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Frequently Asked Questions about Linux

What Is Linux?

Linux is the operating system of choice for multiuser, multitasking, networked, and high-performance computer applications. At Dartmouth, Linux runs most of the machines that provide core services, and all of the Research Computing compute servers run Linux.

At Dartmouth, there are many flavors of Linux in use. Although they differ slightly in their command vocabulary and system administration procedures, they all share a high degree of similarity in structure and functionality, especially in areas of power, networking, flexibility, and multitasking. Below are some basic guidelines for using Linux at Dartmouth.

What Is a Safe Linux Password?

Your initial password and subsequent resets will be a combination of your Dartmouth ID number and a random set of characters that will be mailed to you. You should change your password to one of your own choosing as soon as you are able to log in, using the passwd command at the shell prompt.

Good passwords should be as random a sequence of characters as you can create and still remember. Some systems limit you to eight characters, but longer passwords are recommended.  Some systems may also vet your password and reject simple words.

  • Do not use your username or something closely related to it.
  • Do not use your birthday, Social Security Number, a pet's name, or other personal information that could easily be discovered by others.
  • Do not use a word in the dictionary.
  • Do use a mixture of letters, numbers, and punctuation, and upper- and lower-case characters.

The recommended method of selecting a password is to think of a phrase that has some meaning to you, then use initial letters or numbers from the phrase. You can remember a password phrase more easily than a random sequence. For example, Raindrops and Roses and Whiskers on kittens: R&RaWok.

In the event of a problem please send e-mail to

How Do I Connect from My Windows Machine to a Linux Server?

You can connect from a PC to a Linux machine in one of two ways, depending on what you want to accomplish, what services are available on the remote host, and whether you require graphics to be displayed. You can use a text-only connection (also referred to as a command line, or terminal interface) or a graphical (X-windows) connection.

Command Line Connection

SSH secure shell is used to connect to Research Computing systems for command line connections. All communication with the remote host is encrypted with a very secure algorithm based on public key cryptography. The advantage to this is that network traffic can pass through an untrusted channel without danger of being decoded.

Graphical Connection

For X-Windows (graphical) access, the user must run a program called an X Server on their desktop computer, which interprets and displays the graphical output of programs running on the remote UNIX system. The X Server can initiate programs using the mechanisms of command line logins.  X-Windows connections can be "tunneled" through an encrypted channel if used in conjunction with SSH, providing a completely secure graphical connection.

How Do I Connect from My Macintosh to a Linux Server?

Command Line Interface

To connect to a Linux computer from a Mac OS X computer using a command line interface, start up the Terminal  program that is in the Application -> Utilities folder, then issue the command ssh or sftp. For example: ssh to connect from your Mac to the central machine "polaris"

Graphical X-Windows (X11) Interface

Install the XQuartz X11 server on your Macintosh.  Start up the Terminal program and issue the command ssh with the -X option, For example:

ssh -X

How Do I Connect to a Linux Server from an Off-campus Location?

1- You need an ssh-client for Windows, Mac or Linux (see above)

2 - It is strongly suggested that you use a VPN connection. Point your browser to and follow directions. Once you have a VPN connection, establish a connection to the server using ssh

Where Do I Store My Data?

Researchers have access to RStor for data storage. See RStor - Data Storage for Researchers.

How Do I Restore My Linux Data or Files?

 To restore your data or files, e-mail

Last Updated: 2/28/14