Difference Between Linux and UNIX

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What is the difference between Linux and UNIX operating systems?

UNIX is a copyrighted name, and only big companies are allowed to use the UNIX copyright and name. For example, Apple macOS, IBM AIX, and Sun/Oracle Solaris and HP-UX all are UNIX operating systems. The Open Group holds the UNIX trademark in trust for the industry and manages the UNIX trademark licensing program. Let us see difference between Linux and UNIX OS in this quick tutorial.


Difference Between Linux and UNIX

Most UNIX systems are commercial in nature. You need to pay for support, software, training, and more. On the other hand, the Linux kernel is free to download and install on your systems free of cost.

Linux is a UNIX Clone

But if you consider Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX) standards, then Linux can be considered as UNIX. To quote from Official Linux kernel README file:

Linux is a Unix clone written from scratch by Linus Torvalds with assistance from a loosely-knit team of hackers across the Net. It aims towards POSIX compliance.

However, “Open Group” does not approve of the construction “Unix-like” and considers it a misuse of their UNIX trademark.

Linux is just a kernel

Linux is just a kernel. All Linux distributions includes GUI system + GNU utilities (such as cp, mv, ls,date, bash and more) + installation management tools + GNU c/c++ compilers + Editors (vi/ed/nano) + and various applications (such as OpenOffice, Firefox). However, most UNIX operating systems are considered as a complete operating system as everything come from a single source or vendor.

As I said earlier, Linux is just a kernel, and Linux distribution makes it complete usable operating systems by adding various applications. Most UNIX operating systems come with A-Z programs such as editor, compilers, and more. For example, HP-UX or Solaris comes with A-Z programs.

BSD family of operating systems

No discussion related to Unix is ever completed without discussing a free version of Unix. Typically all BSD family of operating systems are available free of cost and try to as close as possible to original Unix concepts. BSD family of operating systems based on BSD, the version of UNIX developed at the University of California, Berkeley. We have several operating systems that are based on BSD, including FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, MidnightBSD, Darwin, and DragonFly BSD. Like Unix operating systems, the BSD family of an operating system typically comes with all required applications from a single project. An additional app/software can be installed using ports or binary package system.

License and cost

Linux is Free (as in beer [freedom]). You can download it from the Internet or redistribute it under GNU licenses. You will see the best community support for Linux. Most certified UNIX like operating systems are not free (but this is changing fast, for example, OpenSolaris UNIX). However, some Linux distributions such as Redhat (RHEL) / Novell (SUSE) provides additional Linux support, consultancy, bug fixing, and training for additional fees.


Linux is considered as most user friendly UNIX-like operating systems. It makes it easy to install sound card, flash players, and other desktop goodies. However, macOS (Apple OS X) is most popular UNIX operating system for desktop and laptop users.

Security Firewall Software

Linux comes with open source netfilter/iptables/nftables based firewall tool to protect your server and desktop from the crackers and hackers. UNIX operating systems comes with its own firewall product (for example Solaris UNIX comes with ipfilter based firewall) or you need to purchase a 3rd party software such as Checkpoint UNIX firewall.

Backup and Recovery Software

UNIX and Linux comes with different set of tools for backing up data to tape and other backup media. However, both of them share some common tools such as tar, dump/restore, cpio and more.

File Systems

  • Linux by default supports and use ext3 or ext4 file systems.
  • UNIX comes with various file systems such as jfs, gpfs (AIX), jfs, gpfs (HP-UX), jfs, gpfs (Solaris), zfs and more.

System Administration Tools

  1. UNIX comes with its own tools such as SAM on HP-UX or smitty on IBM AIX.
  2. SUSE Linux comes with Yast/Yast2
  3. Red hat Linux comes with its own gui tools called redhat-config-*.

However, editing text config file and typing commands are most popular options for sysadmin work under Linux and Unix-like systems.

System Startup Scripts

Almost every version of UNIX and Linux comes with system initialization script but they are located in different directories:

  1. HP-UX – /sbin/init.d
  2. AIX – /etc/rc.d/init.d
  3. Linux – /etc/init.d. However, newer system uses systemd instead of /etc/init.d/ based script.

End User Perspective

The differences are not that big for the average end-user. They will use the same shell (e.g., BASH or KSH), text editors such as vim, and other development tools such as Perl, PHP, Python 3.x or Eclipse development tool.

