Is the Linux philosophy still relevant in 2019?

Take our poll and share your opinion on whether the Linux philosophy still holds sway today.
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In August 2018, I published The Linux Philosophy for SysAdmins. It seems to be selling fairly well, and I started thinking about whether the original Linux philosophy (or my own version of it for system administrators) is still relevant.

In Chapter 1, I said:

"The Unix Philosophy is an important part of what makes Unix unique and powerful. Much has been written about the Unix Philosophy. And the Linux philosophy is essentially the same as the Unix philosophy because of its direct line of descent from Unix.

"The original Unix Philosophy was intended primarily for the system developers. In fact, the developers of Unix, led by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, designed Unix in a way that made sense to them, creating rules, guidelines, and procedural methods, then designing them into the structure of the operating system. That worked well for system developers and that also—partly, at least—worked for SysAdmins (System Administrators). That collection of guidance from the originators of the Unix operating system was codified in the excellent book, The Unix Philosophy, by Mike Gancarz, and then later updated by Mr. Gancarz as Linux and the Unix Philosophy.

"Another fine book, The Art of Unix Programming, by Eric S. Raymond, provides the author's philosophical view of programming in a Unix environment. It is also somewhat of a history of the development of Unix as it was experienced and recalled by the author. This book is also available in its entirety at no charge on the Internet."

The philosophy outlined in these books was critical to the original design of Unix and its modern descendant, Linux. That groundbreaking design and its creative implementation made it possible for us to have the amazing open source operating system we have today. Without the concept of data streams, the use of pipes to modify and transform those data streams, the idea that "everything is a file," and so much more, we would be reduced to struggling with a command line even less powerful than the old IBM or MS-DOS. Even DOS used pipes but never provided powerful utilities like the GNU Core Utilities that we take for granted today and give us access to the most basic of system functions.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that many Linux users and sysadmins have never even heard about the Linux philosophy. So I started wondering whether the Linux philosophy, in whatever form you like it, is still relevant. I decided to ask you what you think.

Is the Linux philosophy still relevant in 2019?

I'm also interested in hearing what else you think about the Linux philosophy's relevance in 2019. Please share your feedback in the comments below.

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David Both is an Open Source Software and GNU/Linux advocate, trainer, writer, and speaker who lives in Raleigh North Carolina. He is a strong proponent of and evangelist for the "Linux Philosophy."

4 Comments

To be of any practical use, I think you have to read and comprehend the philosophy, then transform that into an attitude you can use. I dusted off my copy of The Art of Unix Programming and went over the various explanations of it by Eric. I didn't find anything I would now argue with, but I also didn't find anything I would turn into a poster with gold lettering.

Mr. Raymond's take on the UNIX philosophy has shaped and continues to shape my outlook on technology both as a coder and as a person. I don't see it as being limited only to UNIX/Linux et al, but to the entire concept of building things and sharing those things. The K&R C Bible opens the door into the minds of the UNIX patriarchs even further, while providing a singular example of how the philosophy is manifest in linkage between the human and the machine. I think if we can each put on our rose-colored UNIX glasses long enough to begin to recognize the patterns not just in functions and subroutines, but in open culture everywhere it's found today, we might find that those old UNIX geeks can still teach us a thing or two about how to live better with each other.

Of course it is still relevant, now more than ever. Just word `program` has evolved into `micro-service`.

> Write service that do one thing and do it well.
> Write service to work together.
> Write service to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

I don't even know what the Unix / Linux philosophy IS!?...LoL! Unless its the common belief that software should be free to the public, that a programmer should write one program to do something and to so it well (that is..to make it efficient, and concise and not a long drawn out "spaghetti code" that meanders all over the place!) and to make it secure (The "Million Eyes" concept) If that is what the philosophy is? then yes...its even more relevant today more than ever in this world of lawsuits and all manner of "intellectual property" floating all over the Internet.

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