Linux terminology jargon buster

Something that can often confuse people who are new to Linux is all the terminology. For people who have been using Linux for some time, we often forget that a lot of this stuff can sound really really confusing.

The idea of this post is to provide a list of some of this terminology and to clear up all the confusion surrounding it. Obviously we'd be here forever if we went through absolutely everything, so here is just a small selection of the more common terminology.

Think of it as an answer to the question "what does this mean?". So, here goes:

Commonly known as 'distro', a distribution is a complete set of all the software you need to make up a working operating system. There are many Linux distributions you can try out - some of the more popular are Ubuntu, openSUSE and Fedora.

Desktop environment

A collection of graphical programs that work well together. For example, your file manager and your browser might be part of your desktop environment. The most common desktop environments are GNOME and KDE.

Software repository

A software repository is a set of software that is downloadable from the internet. Usually, you'll use a program called a package manager which allows you to download and install software from one or more repositories with just a few clicks.


A package is a file which usually contains a software program. Packages can be downloaded from the internet (usually from a software repository). The two most popular packaging formats are RPM (used by Fedora, Mandriva, SUSE and others) and Deb (used by Ubuntu, Debian, Xandros and others).


The terminal (also called the shell and command line) is a command line interface where you control the computer by typing text commands in and pressing Enter. If you've ever used DOS, it's similar to that, but much more powerful. It can be a bit tricky if you're not used to it, but often it can be the quickest, easiest and most universal way to perform a particular task.


The root user (also known as the superuser) is a user on the computer who has access to everything and can perform all tasks (including administration tasks). You shouldn't log on as root unless you need to. Graphical programs that need root access will usually prompt you for a password, or from the terminal use su or sudo.


X (also might be called X11 or the X Window System) is a bit of software that provides the basic graphical functionality that all the desktop environments use.


The kernel is the bit of software at the heart of the operating system. It deals with all the low-level tasks like managing your hardware, the processes running on the system and keeping everything running smoothly.

If you have any terms you want added to this post (whether or not you know the definition), why not share them in the comments?

Avatar for peter Peter Upfold -

Peter Upfold is a technology enthusiast from the UK. Peter’s interest in Linux stems back to 2003, when curiosity got the better of him and he began using SUSE 9.0. Now he runs Linux Mint 9 on the desktop, runs a CentOS-based web server from home for his personal website and dabbles in all sorts of technology things across the Windows, Mac and open source worlds.

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Discussion: Linux terminology jargon buster

  1. # Posted on 16 April 2008 at 12:30 PM

    [...] Just under a year ago, I put together a Linux terminology jargon buster, designed to explain some of these new Linux terms to those who are just starting out. That post is still very relevant a year on, so why not take a look at it? [...]

  2. Anonymous (guest)

    # Posted on 18 April 2008 at 12:34 PM

    GPL General Public License, A end-user license dictate software under it, distributed with source code or free access to it, with full right to modify, distribute etc.

    Main engine of GNU softwares including Linux kernel, due to above condition software got improved/fixed by its users community very fast.

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