System Administrator Perspective

Again, the differences are not that big for the system administrator. However, you may notice various differences while performing the following operations:

  1. Software installation procedure
  2. Hardware device names
  3. Various admin commands or utilities
  4. Software RAID devices and mirroring
  5. Logical volume management
  6. Package management
  7. Patch management

UNIX Operating System Names

A few popular names:

  1. HP-UX
  2. IBM AIX
  3. Sun Solaris (now Oracle Solaris)
  4. Apple Mac OS X (now macOS)
  5. IRIX

Linux Distribution (Operating System) Names

A few popular names:

  1. Red hat Enterprise Linux
  2. Fedora Linux
  3. Debian Linux
  4. Suse Enterprise Linux
  5. Ubuntu Linux
  6. Arch Linux
  7. Gentoo Linux

Common Things Between Linux and UNIX

Both share many common applications such as:

  1. GUI, file, and windows managers (KDE, Gnome)
  2. Shells (ksh, csh/tcsh, bash)
  3. Various office applications such as OpenOffice.org/libreoffice.org, and more
  4. Development tools (perl, php, python, ruby, GNU c/c++ compilers)
  5. Posix interface

A Sample UNIX Desktop Screenshot

UNIX Desktop - IRIX 6.5 Desktop
Fig.01: UNIX Desktop - IRIX 6.5 Desktop

A Sample Linux Desktop Screenshot

Linux KDE desktop environment
Fig.02: Linux KDE desktop environment

UNIX and Linux Hardware

Commercial UNIX hardware has more advanced initial boot options such as:

  • Decide how to boot
  • Check system health
  • Set hardware parameters
  • Hard disk encrption and security

The BIOS that is standard in PCs which is used by Linux has few, of these features. UNIX hardware or servers are pretty expensive as compare to Linux server systems.

Unix Vs. Linux: Whatís the Difference?

CostFreeDifferent versions of Unix have varying costs/pricing, according to vendors.
Licensing modelGPL (open source)Proprietary
Viruses/MalwareLimited amount of virus/malware existsAgain, a limited amount of virus/malware exists.
Architectures supportARM, x86/x64, Power, Sparc and 100+ architecturesARM, x86/x64, Sparc, Power, and others.
File systems supportext{2,3,4}, zfs, xfs, btrfs, FAT32, NTFS and moreUFS, zfs, APFS, JFS and more.
Source codeAvailable to anyone to download, edit, and redistribute source code under GPL and other approved open source licenses.Proprietary and closed source code, and you cannot redistribute it.
Sysadmin toolsYast (SUSE), redhat-config-* and editing config filesSAM on HP-UX, smitty on IBM AIX and other GUI based tools
GUI/desktop examplesGTK-based (GNOME, Xfce and others), QT-based (KDE Plasma, Lumina, LXQt and others)Motif-based (CDE, VUE and others), Aqua (macOS)
Default shellbashksh, csh or zsh
OS ExamplesCentOS, RHEL, Fedora, Arch, OpenSUSE, SUSE, Chrome OS, Android, and 100+ other distrosmacOS, Solaris, HP-UX, IBM AIX, SunOS and others


Following documents or URL should help anyone to get more idea:

(Image credit IRIX and KDE wikipedia articles)


Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

Start the discussion at www.nixcraft.com

Historical Comment Archive

313 comment

          1. The given information was clear to understand but i think today only you known Linux & UNIX thats y its not understandable for u.

    1. That still doesn’t help the bimbo recruiter from the big investment bank on the phone “Sir, Sir my managers are very specific they want Unix type people-SIR, Sir I don’t think they want a Red Hat”

  1. Linux is Free (as in beer [freedom])
    shouldn’t it be
    Linux is Free (as in spreech [freedom])
    Linux is Free (as in beer [price])?

  2. Yes, you are absolutely correct. Free as in free beer means free of charge. Free as in speech indicates freedom to use, modify and redistribute as you wish, (freedom).

  3. Unix and linux both are multiuser operating system. Unix operating based on CUI(Character User Interface) and does not support pointing device, where as in linux opearating system; adding new features XWindows in Unix operating system and it is based on GUI(Graphical User Interface) i.e., it is like as DOS and Windows

            1. Linux has both CLI and GUI (via X window start it by cmd # startx) from cli;
              On the Other hand Unix is purely CLI, however many distribution has the GUI feature now. BSd unix for exmpl.

              1. I’m not sure where so much misinformation is coming from, but this bit about GUI vs CUI is just bunk. The X Window System including its use of mouse (“pointing device”) was developed on real UNIX systems 3/4 of a decade (1984 vs 1991) before Linux was even invented. All modern Unix systems support GUI as well as CLI interfaces, and have since before most of you were born. Please check on Wikipedia before blindly repeating false information.

