Tips & Tricks

Here are some handy tips and tricks that can make working with Linux - especially on the command line - that little bit easier.

Special keys

Typing long file or directory names is annoying, but luckily there’s an easier way. You only need to type part of a name and then hit the TAB key – the Bash shell will autocomplete the rest of it for you. You can also use HOME to jump the cursor to the start of a line, and END to jump to the end of a line.

History

The UP and DOWN arrow keys can be used to scroll backwards and forwards through recently entered commands. Resubmit a command by hitting ENTER, or even edit and then resubmit – this is great for when you’ve mistyped a long path and need to try again without having to retype everything.

You can also use the history command to display a recent history of everything you’ve typed:

$ history
1  cd /
2  ll
3  cd /mnt
4  ls -l
5  pwd

If you see an entry you want to re-run, use ! (called bang in the Linux world), followed by the number of the command as shown by history, eg !5. You can use !! on its own to instantly repeat the previous command.

Clearing the screen

If you want to clear the screen of all text and move the cursor back to the top of your view, you can use the clear command. But if even that sounds like too much to type, CTRL+L will do it too.

Running multiple commands

If you want to run a bunch of commands one after another, but don’t want to wait on each one finishing first, then you could write (and run) a script containing all of the commands. But that’s a lot of work for just a few commands, which can just as easily be run this way:

$ make; make install;

You can also string two commands together with the && operator, which ensures that the command following && only runs if the one before it succeeded, such as:

$ make && make install

Following log files

While head and tail can be used to look at the top or bottom of a file respectively, you can also use tail to follow along with a log file as it’s being created. This is great for watching the output of a program as it runs, for example:

$ tail -f logfile.txt

You can finish watching with a CTRL+C.

Interactive programming and data analysis using a JupyterLab server

JupyterLab is the next-generation web-based user interface for Project Jupyter. It allows you to work with documents such as Jupyter notebooks, python scripts, text editors, terminals, etc through a flexible, integrated, web front end. This is particularly useful if you want to do interactive coding on a cluster node rather than locally, functioning like an IDE with plugins for a range of languages. Most of the time you won’t need to do this; coding can be done locally and then run on the cluster when ready, however for some use-cases (e.g. deep learning model development) interactive development on significant hardware is particualrly important.

In order to run JupyterLab on a cluster node, first build a conda environment with jupyterlab installed, connect to a cluster node, and activate the conda environment:

$ conda create --name jupyterlab jupyterlab
$ srsh
$ conda activate jupyterlab

Running jupyterlab is straight-forward, however in order to allow a connect from our local web browser to the server on the cluster node we will need to route things through an SSH tunnel. For that, we will need to know the port that we want to access. We don’t have to specify this when running the server (the default is port 8888), however it can be specified with --port if required. We need to specify the -ip 0.0.0.0 switch to allow JupyterLab to accept connections from other locations, and we want to tell it not to try to spawn a browser of its own with --no-browser:

$ jupyter-lab --no-browser --ip 0.0.0.0

This will produce a few lines of output while it starts up, then ultimately provide you with something similar to:

Or copy and paste one of these URLs:
http://n19-32-192-hela.hpc.hutton.ac.uk:8888/?token=c4fc5b7c965fd5cc9940fcaed065d822483c6015c947a9cc
or http://127.0.0.1:8888/?token=c4fc5b7c965fd5cc9940fcaed065d822483c6015c947a9cc

This then gives us the URL we will point our browser to - http://127.0.0.1:8888/?token=c4fc5b7c965fd5cc9940fcaed065d822483c6015c947a9cc in this case - but it’ll be different each time you start jupyterlab.

First though, we need to route our browser through an SSH tunnel for this port. To do that, in a local terminal (not on the cluster) we need to log into the cluster and enable port listening on the right port and pointing to the right host (in this example it was hela):

$ ssh -L8888:hela:8888 username@gruffalo.cropdiversity.ac.uk

Now all we need to do is paste the URL (http://127.0.0.1:8888/?token=c4fc5b7c965fd5cc9940fcaed065d822483c6015c947a9cc) into our browser, and away we go!