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SOCS Inside-Out: The Definitive Survival Guide

Introduction - Disclaimer - Feedback - Legend
Contents - Verbose - Glossary

LAST UPDATE: Wednesday, 06-Sep-2000 01:53:12 EDT
# A B C D E F G H I J K L M
- Nick Cabatoff, Vincent Stephen-Ong

You may also want to check out UNIXhelp's glossary for more terms and definitions. Yet more can be found (along with oodles of geek-culture in-jokes) in the Jargon File.

See terminal.

This is one of the goals of the structured programing style.
  • On the user-level, this refers to structuring a program in such a way that the user is unaware (and, more importantly, does not need to be aware) of how things work underneath it all.
  • On the program-level, this refers to structuring sections of code so that they are self-contained and do not depend on other chunks. In this way, an interface to your chunk can be specified for the use of other programmers and they will never need to worry about the actual implementation. As a matter of fact, the implementation can change (to something more efficient, say) while the interface remains constant.

see also: componentization

box (aka machine):
Colloquialism for a (desktop) computer. "I couldn't get Ghostview to start on my machine, so they told me to go try one of the Linux boxes."

McGill's Computing Centre is responsible for much of McGill's computing and communications resources, including DAS.
website: McGill University Computing Centre
see also: DAS

This term refers to the level "packaging" of code and is all the rage thanks to the object-oriented paradigm. The idea is to reduce coupling between unrelated chunks of code to the point that unrelated chunks of code actually become independent of each other.

An example of badly-componentized code would be an application that mixes its GUI interface code with its algorithmic code. An example of well-componentized code would be an application that separates all of its key functionality into separate entities. X is an example of good componentization as the actions of window management are separate from the interface.
see also: abstraction

DAS (Dial-up Access Services) is McGill's own ISP. It provides special rates for students and staff; for details, contact CC.
website: McGill University DAS (Dial-up Access Services
see also: CC, ISP

email, e-mail:
Email stands for "electronic mail" and is exactly that - a message-exchanging mechanism operating over computer networks. These days, email really refers to Internet-based email. Email sent to local SOCS users is no different from email sent to someone halfway across the world.

It can be specified in URLs via the "mailto" prefix.
e.g.: mailto:user@cs.mcgill.ca

environment variables:
Unix is a programming environment in addition to an operating system and, like any other programming environment, it has variables. Environment variables are those variables which, as the name implies, have direct impact on your computing environment. For example, the PATH environment variable tells your shell where to look for executable programs, and the EDITOR environment variable tells other programs which editor you prefer to use.


Gopher was the most popular document retrieval system around until the web came along. It provides an interface to a menu of documents such as a text file, image, or sound clip. Additionally, some sites provide search capabilities.

To open a gopher location, you need a gopher client. Luckily, most web browsers support the gopher protocol. You can just enter the gopher:// location as you would any URL.
see also: WWW

host, hostname:
Individual computers are often referred to as hosts by Unix users, especially if the computer is on a network. This can be seen, for example, in the hostname command and the .rhosts (remote hosts) file.

The HyperText Markup Language is the language of webpages. It consists of a human-readable document format derived from SGML that uses special embedded control "tags" to control the display of its content. URLs are embedded via HTML, providing the resources that comprise a webpage.

The HyperText Transfer Protocol is the transfer protocol used for the transfer of webpages and their associated media over the web.

http resources can be specified in a URL via:
e.g.: http://username:password@hostname.domain/path/to/file.html

The act of reducing a window or other non-icon GUI object into an icon (a small representational image) representing it.

IMAP is an improvement of POP which lets the user manipulate mail on the server so that they don't need to download it (though that remains an option). SOCS is moving to IMAP as the standard means of accessing mail because it is generally more secure; others will gradually be phased out.
see also: POP, email

internet: (generic)
Generically speaking, an "internet" is the term used to describe any set of interconnected computer networks (hence the term "internet"). Internets of all shapes and sizes have been around for a long time.
see also: (The) Internet

(The) Internet:
The Internet is not the World Wide Web.

