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A Practical Guide to UNIX for Mac OS X Users [Paperback]

by Mark G. Sobell, Peter Seebach
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 31, 2005 0131863339 978-0131863330 1

The Most Useful UNIX Guide for Mac OS X Users Ever, with Hundreds of High-Quality Examples!

Beneath Mac OS® X's stunning graphical user interface (GUI) is the most powerful operating system ever created: UNIX®. With unmatched clarity and insight, this book explains UNIX for the Mac OS X user—giving you total control over your system, so you can get more done, faster. Building on Mark Sobell's highly praised A Practical Guide to the UNIX System, it delivers comprehensive guidance on the UNIX command line tools every user, administrator, and developer needs to master–together with the world's best day-to-day UNIX reference.

This book is packed with hundreds of high-quality examples. From networking and system utilities to shells and programming, this is UNIX from the ground up—both the "whys" and the "hows"—for every Mac user. You'll understand the relationships between GUI tools and their command line counterparts. Need instant answers? Don't bother with confusing online "manual pages": rely on this book's example-rich, quick-access, 236-page command reference!

Don't settle for just any UNIX guidebook. Get one focused on your specific needs as a Mac user!

A Practical Guide to UNIX® for Mac OS® X Users is the most useful, comprehensive UNIX tutorial and reference for Mac OS X and is the only book that delivers

  • Better, more realistic examples covering tasks you'll actually need to perform
  • Deeper insight, based on the authors' immense knowledge of every UNIX and OS X nook and cranny
  • Practical guidance for experienced UNIX users moving to Mac OS X
  • Exclusive discussions of Mac-only utilities, including plutil, ditto, nidump, otool, launchctl, diskutil, GetFileInfo, and SetFile
  • Techniques for implementing secure communications with ssh and scp—plus dozens of tips for making your OS X system more secure
  • Expert guidance on basic and advanced shell programming with bash and tcsh
  • Tips and tricks for using the shell interactively from the command line
  • Thorough guides to vi and emacs designed to help you get productive fast, and maximize your editing efficiency
  • In-depth coverage of the Mac OS X filesystem and access permissions, including extended attributes and Access Control Lists (ACLs)
  • A comprehensive UNIX glossary
  • Dozens of exercises to help you practice and gain confidence
  • And much more, including a superior introduction to UNIX programming tools such as awk, sed, otool, make, gcc, gdb, and CVS

Frequently Bought Together

A Practical Guide to UNIX for Mac OS X Users + Learning Unix for OS X: Going Deep With the Terminal and Shell + Macintosh Terminal Pocket Guide
Price for all three: $60.63

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mark G. Sobell is president of Sobell Associates Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in UNIX/Linux training, support, and custom software development. He is the author of many best-selling UNIX and Linux books and has more than twenty-five years of experience working with UNIX and Linux.

Peter Seebach, a freelance writer specializing in UNIX development, has published dozens of technical articles for IBM developerWorks.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

A Practical Guide to UNIX® for Mac OS® X Users explains how to work with the UNIX operating system that is the foundation of Mac OS X. This book looks “under the hood,” past the traditional graphical user interface (GUI) that most people think of as a Macintosh, and explains how to use the powerful command line interface (CLI) that connects you directly to UNIX.

Command line interface (CLI). In the beginning UNIX had a command line (textual) interface. There was no mouse to point or icons to drag and drop. Some programs, such as emacs, implemented rudimentary windows using the very minimal graphics available in the ASCII character set. In addition, reverse video helped separate areas of the screen. UNIX was born and raised in this environment.

Naturally all of the original UNIX tools were invoked from the command line. The real power of UNIX, and of Mac OS X, lies in this environment, which explains why many UNIX professionals work exclusively from the command line.

Using clear descriptions and lots of examples, this book shows you how to get the most out of your UNIX-based Mac OS X system using the command line interface. The first few chapters quickly bring readers with little computer experience up to speed. The rest of the book is appropriate for more experienced computer users.

Audience. This book is designed for a wide range of readers. It does not require programming experience, but assumes a basic familiarity with the Macintosh GUI. It is appropriate for the following readers:

  • Beginning Macintosh users who want to know what UNIX is, why everyone keeps saying that it is important, and how to take advantage of it
  • Experienced Macintosh users who want to know how to take advantage of the power of UNIX that underlies Mac OS X
  • Students taking a class in which they use Mac OS X
  • Power users who want to explore the power of Mac OS X from the command line
  • Professionals who use Mac OS X at work
  • UNIX users who want to adapt their UNIX skills to the Mac OS X environment
  • Computer science students who are studying the Mac OS X operating system
  • Programmers who need to understand the Mac OS X programming environment
  • Technical executives who want to get a grounding in Mac OS X

Benefits. A Practical Guide to UNIX® for Mac OS® X Users gives you an in-depth understanding of how to use the UNIX operating system that is the foundation for Mac OS X.

