Unix (officially trademarked as UNIX, sometimes also written as Unix with small caps) is a computer operating system originally developed in 1969 by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs, including Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, Douglas McIlroy, and Joe Ossanna. Today's Unix systems are split into various branches, developed over time by AT&T as well as various commercial vendors and non-profit organizations.
As of 2007, the owner of the trademark is The Open Group, an industry standards consortium. Only systems fully compliant with and certified to the Single UNIX Specification are qualified to use the trademark; others are called "Unix system-like" or "Unix-like".
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the influence of Unix in academic circles led to large-scale adoption of Unix (particularly of the BSD variant, originating from the University of California, Berkeley) by commercial startups, the most notable of which are Solaris, HP-UX, and AIX. Today, in addition to certified Unix systems, Unix-like operating systems such as Linux and BSD are commonly encountered. Sometimes, "traditional Unix" may be used to describe a Unix or an operating system that has the characteristics of either Version 7 Unix or UNIX System V.
Unix operating systems are widely used in both servers and workstations. The Unix environment and the client-server program model were essential elements in the development of the Internet and the reshaping of computing as centered in networks rather than in individual computers.
Both Unix and the C programming language were developed by AT&T and distributed to government and academic institutions, causing both to be ported to a wider variety of machine families than any other operating system. As a result, Unix became synonymous with "open systems".
Unix was designed to be portable, multi-tasking and multi-user in a time-sharing configuration. Unix systems are characterized by various concepts: the use of plain text for storing data; a hierarchical file system; treating devices and certain types of inter-process communication (IPC) as files; and the use of a large number of software tools, small programs that can be strung together through a command line interpreter using pipes, as opposed to using a single monolithic program that includes all of the same functionality. These concepts are known as the Unix philosophy.
Under Unix, the "operating system" consists of many of these utilities along with the master control program, the kernel. The kernel provides services to start and stop programs, handle the file system and other common "low level" tasks that most programs share, and, perhaps most importantly, schedules access to hardware to avoid conflicts if two programs try to access the same resource or device simultaneously. To mediate such access, the kernel was given special rights on the system, leading to the division between user-space and kernel-space.
The microkernel concept was introduced in an effort to reverse the trend towards larger kernels and return to a system in which most tasks were completed by smaller utilities. In an era when a "normal" computer consisted of a hard disk for storage and a data terminal for input and output (I/O), the Unix file model worked quite well as most I/O was "linear". However, modern systems include networking and other new devices. As graphical user interfaces developed, the file model proved inadequate to the task of handling asynchronous events such as those generated by a mouse, and in the 1980s non-blocking I/O and the set of inter-process communication mechanisms was augmented (sockets, shared memory, message queues, semaphores), and functionalities such as network protocols were moved out of the kernel.
In the 1960s, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, AT&T Bell Labs, and General Electric worked on an experimental operating system called Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service), which was designed to run on the GE-645 mainframe computer. (Eventually Multics became a commercial product, although sales did not meet expectations). Multics was an interactive operating system with many novel capabilities, including enhanced security.
AT&T Bell Labs pulled out of the Multics project and deployed its resources elsewhere. One of the developers on the Bell Labs team, Ken Thompson, continued to develop for the GE-645 mainframe, and wrote a game for that computer called Space Travel. However, he found that the game was too slow on the GE machine and was expensive, costing $75 per execution in scarce computing time.
Thompson thus re-wrote the game in assembly language for Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP-7 with help from Dennis Ritchie. This experience, combined with his work on the Multics project, led Thompson to start a new operating system for the PDP-7. Thompson and Ritchie led a team of developers, including Rudd Canaday, at Bell Labs developing a file system as well as the new multi-tasking operating system itself. They included a command line interpreter and some small utility programs.
Up until this point there had been no financial support from Bell Labs. When the Computer Science Research Group wanted to use Unix on a much larger machine than the PDP-7, Thompson and Ritchie managed to trade the promise of adding text processing capabilities to Unix for a PDP-11/20 machine. This led to some financial support from Bell. For the first time in 1970, the Unix operating system was officially named and ran on the PDP-11/20. It added a text formatting program called roff and a text editor. All three were written in PDP-11/20 assembly language. Bell Labs used this initial "text processing system", made up of Unix, roff, and the editor, for text processing of patent applications. Roff soon evolved into troff, the first electronic publishing program with a full typesetting capability. The UNIX Programmer's Manual was published on November 3 1971.