"The Internet" as simply the current largest example of an internet. Resources are specified via URLs.
see also: internet, URL

ISP stands for Internet Service Provider. ISPs are companies that sell Internet access, usually payable on a monthly or usage basis.
see also: DAS



Linux is a free multi-user multi-tasking UNIX-like operating system that was originally developed as a "UNIX for PCs". It has since developed sufficiently into its own identity as a unique flavour of Unix, and it is available on more than just the Intel x86 platform.
see also: Unix
website: The Linux Home Page at Linux Online

See box.

network transparency:
This term is applied to any application or environment in which events or data originating in the network appear to the user the same as those on the local machine.

In other words, this is a description of just how well-abstracted things are from the user's point of view, on the level of underlying networking and networking protocols.


PIN generically refers to a Personal Identification Number. You may have many PINs that act as passcodes for different services; the only SOCS-specific one of note is for after hours access.

POP is a mechanism for allowing people to download mail from the server to which it is delivered. It is convenient in that you can read the mail at home without having to stay online, but this means that either you have two sets of mail folders to try and maintain, or you can only access your mail in one place.
see also: IMAP, email

This is a term used to describe the likelihood for code to work on more than one platform. The code may or may not require recompilation, depending on the context.

For example, one might say that ANSI C code is highly portable, meaning that it is easy to recompile a program written in ANSI C for virtually any platform. On the other hand, saying that a Java program is portable would probably mean that it avoided proprietary method calls, libraries, and native methods, since the language itself is platform-independent.

Generally speaking, a protocol consists of a set of rules or a schema describing a method of data transmission.

Most of the time, it refers to data transmission over a network.


Under Unix, this is the account name of the superuser that can do anything, being able to override all file permissions. Generally, system administrators are said to have "root access". This means that they have access to the root account and can perform the tasks that require the freedom that root provides.

root also refers to the the top-most directory (symbolically referred to as '/') in a filesystem. It should be clear from the context which meaning of root is intended.

"root"'s third meaning is relevant in the context of X-Windows, when it refers to the background window (i.e.: the "desktop").

A computer which performs a particular role for other computers or users. It may provide networked storage (file server), fast processor(s) (compute server), or other more specialized services like mail or web. Most servers actually have multiple roles and provide several services to their networks.

The Standard Generalized Markup Language formed the basis for HTML, the language of webpages.

As the name implies, it is many times more general than HTML and is consequently many times more powerful. A great advantage of SGML's generality is that it can produce document in multiple formats, all from the same source page.

The shell is a generic term for anything which passes commands to something else. Typically, it refers to the command-line interpreter which reads your keystrokes and interprets them as instructions for the operating system. In Unix, you are not forced to use a specific command-line interpreter and are encouraged to find one that fits your preferences.

(McGill's) School of Computer Science.

Sun's name for recent versions of SunOS. Generally refers to SunOS 5.0 and greater. Officially, Sun considers SunOS 4.x to be Solaris 1.x, and SunOS 5.x (the current crop) to be Solaris 2.x. So, SunOS 5.7 = Solaris 2.7, or (in a further thrilling plot twist) simply Solaris 7. Most SOCS compute servers currently run recent versions of Solaris.
see also: SunOS

Unsolicited email or news messages; electronic junk mail. While not necessarily commercial in nature, it's generally despised in any form by most people that don't actually produce it themselves. SOCS is working at reducing the volume of local spamming.
see also: email spammer

One who sends spam.
see also: email, spam

The act of sending spam.
see also: email, spam

Sun Microsystems' name for their variant of the Unix operating system. Has risen since its appearance in the early '80s to become the world's most popular commercial flavour of Unix. Recent releases go by the name Solaris, so SunOS has come to refer to older versions (4.x and below).
see also: Solaris

The account which can "do anything"; generally reserved for system adminstrators. Under Unix, this account is called root.
see also: root

teaching & research:
Every machine on the SOCS computer network can be classified as belonging to one or the other of these two categories. Undergraduates are generally confined to the teaching system, whereas graduate students have access to one or the other or both, depending on their needs.

terminal (3151):
A monitor and keyboard connected to a server which allows you to work on it. Note that this is not a computer, but simply an interface to a computer that's not usually visible (assuming it's even located in the same building).

