Newbie Needing Help

Jon Radel jon at
Mon May 9 02:08:20 UTC 2011

On 5/8/11 8:17 PM, John or Judy Hixson wrote:
> At the risk of being told to get out of here and never come back (until you know enough to not need to come back), I need help on some very elementary stuff. I haven't found anywhere else to ask these questions and am therefore taking my chances.

Ah, but you appear to be trying and you're certainly giving us useful 
information about what you're trying.  You're even reading a useful 
book.  So we're sometimes quite tolerant.  :-)

> I'm trying to learn some FreeBSD in anticipation of eventually admining a FBSD server for my church office network. I've installed FreeBSD 7.4 on an old PC and am trying to follow along while reading Michael Lucas' book (2nd ed.).

Beautiful way to start.

> Right now my problem is with the command line. Lucas make a statement as follows: "If you want to see a comprehensive list of loader variables, check the default configuration file." Since there is no command "check", I have no idea what to use. What command will "check" a file?

Most, but not all configuration files of this nature are plain text 
files, though generally there are relatively strict rules about syntax 
which, alas, are not consistent across all parts of the system.

> What I really want to do is "view" the file, but that command doesn't exist either.

You've already had a recommendation for using a text editor.  I'd 
suggest use of "less" which is a text file viewer.  Not using an editor 
makes accidental changes a bit less likely.

less <filename>
more <filename>
cat <filename>

will all show you the file, though with differing effects.  I generally 
use the first.  BTW, when you can explain the really bad Unix joke, 
"less is more than more," you'll be getting the hang of things.

> Another problem that's throwing me for a loop is that even though I'm logged in as root I'm getting a "permission denied" return when I list a file (e.g. /etc/fstab) and press enter.

If you simply enter a filename at the prompt it tries to execute the 
file (give or take a whole bunch of details, such as what the search 
path for commands looks like, etc., etc.)  But, basically, any command 
is simply a file by that name somewhere in the file system, with the 
exception of the very short list of commands that are built into the 
shell (aka command line).  So if you type the name of a file all by 
itself at the command prompt, the shell is liable to try execute, i.e. 
run, that file. Unless the file was written with an eye to being 
executed, this doesn't necessarily work out well so sometimes the shell 
simply refuses to do it.

> This no doubt the wrong place for simple questions like these so someone PLEASE tell me where better to go. Thank you.

Remember that for the really basic stuff, Unix is Unix is Linux, so any 
tutorial you find with a google search or two would apply.

--Jon Radel
jon at

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