In 1973, Unix was rewritten in the C programming language, contrary to the general notion at the time "that something as complex as an operating system, which must deal with time-critical events, had to be written exclusively in assembly language". The migration from assembly language to the higher-level language C resulted in much more portable software, requiring only a relatively small amount of machine-dependent code to be replaced when porting Unix to other computing platforms.
AT&T made Unix available to universities and commercial firms, as well as the United States government under licenses. The licenses included all source code including the machine-dependent parts of the kernel, which were written in PDP-11 assembly code. Copies of the annotated Unix kernel sources circulated widely in the late 1970s in the form of a much-copied book by John Lions of the University of New South Wales, the Lions' Commentary on UNIX 6th Edition, with Source Code, which led to considerable use of Unix as an educational example.
Versions of the Unix system were determined by editions of its user manuals, so that (for example) "Fifth Edition UNIX" and "UNIX Version 5" have both been used to designate the same thing. Development expanded, with Versions 4, 5, and 6 being released by 1975. These versions added the concept of pipes, leading to the development of a more modular code-base, increasing development speed still further. Version 5 and especially Version 6 led to a plethora of different Unix versions both inside and outside Bell Labs, including PWB/UNIX, IS/1 (the first commercial Unix), and the University of Wollongong's port to the Interdata 7/32 (the first non-PDP Unix).
In 1978, UNIX/32V, for DEC's then new VAX system, was released. By this time, over 600 machines were running Unix in some form. Version 7 Unix, the last version of Research Unix to be released widely, was released in 1979. Versions 8, 9 and 10 were developed through the 1980s but were only released to a few universities, though they did generate papers describing the new work. This research led to the development of Plan 9 from Bell Labs, a new portable distributed system.
AT&T licensed UNIX System III, based largely on Version 7, for commercial use, the first version launching in 1982. This also included support for the VAX. AT&T continued to issue licenses for older Unix versions. To end the confusion between all its differing internal versions, AT&T combined them into UNIX System V Release 1. This introduced a few features such as the vi editor and curses from the Berkeley Software Distribution of Unix developed at the University of California, Berkeley. This also included support for the Western Electric 3B series of machines.
Since the newer commercial UNIX licensing terms were not as favorable for academic use as the older versions of Unix, the Berkeley researchers continued to develop BSD Unix as an alternative to UNIX System III and V, originally on the PDP-11 architecture (the 2.xBSD releases, ending with 2.11BSD) and later for the VAX-11 (the 4.x BSD releases). Many contributions to Unix first appeared on BSD releases, notably the C shell with job control (modelled on ITS). Perhaps the most important aspect of the BSD development effort was the addition of TCP/IP network code to the mainstream Unix kernel. The BSD effort produced several significant releases that contained network code: 4.1cBSD, 4.2BSD, 4.3BSD, 4.3BSD-Tahoe ("Tahoe" being the nickname of the Computer Consoles Inc. Power 6/32 architecture that was the first non-DEC release of the BSD kernel), Net/1, 4.3BSD-Reno (to match the "Tahoe" naming, and that the release was something of a gamble), Net/2, 4.4BSD, and 4.4BSD-lite. The network code found in these releases is the ancestor of much TCP/IP network code in use today, including code that was later released in AT&T System V UNIX and early versions of Microsoft Windows. The accompanying Berkeley sockets API is a de facto standard for networking APIs and has been copied on many platforms.
Other companies began to offer commercial versions of the UNIX System for their own mini-computers and workstations. Most of these new Unix flavors were developed from the System V base under a license from AT&T; however, others were based on BSD instead. One of the leading developers of BSD, Bill Joy, went on to co-found Sun Microsystems in 1982 and created SunOS (now Solaris) for their workstation computers. In 1980, Microsoft announced its first Unix for 16-bit microcomputers called Xenix, which the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) ported to the Intel 8086 processor in 1983, and eventually branched Xenix into SCO UNIX in 1989.
For a few years during this period (before PC compatible computers with MS-DOS became dominant), industry observers expected that UNIX, with its portability and rich capabilities, was likely to become the industry standard operating system for microcomputers. In 1984 several companies established the X/Open consortium with the goal of creating an open system specification based on UNIX. Despite early progress, the standardization effort collapsed into the "Unix wars," with various companies forming rival standardization groups. The most successful Unix-related standard turned out to be the IEEE's POSIX specification, designed as a compromise API readily implemented on both BSD and System V platforms, published in 1988 and soon mandated by the United States government for many of its own systems
AT&T added various features into UNIX System V, such as file locking, system administration, STREAMS, new forms of IPC, the Remote File System and TLI. AT&T cooperated with Sun Microsystems and between 1987 and 1989 merged features from Xenix, BSD, SunOS, and System V into System V Release 4 (SVR4), independently of X/Open. This new release consolidated all the previous features into one package, and heralded the end of competing versions. It also increased licensing fees.
