Home > Articles > Operating Systems, Server > Linux/UNIX/Open Source

  • Print
  • + Share This
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

Some Things Are Very Different

If all the basics are the same, what has changed? Well, these things:

  • Number of system calls

  • Languages we use

  • Subsystems we program

  • Need for portability

  • Relevance of UNIX standards

More System Calls

The number of system calls has quadrupled, more or less, depending on what you mean by "system call." The first edition of Advanced UNIX Programming focused on only about 70 genuine kernel system calls—for example, open, read, and write; but not library calls like fopen, fread, and fwrite. The second edition includes about 300. (There are about 1,100 standard function calls in all, but many of those are part of the Standard C Library or are obviously not kernel facilities.) Today's UNIX has threads, real-time signals, asynchronous I/O, and new interprocess-communication features (POSIX IPC), none of which existed 20 years ago. This has caused, or been caused by, the evolution of UNIX from an educational and research system to a universal operating system. It shows up in embedded systems (parking meters, digital video recorders); inside Macintoshes; on a few million web servers; and is even becoming a desktop system for the masses. All of these uses were unanticipated in 1984.

More Languages

In 1984, UNIX applications were usually programmed in C, occasionally mixed with shell scripts, Awk, and Fortran. C++ was just emerging; it was implemented as a front end to the C compiler. Today, C is no longer the principal UNIX application language, although it's still important for low-level programming and as a reference language. (All the examples in both books are written in C.) C++ is efficient enough to have replaced C when the application requirements justify the extra effort, but many projects use Java instead, and I've never met a programmer who didn't prefer it over C++. Computers are fast enough so that interpretive scripting languages have become important, too, led by Perl and Python. Then there are the web languages: HTML, JavaScript, and the various XML languages, such as XSLT.

Even if you're working in one of these modern languages, though, you still need to know what going on "down below," because UNIX still defines—and, to a degree, limits—what the higher-level languages can do. This is a challenge for many students who want to learn UNIX, but don't want to learn C. And for their teachers, who tire of debugging memory problems and explaining the distinction between declarations and definitions.


To enable students to learn UNIX without first learning C, I developed a Java-to-UNIX system-call interface that I call Jtux. It allows almost all of the UNIX system calls to be executed from Java, using the same arguments and datatypes as the official C calls. You can find out more about Jtux and download its source code from http://basepath.com/aup/.

More Subsystems

The third area of change is that UNIX is both more visible than ever (sold by Wal-Mart!) and more hidden, underneath subsystems like J2EE and web servers, Apache, Oracle, and desktops such as KDE or GNOME. Many application programmers are programming for these subsystems, rather than for UNIX directly. What's more, the subsystems themselves are usually insulated from UNIX by a thin portability layer that has different implementations for different operating systems. Thus, many UNIX system programmers these days are working on middleware, rather than on the end-user applications that are several layers higher up.

More Portability

The fourth change is the requirement for portability between UNIX systems, including Linux and the BSD-derivatives, one of which is the Macintosh OS X kernel (Darwin). Portability was of some interest in 1984, but today it's essential. No developer wants to be locked into a commercial version of UNIX without the possibility of moving to Linux or BSD, and no Linux developer wants to be locked into only one distribution. Platforms like Java help a lot, but only serious attention to the kernel APIs, along with careful testing, will ensure that the code is really portable. Indeed, you almost never hear a developer say that he or she is writing for XYZ's UNIX. It's much more common to hear "UNIX and Linux," implying that the vendor choice will be made later. (The three biggest proprietary UNIX hardware companies—Sun, HP, and IBM—are all strong supporters of Linux.)

More Complete Standards

The requirement for portability is connected with the fifth area of change, the role of standards. In 1984, a UNIX standards effort was just starting. The IEEE's POSIX group hadn't yet been formed. Its first standard, which emerged in 1988, was a tremendous effort of exceptional quality and rigor, but it was of very little use to real-world developers because it left out too many APIs, such as those for interprocess communication and networking. That minimalist approach to standards changed dramatically when The Open Group was formed from the merger of X/Open and the Open Software Foundation in 1996. Its objective was to include all the APIs that the important applications were using, and to specify them as well as time allowed—which meant less precisely than POSIX did. They even named one of their standards Spec 1170, the number being the total of 926 APIs, 70 headers, and 174 commands. Quantity over quality, maybe, but the result meant that for the first time programmers would find in the standard the APIs they really needed. Today, The Open Group's Single UNIX Specification is the best guide for UNIX programmers who need to write portably.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020