      1. linux is GUI (graphical user intterface) and unix is CUI (charector user interface ) thats why it does not support pointing device…….

    1. linux and unix ar standard cli. they both can run almost the same software, so the both suport gui. mac os is unix and has gui suport. most linux distributions have the possibility to use a bsd (=unix) kernel with the same gui you use with the linux kernel.

    1. Both share many common applications such as:

      GUI, file, and windows managers (KDE, Gnome)
      Shells (ksh, csh, bash)
      Various office applications such as OpenOffice.org
      Development tools (perl, php, python, GNU c/c++ compilers)
      Posix interface

    2. linux is open source and unix is cloused source os it mean linux r freely available user can upgrade or invent commands n so many things r did but as per unix it leaglly perchase……there is no doubt that linux is clone of unix if u r able to handle linux so u must hv well handled unix also….if u have cartain doubt then mail me swati

      1. Hi vikram

        1. if i learn linux, then can i handle all the things in unix
        2. I installed ubuntu, can i install unix as well for learning purpose,

  4. Great!!!

    I gained some valuable knowledge here!!!
    But still confused about the origin of these two!!!

    I m new to linux using Ubuntu 9.10 >>>
    Pls give me some tricks and tips for my Os…

  5. I con’t understand difference between unix and linux why because two operating systems are gui are not?

  6. Thank you very much :) :) Vivek :)
    I have started off with UNIX and i wanted to know the differences b/w UNIX and LINUX , so this post was a nice knowledge for me :) :) :)

  7. Thanks, dude…!
    Needed the info as I’ve just syarted studying these issues…!
    Thanks again. :)

  8. information provides good but if the difference is given diagramaticly it will be more helpfull.

    thank ‘s.
    from N.W.I.E.T.(Dhudike)

        1. me too i m thinking the same tought.. on thing i want to get confirmed these are the OS’s MS, Mac, Apple, Linux. thats it i know. so wether UNIX And LINUX are same or different OS’s.

  9. Unix and linux both operating system is based in the multiuser/multing environment. and kernal
    based operating system. unix only suport the CUI but linux suport both CUI & GUI.
    basicaly this operating system is used in the network environment. it is very use full for security point of view.

  10. Hi Vivek Gite,

    The Explanations about Group of OSs are under Unix and Linux is very useful for me. I have get good ideas about that. Thanks lot.

    Regards, Deva

  11. 1-unix is CUI whereas linux is GUI
    2-unix has pointer device linux dnthav
    3-unix is property software where as linux is open source
    4-unix is more secure than linux
    5-keranel of unix is in enhace in linux

  12. its intersting and knowlegable !!! but how they r originated !!!! and if linux is 4 free than wat is the beneifit of the company and linux is authorised or not ????

    1. this is also a question that has to be raised… more over Linux LTS is for some 18 months to 3 yrs. what about after that. do we need to purchase Original OS Disks or any improvements.

      1. Linux LTS is supported for 18 months but you can use it indefinitely(or until the os becomes corrupt) which means no updates for software through internet

  13. It was interesting and useful info. should have more diff. about kernal will be better.

  14. thanx……….. a lot 4 this info

    can u plz send me some scripting tips and related commands

    I need it

  15. Thanks for this information , it is really good and very nice concept and easy to understand.

    1. Many Linux distributions can understand a variety of Unix commands, the commands and the command-line shells are for the most part cross compatible.

  16. linux is a best of the opreting system
    linux most impartent in system engineering


    1. # yum install {package or application name}
      note:ur comp. r must hv in network and ya u can install media player n play a song throughout command also….

  18. This is the most informative and interesting material I have ever seen on the differences btw Linux and Unix.I was not bored one sec.Thumbs up!!!

  19. UNIX is CUI……….But CUI means not character user interface………CUI means command user interface……….Unix is developed on C-language and C is a CUI which is Character user interface(CUI)…….so so many of us think that UNIX also Character user interface but its wrong……..UNIX is Command user interface……….

  20. Hi all,
    I am little in dilemma condition.I want to do certification in unix……..and i dont know which course is good for me and which is good LINUX or UNIX.please guide me and mail me on eshangupta22@gmail.com..

    Thanks in Advance

  21. how to install solaris drivers in vmware workstation(x86)..?
    and where these drivers are available plz gve me any one url
    plz help i fece the problem so many days

    1. Kernel is the main component of most computer operating systems; it is a bridge between applications and the actual data processing done at the hardware level.

      The kernel’s responsibilities include managing the system’s resources (the communication between hardware and software components).