During this time a number of vendors including Digital Equipment, Sun, Addamax and others began building trusted versions of UNIX for high security applications, mostly designed for military and law enforcement applications.
In 1991, a group of BSD developers (Donn Seeley, Mike Karels, Bill Jolitz, and Trent Hein) left the University of California to found Berkeley Software Design, Inc (BSDI). BSDI produced a fully functional commercial version of BSD Unix for the inexpensive and ubiquitous Intel platform, which started a wave of interest in the use of inexpensive hardware for production computing. Shortly after it was founded, Bill Jolitz left BSDI to pursue distribution of 386BSD, the free software ancestor of FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD.
By 1993 most commercial vendors had changed their variants of Unix to be based on System V with many BSD features added on top. The creation of the COSE initiative that year by the major players in Unix marked the end of the most notorious phase of the Unix wars, and was followed by the merger of UI and OSF in 1994. The new combined entity, which retained the OSF name, stopped work on OSF/1 that year. By that time the only vendor using it was Digital, which continued its own development, rebranding their product Digital UNIX in early 1995.
Shortly after UNIX System V Release 4 was produced, AT&T sold all its rights to UNIX to Novell. (Dennis Ritchie likened this to the Biblical story of Esau selling his birthright for the proverbial "mess of pottage".) Novell developed its own version, UnixWare, merging its NetWare with UNIX System V Release 4. Novell tried to use this to battle against Windows NT, but their core markets suffered considerably.
In 1993, Novell decided to transfer the UNIX® trademark and certification rights to the X/Open Consortium. In 1996, X/Open merged with OSF, creating the Open Group. Various standards by the Open Group now define what is and what is not a "UNIX" operating system, notably the post-1998 Single UNIX Specification.
In 1995, the business of administering and supporting the existing UNIX licenses, plus rights to further develop the System V code base, were sold by Novell to the Santa Cruz Operation. Whether Novell also sold the copyrights is currently the subject of litigation (see below).
In 1997, Apple Computer sought out a new foundation for its Macintosh operating system and chose NEXTSTEP, an operating system developed by NeXT. The core operating system, which was based on BSD and the Mach kernel, was renamed Darwin after Apple acquired it. The deployment of Darwin in Mac OS X makes it, according to a statement made by an Apple employee at a USENIX conference, the most widely used Unix-based system in the desktop computer market.
The Dot-com crash (2001-2003) has led to significant consolidation of versions of Unix. Of the many commercial flavors of Unix that were born in the 1980s, only Solaris, HP-UX, and AIX are still doing relatively well in the market, though SGI's IRIX persisted for quite some time. Of these, Solaris has the largest market share.
In 2003, the SCO Group started legal action against various users and vendors of Linux. SCO had alleged that Linux contained copyrighted Unix code now owned by The SCO Group. Other allegations included trade-secret violations by IBM, or contract violations by former Santa Cruz customers who had since converted to Linux. However, Novell disputed the SCO Group's claim to hold copyright on the UNIX source base. According to Novell, SCO (and hence the SCO Group) are effectively franchise operators for Novell, which also retained the core copyrights, veto rights over future licensing activities of SCO, and 95% of the licensing revenue. The SCO Group disagreed with this, and the dispute resulted in the SCO v. Novell lawsuit. On August 10, 2007, a major portion of the case (the fact that Novell had the copyright to UNIX, and that the SCO Group had improperly kept money that was due to Novell) was decided in Novell's favor. The court also ruled that "SCO is obligated to recognize Novell's waiver of SCO's claims against IBM and Sequent". After the ruling, Novell announced they have no interest in suing people over Unix and stated, "We don't believe there is Unix in Linux".
In 2005, Sun Microsystems released the bulk of its Solaris system code (based on UNIX System V Release 4) into an open source project called OpenSolaris. New Sun OS technologies such as the ZFS file system are now first released as open source code via the OpenSolaris project; as of 2006 OpenSolaris has spawned several non-Sun distributions such as SchilliX, Belenix, Nexenta, and MarTux.
In an effort towards compatibility, in 1999 several Unix system vendors agreed on SVR4's Executable and Linkable Format (ELF) as the standard for binary and object code files. The common format allows substantial binary compatibility among Unix systems operating on the same CPU architecture.
The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard was created to provide a reference directory layout for Unix-like operating systems, particularly Linux.
The inclusion of these components did not make the system large — the original V7 UNIX distribution, consisting of copies of all of the compiled binaries plus all of the source code and documentation occupied less than 10MB, and arrived on a single 9-track magnetic tape. The printed documentation, typeset from the on-line sources, was contained in two volumes.
The names and filesystem locations of the Unix components have changed substantially across the history of the system. Nonetheless, the V7 implementation is considered by many to have the canonical early structure:
The Unix system had significant impact on other operating systems.
It was written in high level language as opposed to assembly language (which had been thought necessary for systems implementation on early computers). Although this followed the lead of Multics and Burroughs, it was Unix that popularized the idea.
Unix had a drastically simplified file model compared to many contemporary operating systems, treating all kinds of files as simple byte arrays. The file system hierarchy contained machine services and devices (such as printers, terminals, or disk drives), providing a uniform interface, but at the expense of occasionally requiring additional mechanisms such as ioctl and mode flags to access features of the hardware that did not fit the simple "stream of bytes" model. The Plan 9 operating system pushed this model even further and eliminated the need for additional mechanisms.
Unix also popularized the hierarchical file system with arbitrarily nested subdirectories, originally introduced by Multics. Other common operating systems of the era had ways to divide a storage device into multiple directories or sections, but they had a fixed number of levels, often only one level. Several major proprietary operating systems eventually added recursive subdirectory capabilities also patterned after Multics. DEC's RSX-11M's "group, user" hierarchy evolved into VMS directories, CP/M's volumes evolved into MS-DOS 2.0+ subdirectories, and HP's MPE group.account hierarchy and IBM's SSP and OS/400 library systems were folded into broader POSIX file systems.
Making the command interpreter an ordinary user-level program, with additional commands provided as separate programs, was another Multics innovation popularized by Unix. The Unix shell used the same language for interactive commands as for scripting (shell scripts — there was no separate job control language like IBM's JCL). Since the shell and OS commands were "just another program", the user could choose (or even write) his own shell. New commands could be added without changing the shell itself. Unix's innovative command-line syntax for creating chains of producer-consumer processes (pipelines) made a powerful programming paradigm (coroutines) widely available. Many later command-line interpreters have been inspired by the Unix shell.
A fundamental simplifying assumption of Unix was its focus on ASCII text for nearly all file formats. There were no "binary" editors in the original version of Unix — the entire system was configured using textual shell command scripts. The common denominator in the I/O system was the byte — unlike "record-based" file systems. The focus on text for representing nearly everything made Unix pipes especially useful, and encouraged the development of simple, general tools that could be easily combined to perform more complicated ad hoc tasks. The focus on text and bytes made the system far more scalable and portable than other systems. Over time, text-based applications have also proven popular in application areas, such as printing languages (PostScript), and at the application layer of the Internet Protocols, e.g. Telnet, FTP, SSH, SMTP, HTTP and SIP.
Unix popularized a syntax for regular expressions that found widespread use. The Unix programming interface became the basis for a widely implemented operating system interface standard (POSIX, see above).
The C programming language soon spread beyond Unix, and is now ubiquitous in systems and applications programming.
Unix provided the TCP/IP networking protocol on relatively inexpensive computers, which contributed to the Internet explosion of world-wide real-time connectivity, and which formed the basis for implementations on many other platforms. (This also exposed numerous security holes in the networking implementations.)
The Unix policy of extensive on-line documentation and (for many years) ready access to all system source code raised programmer expectations, and contributed to the 1983 launch of the free software movement.
Over time, the leading developers of Unix (and programs that ran on it) evolved a set of cultural norms for developing software, norms which became as important and influential as the technology of Unix itself; this has been termed the Unix philosophy.
In 1983, Richard Stallman announced the GNU project, an ambitious effort to create a free software Unix-like system; "free" in that everyone who received a copy would be free to use, study, modify, and redistribute it. The GNU project's own kernel development project, GNU Hurd, had not produced a working kernel, but in 1992 Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel as free software under the GNU General Public License. In addition to their use in the Linux operating system, many GNU packages — such as the GNU Compiler Collection (and the rest of the GNU toolchain), the GNU C library and the GNU core utilities — have gone on to play central roles in other free Unix systems as well.
Linux distributions, comprising Linux and large collections of compatible software have become popular both with individual users and in business. Popular distributions include Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora, SUSE Linux Enterprise, openSUSE, Debian GNU/Linux, Ubuntu, Mandriva Linux, Slackware Linux and Gentoo.
A free derivative of BSD Unix, 386BSD, was also released in 1992 and led to the NetBSD and FreeBSD projects. With the 1994 settlement of a lawsuit that UNIX Systems Laboratories brought against the University of California and Berkeley Software Design Inc. (USL v. BSDi), it was clarified that Berkeley had the right to distribute BSD Unix — for free, if it so desired. Since then, BSD Unix has been developed in several different directions, including OpenBSD and DragonFly BSD.
Linux and BSD are now rapidly occupying much of the market traditionally occupied by proprietary Unix operating systems, as well as expanding into new markets such as the consumer desktop and mobile and embedded devices. Due to the modularity of the Unix design, sharing bits and pieces is relatively common; consequently, most or all Unix and Unix-like systems include at least some BSD code, and modern systems also usually include some GNU utilities in their distribution.
In 2005, Sun Microsystems released the bulk of the source code to the Solaris operating system, a System V variant, under the name OpenSolaris, making it the first actively developed commercial Unix system to be open sourced (several years earlier, Caldera had released many of the older Unix systems under an educational and later BSD license). As a result, a great deal of formerly proprietary AT&T/USL code is now freely available.
time_t, historically defined as "signed 32-bit integer". On January 19 2038, the current time will roll over from a zero followed by 31 ones (
01111111111111111111111111111111) to a one followed by 31 zeros (
10000000000000000000000000000000), which will reset time to the year 1901 or 1970, depending on implementation, because that toggles the sign bit. As many applications use OS library routines for date calculations, the impact of this could be felt much earlier than 2038; for instance, 30-year mortages may be calculated incorrectly beginning in the year 2008.
Since times before 1970 are rarely represented in Unix time, one possible solution that is compatible with existing binary formats would be to redefine
time_t as "unsigned 32-bit integer". However, such a kludge merely postpones the problem to February 72106, and could introduce bugs in software that compares differences between two sets of time.
Some Unix versions have already addressed this. For example, in Solaris on 64-bit systems,
time_t is 64 bits long, meaning that the OS itself and 64-bit applications will correctly handle dates for some 292 billion years. Existing 32-bit applications using a 32-bit
time_t continue to work on 64-bit Solaris systems but are still prone to the 2038 problem.
The present owner of the trademark UNIX® is The Open Group, an industry standards consortium. Only systems fully compliant with and certified to the Single UNIX Specification qualify as "UNIX®" (others are called "Unix system-like" or "Unix-like").
By decree of The Open Group, the term "UNIX®" refers more to a class of operating systems than to a specific implementation of an operating system; those operating systems which meet The Open Group's Single UNIX Specification should be able to bear the UNIX® 98 or UNIX® 03 trademarks today, after the operating system's vendor pays a fee to The Open Group. Systems licensed to use the UNIX® trademark include AIX, HP-UX, IRIX, Solaris, Tru64 (formerly "Digital UNIX"), A/UX, Mac OS X 10.5 on Intel platforms, and a part of z/OS.
Sometimes a representation like "Un*x", "*NIX", or "*N?X" is used to indicate all operating systems similar to Unix. This comes from the use of the "*" and "?" characters as "wildcard" characters in many utilities. This notation is also used to describe other Unix-like systems, e.g. Linux, BSD, etc., that have not met the requirements for UNIX® branding from the Open Group.
The Open Group requests that "UNIX®" is always used as an adjective followed by a generic term such as "system" to help avoid the creation of a genericized trademark.
"Unix" was the original formatting, but the usage of "UNIX" remains widespread because, according to Dennis Ritchie, when presenting the original Unix paper to the third Operating Systems Symposium of the American Association for Computing Machinery, “we had a new typesetter and troff had just been invented and we were intoxicated by being able to produce small caps.” Many of the operating system's predecessors and contemporaries used all-uppercase lettering, so many people wrote the name in upper case due to force of habit.
Several plural forms of Unix are used to refer to multiple brands of Unix and Unix-like systems. Most common is the conventional "Unixes", but "Unices" (treating Unix as Latin noun of the third declension) is also popular. The Anglo-Saxon plural form "Unixen" is not common, although occasionally seen. Trademark names can be registered by different entities in different countries and trademark laws in some countries allow the same trademark name to be controlled by two different entities if each entity uses the trademark in easily distinguishable categories. The result is that Unix has been used as a brand name for various products including book shelves, ink pens, bottled glue, diapers, hair driers and food containers.
Widely used Unix commands include:
ls cd pwd mkdir rm rmdir cp find touch mv
more less ed vi emacs head tail
echo cat grep sort uniq sed awk cut tr split printf
comm cmp diff patch
yes test xargs
chmod chown ps su w who
mail telnet ftp finger ssh
su login passwd