At SOCS, these are sometimes referred to as "3151"s because the particular type of terminals available are IBM 3151s.
see also: server, workstation

terminal emulator:
A program which emulates the protocol used by a dumb terminal to connect to a server. Common terminal emulators are vt100 and tn3270 terminal emulators.
see also: terminal, server, tn3270

This is an old protocol that is used to connect to remote IBM mainframes. It is currently in use by InfoMcGill (which is now also accessible via gopher) and the now-defunct musica and musicb services.

You can use various terminal emulators to connect to InfoMcGill via the tn3270 protocol, if you don't like gopher. You can get "HostExplorer" and other similar software from CC. Netscape's "Professional" version of their Communicator suite also features "Netscape IBM Host On-Demand", which has tn3270 emulation support. Under Unix, you can use tn3270 or x3270.
see also: terminal emulator, terminal, server, CC

Trojan horse:
By analogy with the famous story from the Iliad, a Trojan horse is a program which appears innocuous but has a more sinister function. For example, someone who had access to your account could change your environment such that when you typed 'ls' to get a list of files, it actually removed them, or copied them to a directory where that other user could access them.

UNIX (note capitalization) is a trademarked term that refers to the multi-user multi-tasking operating system developed in 1969 by Ken Thompson and co-authored by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs.

We use the term "Unix" (plural: Unices) to mean "UNIX or UNIX-like operating system" since there now exist many variations on the original UNIX. At SOCS, you may encounter these Unices: SunOS, Solaris, Linux, Irix, AIX, and Mach. Even Windows NT has Unix at its core (supposedly employing a Mach microkernel), but it is sufficiently removed from this origin to not warrant inclusion on this list. The upcoming Macintosh OS X uses a Mach kernel as well.
see also: Linux, SunOS, Solaris

It is not feasible for system staff to maintain all the software that is available. If you compile a program you downloaded off the net and it doesn't work, they won't usually try and figure out why. Some software that is installed on the computers is also designated unsupported. This means that although it is available, staff has decided not to provide any help with it.

The Uniform Resource Locator describes a standard scheme for describing resources on the Internet. Example resources are files, email addresses, and newsgroups.

URLs are characterized by a short acronym for the type of transfer protocol, followed by something which uniquely identifies the resource. In the case of webpages, for example, the transfer protocol is http and a sample identification specification would be "www.cs.mcgill.ca". Put together, this gives the URL "http://www.cs.mcgill.ca".

Standard supported schemes/protocols are ftp, http, gopher, wais, news, telnet, and email.


window manager:
This refers to the component of X which controls the look and feel of your windows' interface, as well as what kind of window manipulations are possible. Besides being able to choose from among many different window managers, most window managers are themselves extremely configurable, yielding even further flexibility. By analogy, a window manager is to X what a shell is to the command-line interface.
see also: X

A fast computer which sits on someone's desk. A workstation is the term most people use to distinguish between a Toy (something running Windows or worse) and a Computer. Originally used only for high-end Unix machines, it is now being applied to PCs as well.
see also: server, terminal

What You See Is What You Get -- typically, when referring to an editor, the text displayed is ready-formatted, rather than in raw typesetting language.

World-Wide Web:
The World-Wide Web (or simply Web or WWW) is not the Internet.

The Web employs the http protocol is nothing more than another distributed information retrieval system. It has, however, become the most popular such system in a relatively short time.

see also: (The) Internet, http

X, X11, or X11R6 is the short name for the the X Window System. The numbers following the "X" refer to release/version numbers. X is a windowing system for Unix which features portability, network-transparency, and componentization.
see also: window manager



Contents - Verbose - Glossary
Last modified: Wednesday, 06-Sep-2000 01:53:12 EDT

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