Coding basics

2 minute read



man is an essential command found on Unix-like systems. Short for manual, man offers access to reference documentation (known as the manpage) for every command on the system. For example, man ls shows the manpage for the ls command. Yes, man man shows the manpage for the man command itself.

*nix culture

In some ways, manpages are our first encounter with the hard edge of *nix culture. It’s a culture which may look obtuse at first, but rewards a willingness to learn to fish. manpages are the ultimate reference document and reward investment, however tempting it may seem to search the Internet to find answers.


A pager is a program that displays text in the terminal in a user-friendly way, offering facilities such as scrolling and search.


Pagers are designed to work in a static terminal screen (remember terminals used to be physical screens). To understand more, read the terminal section above. When editing text in the terminal, don’t make the mistake of scrolling with the scrollbar or mouse wheel.


less is probably the most common pager out there, first written in 1985 and still going strong. As per its man page:

Commands are based on both more and vi.

more is an even older pager, and vi is the precursor to vim (see the section on editors). So learning less commands is a pretty good way to get used to some common terminal programs.

A simple way to try less is to type man ls at the shell prompt. As mentioned above, this opens the manpage for ls. manpages generally open in the less pager.

The most useful commands are:

  • space - page forward
  • q - quit
  • h - help, the command that you can use to learn all the others

Note that many commands have several options, a consequence of decades of development, absorbing many cultures. Also, on modern systems, the PgUp and PgDown keys operate as expected, even though a real guru doesn’t want to leave the main keyboard. ;)


A good editor is the core of every coder’s toolchain. For most of history, Vim and Emacs have been the obvious choices. As coding has become friendlier, other contenders have entered the fray. Vim and Emacs are still the big guns, but learning and customizing them is a long, if rewarding, journey.


According to the folks at GitHub who wrote it, Atom is designed to be:

hackable to the core, but approachable on the first day

This makes it suitable for beginners, but powerful enough to last the course. Due to that, its open-source nature, and its strong community, I recommend Atom for most beginners. I personally use Vim with a custom configuration, and would recommend that for the brave.

Useful packages

Many people have written packages to extend Atom’s functionality. I recommend installing some from the start, to make the landing as soft as possible. The following list is derived from this rather long list of awesome packages.

If you try to install a package that requires dependencies, Atom will ask you if you want to install the dependencies. Say yes.

Once you’ve installed a package, you can tweak its settings in the Package menu.