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So You Want To Be A UNIX Wizard? (The Loginataka)

March 15th, 2008

I first came across this dialogue several years ago, which I believe was originally written by Eric S. Raymond in 1993.

Speak, O Guru: How can I become a Unix Wizard?

O, Nobly Born: know that the Way to Wizardhood is long, and winding, and
Fraught with Risks. Thou must Attune thyself with the Source, attaining the
arcane Knowledge and Conversation of the System Libraries and Internals. Yea;
and such an all-consuming Time and Energy Sink is this as to greatly Imperil
thy Grade Point Average (if one thou hast), not to mention thy Sex Life (if one
thou hast). But persevere, oh Larval One; rewards beyond the Dreams of Lusers
await thee!

Speak, O Guru: What books should I study? Are the O’Reilly “Nutshell”
guides a good place to start?

O, Nobly Born: know that the Nutshell Guides are but the outermost Portal
of the True Enlightenment. Worthy are they (and praise to the Name of
O’Reilly, whose books show forth the Hacker Spirit in numerous pleasing ways),
but the Nutshell Guides are only the Beginning of the Road.

If thou desirest with True Desire to tread the Path of Wizardly Wisdom, first
learn the elementary Postures of Kernighan & Pike’s The Unix
Programming Environment
; then, absorb the mantic puissance of March
Rochkind’s Advanced Unix Programming and W. Richard
Stevens’s Advanced Programming In The Unix Environment.

Immerse thyself, then, in the Pure Light of Maurice J. Bach’s The
Design Of The Unix Operating System
. Neglect not the Berkelian
Way; study also The Design and Implementation Of The 4.4BSD Operating
System
by Kirk McKusick, Keith Bostic et. al.

For useful hints, tips, and tricks, see Unix Power Tools,
Tim O’Reilly, ed. Consider also the dark Wisdom to be gained from
contemplation of the dread Portable C And Unix Systems
Programming
, e’en though it hath flowed from the keyboard of the
mad and doomed Malvernite whom the world of unknowing Man misnames
“J. E. Lapin”.

These tomes shall instruct thy Left Brain in the Nature of the Unix System; to
Feed the other half of thy Head, O Nobly Born, embrace also the Lore of its
Nurture. Don Libes’s and Sandy Ressler’s Life With Unix

will set thy Feet unerringly upon that Path; take as thy Travelling Companion
the erratic but illuminating compendium called The New Hacker’s
Dictionary
(Eric S. Raymond, ed., with Guy L. Steele Jr.).

(In this wise shalt thou travel the Way of the Camel.)

Speak, O Guru: To attain Mastery, how many Kernels do I need to take apart
and reassemble?

O Nobly Born: this question reveals that indeed thou hast touched upon an
Ineffable Truth about Unix — that thou canst not Plumb its Mysteries by
mere Study but must become One with it through Practice. The true Way to the
Knowledge of the Source is not the timid and footling way of the Student,
but the Divine Foolery of the Hacker. Hack, then; strive against Mighty
Problems, have joy in thy Striving, and let the Crashes fall where they
may (maintaining the while, for the Good of thy Karma, a Rigorous Backup
Policy).

(In this wise shalt thou travel the Way of the Lion.)

In this day of Boot-Time Autoconfiguration and Dynamically Loadable Device
Drivers, reassembling a Kernel is no longer the daunting Test and Seal of
Mastery that once it was. However, writing and verifying thine own Device
Driver for some piece of Exotic Hardware is still a worthy challenge to thy
Budding Guruhood. Indeed, such Challenge may be found the Crafting of any
Program sufficiently Powerful to Extend or Compete with the Tools now
available in Open Source.

Therefore: seek thee out the Open Source Unixes: OpenBSD, FreeBSD,
NetBSD, and most Especially Linux in any of its Incarnations. Join
the Wizards and Aspirants to Wizardhood who Labor Unceasingly to
Improve these. Commune with them in their Great Work, their unceasing
Extension and Reinvention of Unix. In this wise may thou become one
among the Mighty.

Speak, O Guru: Some there are who claim that the sole Path to Wizardry and
the proper Way of every Right-Thinking Hacker is to rewrite the Unix Kernel
from Scratch. Is this not Sacrilege?

Sacrilege, O Nobly Born? Nay! Certainly the Kernel Source is the Inmost
Mystery of Unix — but there is a Mystery beyond that Mystery. The Nature
of Unix inhereth not in any one Version but in the Design Tradition of which
all Unixes are Evolving Parts.

The Rite of the Rewrite is not the only Path to Mastery, but it is perhaps
the highest and most Sacred of all Paths. Few indeed are those who, travelling
it, have crossed the dark and yawning Abyss of Implementation to Delivery.
Many, yea, many in truth stagnate yet in the Desert of Delay, or linger ever
in the ghastly limbo called Perpetual Beta.

Speak, O Guru: What, then, is the True Path to Wizardhood?

O Nobly Born: learn, and seek within thyself. Cultivate the cunning of
the Serpent and the courage of the Tiger; sup deeply from the Wisdom of
those who came before thee. Hack, and hack again; grow, by trial and by
error. Post thy best hacks to the Net and gain in Repute thereby. Also, O
Nobly Born, be thou grave and courteous in thy speech; be helpful to those
less than thee, quick to succour and slow to flame.

If thou dost these things faithfully, if thou travellest with high heart
and pure intention, soon shall thy callow Newbiehood be shed. By degrees
imperceptible to thyself shalt thou gain Power and Wisdom, Striving and
Doing all the while. Gradually shall thy Puissance unfold and deepen.

O Nobly Born, if thou dost all these things, thy Wizardhood shall surely come
upon thee; but not of a sudden, and not until after thy arrogant Mind hath
more than half Forgotten that such was its Aim. For know this — you may not
by thyself in Pride claim the Mantle of Wizardry; that way lies only Bogosity
without End.

Rather must you Become, and Become, and Become, until Hackers respect thy
Power, and other Wizards hail thee as a Brother or Sister in Wisdom, and you
wake up and realize that the Mantle hath lain unknown upon thy Shoulders since
you knew not when.

(In this wise shalt thou travel the Way of the Child.)

SHANTIH! SHANTIH! SHANTIH!

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