A large amount of free software has always been available for Macintosh systems. In addition, the Macintosh shareware community is very active. By introducing the UNIX aspects of Mac OS X, this book throws open to Macintosh users the vast store of free and low-cost software available for UNIX, Linux, and other UNIX-like systems.

Regardless of your background, this book offers the practical knowledge you need to get on with your work: You will come away from this book understanding how to use the UNIX operating system that underlies OS X, and this text will remain a valuable reference for years to come.

Features of This Book

This book is organized for ease of use in different situations. For example, you can read it from cover to cover to learn about the UNIX aspects of Mac OS X from the ground up. Alternatively, once you are comfortable using OS X, you can use this book as a reference: Look up a topic of interest in the table of contents or index and read about it. Or, refer to one of the utilities covered in Part VI, “Command Reference.” You can also think of this book as a catalog of Mac OS X topics: Flip through the pages until a topic catches your eye. If you are familiar with UNIX or a UNIX-like operating system such as Linux, refer to Appendix C, “Mac OS X for UNIX Users,” which lists some of the differences between Mac OS X and traditional UNIX systems. The book also includes many pointers to Web sites where you can get additional information: Consider the Web an extension of this book.

A Practical Guide to UNIX® for Mac OS® X Users offers these features:

  • Optional sections allow you to read the book at different levels, returning to more difficult material when you are ready to tackle it.
  • Caution boxes highlight procedures that can easily go wrong, giving you guidance before you run into trouble.
  • Tip boxes highlight situations in which you can save time by doing something differently or when it may be useful or just interesting to have additional information.
  • Security boxes point out ways that you can make a system more secure.
  • The supporting Web site at www.sobell.com includes corrections to the book, downloadable examples from the book, pointers to useful Web sites, and answers to even-numbered exercises.
  • Important command line utilities that were developed by Apple specifically for Mac OS X are covered in detail, including GetFileInfo, SetFile, nidump, otool, launchctl, diskutil, and plutil.
  • Descriptions of Mac OS X extended attributes including file forks, file attributes, attribute flags, and access control lists (ACLs).
  • The relationships between GUI tools and their CLI counterparts are discussed in depth.
  • Information that will help you set up servers includes sections on property lists, the launchd superserver, and DHCP.
  • A section on NetInfo discusses the NetInfo database and ways to work with it.
  • Concepts are illustrated by practical examples found throughout the book.
  • Many useful URLs (Internet addresses) identify Web sites where you can obtain software and information.
  • Chapter summaries review the important points covered in each chapter.
  • Review exercises are included at the end of each chapter allow readers to hone their skills. Answers to even-numbered exercises are available at www.sobell.com.
  • Important GNU tools, including gcc, gdb, GNU Configure and Build System, make, gzip, and many others, are described in detail.
  • Pointers throughout the book provide help in obtaining online documentation from many sources, including the local system and the Internet.


This section describes the information that each chapter covers and explains how that information can help you take advantage of the power of Mac OS X. You may want to review the table of contents for more detail.

Chapter 1: Welcome to Mac OS X

Presents background information on Mac OS X. This chapter covers the history of Mac OS X, explains the connection between OS X and open-source software including GNU and BSD software, and discusses some of OS X’s important features that distinguish it from other operating systems including other versions of UNIX.

Part I: The Mac OS X Operating System

Tip: Experienced users may want to skim Part I
If you have used a UNIX-like system before, you may want to skim or skip some or all of the chapters in Part I. All readers should take a look at “Conventions Used in This Book” (page 18), which explains the typographic conventions that this book uses, and “Getting the Facts: Where to Find Documentation” (page 27), which points you toward both local and remote sources of Mac OS X documentation.

Part I introduces UNIX on a Mac OS X system and gets you started using it from the command line.

Chapter 2: Getting Started

Explains the typographic conventions that this book uses to make explanations clearer and easier to read. This chapter provides basic information and explains how to log in, display a shell prompt, give OS X commands using the shell, and find system documentation.

Chapter 3: The Mac OS X Utilities

Explains the command line interface (CLI) and briefly introduces more than 30 command line utilities. Working through this chapter gives you a feel for UNIX and introduces some of the tools you will use day in and day out. Chapter 3 also introduces pipes, which allow you to combine utilities on the command line. The utilities covered in this chapter include

  • grep, which searches through files for strings of characters;
  • ditto, which copies files and directories (folders);
  • tar, which creates archive files that can hold many other files;
  • bzip2 and gzip, which compress files so that they take up less space on disk and allow you to transfer them over a network more quickly; and
  • diff, which displays the differences between two text files.

Chapter 4: The Mac OS X Filesystem

Discusses the OS X hierarchical filesystem from a UNIX perspective, covering files, filenames, pathnames, working with directories (folders), access permissions, and hard and sym...

Product Details

  • Paperback: 1056 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall; 1 edition (December 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0131863339
  • ISBN-13: 978-0131863330
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.5 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #677,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the ground up January 22, 2006
This is the book I've been looking for. Not just 'OS X for Unix Geeks' or 'OS X in a Nutshell', I wanted more. As much as possible, in one resource. 1000+ pages signaled a big yes.

