Chapter 21. Programming Tools

There's much more to Linux than simply using the system. One of the benefits of free software is that you can modify it to suit your needs. This applies equally to the many free applications available for Linux and to the Linux kernel itself.

Linux supports an advanced programming interface, using GNU compilers and tools, such as the gcc compiler, the gdb debugger, and so on. An enormous number of other programming languagesranging from such classics as FORTRAN and LISP to modern scripting languages such as Perl, Python, and Rubyare also supported. Whatever your programming needs, Linux is a great choice for developing Unix applications. Because the complete source code for the libraries and Linux kernel is provided, programmers who need to delve into the system internals are able to do so.[*]

[*] On a variety of Unix systems, the authors have repeatedly found available documentation to be insufficient. With Linux, you can explore the very source code for the kernel, libraries, and system utilities. Having access to source code is more important than most programmers think.

Many judge a computer system by the tools it offers its programmers. Unix systems have won the contest by many people's standards, having developed a very rich set over the years. Leading the parade is the GNU debugger, gdb. In this chapter, we take a close look at this invaluable utility, and at a number of other auxiliary tools C programmers will find useful.

Even if you are not a programmer, you should consider using the Revision Control System (RCS ). It provides one of the most reassuring protections a computer user could ask forbackups for everything you do to a file. If you delete a file by accident, or decide that everything you did for the past week was a mistake and should be ripped out, RCS can recover any version you want. If you are working on a larger project that involves either a large number of developers or a large number of directories (or both), Concurrent Versioning System (CVS) might be more suitable for you. It was originally based on RCS, but was rewritten from the ground up and provides many additional features. Currently, another tool, called Subversion, is taking over from CVS and filling in some of the gaps that CVS left in the handling of large projects.[*] The goal of Subversion is to be "like CVS; just better." Newer installations typically use Subversion these days, but the vast majority still uses CVS. Finally, the Linux kernel itself uses yet another versioning system. It used to use a software called BitKeeper, but when licensing problems arose, Linus Torvalds wrote his own version control system, called git, that has been introduced recently.

[*] The name is a very clever pun, if you think about the tool for a while.

Linux is an ideal platform for developing software to run under the X Window System. The Linux X distribution, as described in Chapter 16, is a complete implementation with everything you need to develop and support X applications. Programming for X is portable across applications, so the X-specific portions of your application should compile cleanly on other Unix systems.

In this chapter, we explore the Linux programming environment and give you a five-cent tour of the many facilities it provides. Half of the trick to Unix programming is knowing what tools are available and how to use them effectively. Often the most useful features of these tools are not obvious to new users.

Since C programming has been the basis of most large projects (even though it is nowadays being replaced more and more by C++ and Java ) and is the language common to most modern programmersnot only on Unix, but on many other systems as wellwe start by telling you what tools are available for that. The first few sections of the chapter assume you are already a C programmer.

But several other tools are emerging as important resources, especially for system administration. We examine one in this chapter: Perl. Perl is a scripting language like the Unix shells, taking care of grunt work such as memory allocation so you can concentrate on your task. But Perl offers a degree of sophistication that makes it more powerful than shell scripts and therefore appropriate for many programming tasks.

Several open source projects make it relatively easy to program in Java, and some of the tools and frameworks in the open source community are even more popular than those distributed by Sun Microsystems, the company that invented and licenses Java. Java is a general-purpose language with many potential Internet uses. In a later section, we explore what Java offers and how to get started.

Part I: Enjoying and Being Productive on Linux
Part II: System Administration