ssh, Linux displays the remote computer’s encrypted identity key and asks you to verify the connection. After you type yes and press Enter, you are warned that the remote computer’s identity (key) has been entered in a file named known_hosts under the .ssh directory in your home directory. You are also prompted to enter your password:

Warning: Permanently added 'desktop,' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.
andrew@'desktop's password:
/usr/X11R6/bin/xauth: creating new authority file /home/winky/.Xauthority
[andrew@desktop andrew]$

After entering your password, you can then work on the remote computer. Again, everything you enter on the keyboard in communication with the remote computer is encrypted. Use the exit or logout commands to exit your session and return to the shell on your computer.

The telnet command can be used, along with the name of a remote host or Internet Protocol (IP) address, to log in to a remote computer. For example, to log in to the host named desktop from the host named laptop, you would enter the following:

[andrew@laptop andrew]$ telnet desktop

After you press Enter, you see some information presented by the remote computer, and you are then prompted for your username on the remote system:

Connected to (
Escape character is '^]'.

Linux 2.6.10-1.741_FC3 ( (15:43 on Friday, 4 February

login: andrew

After you type your username (andrew in this example), press Enter, and you are prompted for your password on the remote system:

Last login: Fri Feb 4 15:42:26 from
[andrew@desktop andrew]$

After you type your password and press Enter (your password is not echoed back), you are informed of the last time you logged in, and you can then work on the remote computer. Use the exit or logout command to exit your session and return to the shell on your computer.

Although it is possible to use telnet to log in to a remote computer over a wired and wireless network, such use is not recommended, especially via the Internet. When you type your username, press Enter, and type your password, your username and password are transmitted without encryption over the network. Transmitting usernames and passwords over a network without encryption is a bad idea for obvious reasons. However, if you have a physically secure internal network not connected to the Internet, have firewall policies in place, and don’t use wireless networking, there is nothing wrong with using telnet. In fact, the encryption overhead of using ssh can reduce network transmission rates in some cases.

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