I have yet to read it all the way through, but so far this is a very good guide for those who want not only to learn the general 'Unix way' of computing, but dive under the surface of OS X and examine its specificities in the command line interface, aka the Terminal (/Applications/Utilities/Terminal)

No, this isn't a 'hacks' book, and there's no mention of rsync, for example, but you'll find ample documentation of the underside of OS X--there's a lot more to it than just a GUI, folks.

Educational, yes. Hence 'Practical Guide'; you'll learn a good deal, in almost textbook fashion. Recommended to enhance the power and fun of your OS X experience!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great reference November 22, 2007
I got this book as someone who had used UNIX before, but this was many years ago, and I had forgotten a lot. This book is great for picking up the functionalities of various UNIX tools - the explanations are clear and concise. It also works very well as a quick reference. The bulk of the book is devoted to bringing you up from a potentially zero-experience user to someone who can work with ease with editors, shells, and more. Simple examples are included throughout. The back of the book has a 250-page command reference section for quickly looking up how to use a particular command. You could read the whole book and progressively work with UNIX as a self-taught course, or just reference the sections you need.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Mark G. Sobell and Peter Seebach's A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO UNIX FOR MAC OX S USERS is a reference the UNIX/Mac user simply must have at hand: nearly a thousand pages of reference material on everything from basic and advanced shell programming to Mac's OS X filesystem and utilities modules make this the best reference on the market for users who seek either a step-by-step tutorial or a basic browser's reference for problem-solving. Exercises to test knowledge boxed highlights of information make it easy to either refer to for at-a-glance troubleshooting or sit down and study for step-by-step methodology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Useful Volume For CLI December 9, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I recently switched over to using a Mac. I have experience with Windows and Unix, but was confused by the differences in the Mac CLI until I found this book. It has been a real timesaver as well as an education. It is so much faster to use the CLI on a Mac and this book tells you how to get started. It is clearly written and easy to learn from. I highly recommend this to anyone wanting a good grounding in the Mac CLI.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an ideal reference for programmers, system administrators or "power users" with motivation to gain proficiency with the Mac OS X Command Line.

Despite dating itself with its "Mac OS X Tiger Edition" moniker, this book remains very relevant as the UNIX concepts & tools covered by it are fundamental. It shares similar format & content to A Practical Guide to Solaris (also by Sobell), popular with undergraduate university operating systems courses. Its reliability is evident from the extremely short errata: [...]

I found the exercises at the end of each chapter helpful. Solutions for even-numbered exercises are found at [...] Along with the many practical examples, the author highlights tips and optional "bonus" material. About 25% (238 pages) is a handy command reference.

One suggestion: Chapter 9 on The TC Shell is unnecessary. Case in point: since the book was written, the zsh has emerged as a popular, if trendy, alternative to bash. As stated on page 338, "If you are going to learn one shell programming language, learn bash" - thus, learning another shell should be left as an exercise for the reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Love This Book October 29, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
After 25+ years of Windows experience, I reached my limit after the release of Vista and bought a MacBook Pro. This book is incredibly well written and edited and a pleasure for me to read. With very little UNIX experience, I am able to understand the UNIX system, file system, permissions, shell commands, etc. very easily.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good as expected! October 4, 2010
By jmrllc
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This author has become a sure bet for the books I've purchased from him in the past. The only thing I would mention is there is alot of repeated material in the separate titles. I own the "Linux Commandline Shell practical guide" and also the Red Hat/Fedora practical guide. There is probably more then three quarters of the content that is exact. I guess with all instances the OSes are the same but it is just difficult to spend fifty bucks on three or four books only to have som much repeated content.

But as I said this author's books are very dependable!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Sobel's books are the best
Superb book
Helped me learn Mac OS X, and the CLI
Recommended to every Mac user, and I would say to every Unix user
Published 17 months ago by Sergei
4.0 out of 5 stars Still useful, if outdated
Thus book is a must-have for those who want to dig a little deeper into the UNIX behind OS X. The sad thing is that it doesn't have some of the newer features in OS X documented. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Magus
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Speed and Services
I received the book in a good timely manner and in neat professional packaging. Good Job!
Published on June 14, 2010 by Ray Lucas
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource
My first attempt at learning UNIX. Well-written overview with many pearls.
I would highly recommend it to others seeking to understand the basis for Mac OS X.
Published on September 18, 2009 by E. Risenhoover
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent intro and reference.
This is a solid introduction and reference book for folks who are GUI-literate but not UNIX folks. (I learned UNIX back around 1982 and have desperately tried to ignore it since. Read more
Published on August 27, 2009 by D. Dobkin
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful
Very useful for someone who wants to learn to use Unix on the Mac and has prior knowledge of command line languages.
Published on July 8, 2008 by J. V. White
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I have several of Mark Sobell's Unix based books and this one is as good as the others which are all excellent. Read more
Published on May 6, 2007 by Amazon Customer
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