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This article discusses how hard the Linux operating system it to learn. To learn about the CompTIA Linux+ certification, which covers many aspects of Linux, see our article here.

Linux is a diverse open source operating system that has gained in popularity for its variety of uses and flavors (flavors refers to the different deployment versions of Linux). Many companies use Linux in their servers, firewalls and intrusion detection systems, among many other uses, so it has become more of a staple than ever in the technology industry. If you’re interested in learning Linux, you may be wondering how difficult it is to learn.

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How hard is it to learn Linux? Linux is fairly easy to learn if you have some experience with technology and focus on learning the syntax and basic commands within the operating system.  Developing projects within the operating system is one of the best methods to reinforce your Linux knowledge.

If you know someone who has experience with Linux, they have probably told how frustrating the operating system’s language can be to learn and employ. The key for easily learning Linux lies in understanding the syntax of the language, perfecting the basic commands, employing the different uses of Linux (almost to the point of excess), and using the knowledge you pick up along the way to work towards creating different projects.

You may well think that learning Linux appears to be a daunting and flustering experience, but just like with any language, it is possible learn what you need with a little determination and patience.  Let’s take a look at some strategies to learn Linux.

Strategy #1:  Learn the Syntax of Linux

I cannot even begin to count the amount of Linux programs or code segments that I’ve seen go up in flames just because the syntax for one small portion, or even ONE LETTER, was off. Sometimes, mistakes like misspelling a word or “fat fingering” a “1” instead of a “2” are unavoidable. Welcome to being human. But not understanding the syntax of a language and trying to use the Linux terminal can be even more frustrating than any of the fore-mentioned mistakes can be.

Just in case I’ve lost you, syntax refers to the way the operating system recognizes what you type in and how you typed it in. Linux is arguably the pickiest of the major operating systems when it comes to syntax.

For example, if you save a file named something like “how to wrestle alligators” and then try to save a different file named “HOW TO WRESTLE ALLIGATORS”, a Windows operating system will see them as the same file. It will believe that they are the same, regardless of the capitals in the name of the file, and ask you if you would like to overwrite or replace the preceding alligator wrestling manual. Linux, however, will take into account the capital letters because in the Linux operating system, lowercase and capital letters, like “a” and “A”, have different bit values. This means that even if you have a file named “HoW tO wReStLe AlLiGaToRs” and create a file named “HOW tO wReStLe AlLiGaToRs”, Linux will see and treat them as separate files.

Trying to learn Linux without knowing the operating system’s syntax conventions will make it all the harder for you to use the terminal and navigate the system files. Little issues like accidently forgetting that capital and lowercase letters are treated differently are usually the issues that discourage our progression towards learning a language the most. Especially when it takes you twice as much time finding that mistake than it did to write the commands in the first place.

I recommend you research and learn the specific syntax of the Linux flavor you plan on using. There are always slightly variations in syntax between Linux operating system versions that it would be advisable to be knowledgeable before you begin using the terminal.

Strategy#2:  Master the Basic Commands

As it goes with everything, having a strong foundation can make learning advanced concepts much easier. Just like building a house, having a weak foundation means it will be unstable if you try to pile anything on top of it that it is not prepared for. This is especially critical for Linux. Linux is a HUGE operating system with A LOT of command and string variations possible (that’s not even bringing command piping into the mix), so it’s very important to be familiar with how the basic commands interact with the operating system and what they accomplish. This is usually the longest phase in learning Linux, but also one of the most rewarding.

How half of the population gets into Linux is by biting off more than they can chew. You see this when someone sees a GIANT project someone made in Linux and think that they can make it themselves in a day. They download a Linux virtual machine and look up a tutorial on how that one person made that awesome hacking program, and they get completely lost.

They soon realize that they don’t know a single thing about what each command actually does, so even if they do get the terminal program to work on their computer, they have absolutely no idea what they just did. I’m not here to say this is the wrong way to learn Linux, I’m just saying this makes actually learning the Linux probably more difficult than if you just learned it from the ground up. Learning the basics first makes the process of cultivating your Linux skills much easier, more understandable, and less haphazard.

Perfecting the basics will also grant you a much better understanding of the actual functionality of an operating system than trying to tackle complicated projects first. Knowing how commands interact with each specific piece of the operating system on the most basic level makes learning the more advanced combinations of commands in the terminal much easier to pick up.

Strategy #3:  Find Different Uses for Linux

“If you don’t use it, you lose it.” If you have learned any other operating systems, you probably know and understand the truth behind this concept very well. When learning Linux, one of the more knowledgeable students told me that they only ever access web browsers by going through the terminal first and using the required commands to navigate to the browser instead of just clicking it. This may have seemed excessive at the time but looking back I see that it is one of the best ways to learn Linux and ingrain commands into your memory.

By using Linux commands on a regular basis or utilizing the terminal to navigate and edit file systems rather than just clicking and dragging, you both get practical use with the commands you have learned and repetitively perform the commands so you can better remember and utilize them in other programs and projects. This honestly goes for any coding, written, or spoken language so if you have experience with any of those, you probably have come to know this practice very well. Get in the habit of using Linux for a variety of uses.

Strategy #4:  Use Your Knowledge for Projects

I know I previously warned against starting off with big projects, but projects that are manageable are a great way to better understand the functionality of an operating system and how different commands can interact with each other. Of course, everything in moderation.

As I previously mentioned, don’t start off with projects that are far beyond the scale and scope of your Linux knowledge base. It’s better to start off small to understand the cohesion between certain commands and variables than to start with something larger with commands and concepts that you need much more time to understand.

This is often the point of which many people stop after they’ve learned basic Linux. They learned it, but now what do they do with it? Eventually, after not presenting themselves with a goal or objective they want to achieve with their newfound Linux capabilities, they decide that they have learned all they need and stop progressing. It’s one of the most common things that happen to people who don’t create projects that they want to work towards.

If you have the motivation and goals, this can be the most enjoyable phase with Linux: experimentation. Trying out different combinations of commands to create projects, even small ones, can help you cement the commands you already know in your mind and create original content that you can call your own. Working towards these projects makes learning the deeper aspects of Linux much more fun. Even though projects do give way to evidential failure in the functionality of some of your commands, you won’t know how each command individually works until it the moment it doesn’t. This experimental phase is when you will probably learn the most about your operating system as you probe the limits of each command’s capacity.

Linux is a fantastic, although sometimes frustrating, operating system to learn. It requires little setup from the user to get running and beginner’s guides to Linux can be found at every book store and anywhere you can by a book on the internet. There are also useful video tutorials and Linux has the largest user-user support network out of all the operating systems. With resources like these, you shouldn’t be asking, “How hard is it to learn Linux?” but “When can I start learning Linux?” which I already have the answer for; as soon as possible.

Related Questions

How is Linux different than Windows?  Linux is an operating system like Microsoft Windows, but it is considered open source, which means that it is free to install and use in more formats and the source code is freely available.  Microsoft’s Windows operating system is closed source, which means that Microsoft does not share the source code and charges for use of the operating system.

Can Linux run on a desktop computer?  With all of it’s variants, there are Linux flavors available that can run on nearly any hardware platform, including servers, desktops, laptops, mobile devices and even raspberry pi’s.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity, and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications.