An old IT ninja learns new Unix tricks

Even Unix veterans might be amazed to discover what commands have been lurking under their fingertips all this time

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Frankly, it's amazing. I've probably typed less commands between five and 100 times a day for decades, and I had no idea the extent of the development of less, nor had I any notion of what it can really do. The developer, Mark Nudelman, is hardly done; he's at version 451.

I definitely don't mean to single out the less utility here. It's a vital part of any Unix-like OS, and no doubt every improvement has been made to address an issue or feature request someone had at some point.

I'm just using less as an example of how the tools we use are constantly growing and changing, often without our awareness, right under our fingertips. Unless we have a specific need to perform a very specific task, we rarely poke around under the covers. If we once read a man page for less back in 1995, chances are we haven't looked at it since. Little did we know that we not only can customize our less prompt, but we can use 16 variables and 15 conditionals to do so. The mind boggles.

That's why I enjoyed Langworth's post so much. It spurred me to go back and dust off those old reflexes and hopefully create new ones. I spend a lot of time in vim, and what he's unearthed is likely to save me considerable effort over the next few decades.

After all, every once in a while we should rip off those calluses and learn better ways to do things. Our tools have never stopped growing. We should take the time to notice.

This story, "An old IT ninja learns new Unix tricks," was originally published at Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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