  22. The OS has basically 2 parts 1.Kernel 2.Shell ….. Kernel is the part which deals with the system resources and hardware and shell is the part which deals with the application software. Whenever any OS is designed first its Kernel is designed.The same had happened in case of Linux

  23. Woah… thanks… this info is fueling my knowledge for explaining the real and indepth differences between Macs and Windows… God bless you sir ;)

  24. hi friends i hv completed my linux course, plz send which books is good to do redhat certification ,if u hv dumps plz send it my mail id

  25. Wow…this is a load of FUD about UNIX. It has nothing to do with ONLY big companies.

    Instead UNIX is a trademark that signifies that the OS using it has passed specific tests and conforms the defined UNIX specification to handle interoperability. This is like POSIX which is also administered by The Open Group joinly with IEEE.

    Any OS can become UNIX-certified if the vendor chooses to try and can meet the standard. As far as I know, no Linux vendor (i.e. RedHat) has tried.

  26. Can someone explain what “A-Z programs” are? If you google, the sentence
    “Most UNIX operating systems comes with A-Z programs such as editor, compilers etc.”
    is repeated verbatim all over the place, with no explanation. The next sentence won’t clarify much, either:
    “For example HP-UX or Solaris comes with A-Z programs.”

    1. Unix comes with all sort of utilities and command bundled from a single vendor such as IBM, HP, SUN/Oracle and so on. The single vendor provides you updates, patches, commands, installer, and management utilities (source #1).

      On other hand, Linux installs userland tools from GNU project (source #1). The installer scripts and management tools are often written by distro maintainers (source #2). Third party apps need to be downloaded and install as required (source #3). Also, you need to add additional repos to install binary software (such as EPEL or debian multimedia source #4).

      Hope this helps!

  27. It is interesting comparing screen shots of a bland Unix desktop compared to a nicely laid out Linux version. The Mac OS X is Unix certified and clearly has a very elegant and polished User Interface. The comparison between screen shots here implies that Linux desktops are more professional looking. In general that may be true, but not when comparing to the Mac. Being a Mac guy… just had to point that out.

  28. Dude this article is huge, Thanks for the comparison bus isn’t ubuntu debian based?
    If I were you I would have listed the main Linux distributions only :)

  29. Its easy to understand. But all company designs based on LINUX OS or UNIX.. If anyone. Than why not other one?

  30. Thanks ,it enhanced my basic knowledge! Nice informatiön
    Really very helpful information.

  31. I Can has Lunix for free.
    Also question. What is difference Email and Lunix ?
    I Can has Microsoft Office words on Lunix?

  32. its not as according to us………….but good source of information about linux and unix.
    but does not able to differentiate b/w these o.s properly

  33. it is good to have ,,, such operating system…..linux is totally based on unix os … or we can say it’s xerox of unix .
    y i love unix OS ?
    =coz it come with fully loaded software .. Eg-(perl, php, python, GNU c/c++ compilers)
    which is important for us ,,,,,,,,,,,,

  34. Hello,
    The above given informatiom is very good.This type of informatiom very helpfull of Us.
    thank you very much behalf of ME.


  36. so we can use UNIX as a tool to develop OS like LINUS..is my opinion correct…if not pls help me in clarifying my confusion..

  37. Hi,

    I like to install Sun Solaris operating system in Laptop, for installing solaris OS, is there any PC configuration should be required or am using windows 7, i can install solaris OS using VM ware software?

    Any one can guide me?


  38. Guys for real i appreaciate what your doing.i love being network admin but i was little confused on the difference btn Linus &Unix its solved……

  39. So, Linux differs from UNIX by:
    -being operatable on PC’s
    -open source and therefore free

    UNIX obviously :
    – runs on mainframe computers only
    – and must be legally purchased as it is closed source

    is this corect?

  40. Quite frankly, you deserve an Oscar for this piece of information.
    I found it to be extremely educationa…. Great work and Thank you

  41. Thank you so much, i got the information about the difference between unix and linux.I am very happy about your website.

  42. so..linux and unix is a same thing? both compatible in a laptop or in cpu? means..when i want to change os from windows to ubuntu, i just uninstall windows or can the two os work together?

  43. we can say linux as a flavor of unix.
    unix has its different versions for different companies

    1. for example,
      IBM — AIX, HP — HP-UX, Sun — Solaris.
      same is for linux also…linux can available free to use but unix is not …
      different versions of linux has numbers of same applications but in unix different applications for different versions…

      thnks to all …its very good work …….keep it (y).!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. Your mention of linux only supporting 2 file systems is inaccurate. There are a wide variety of file systems besides those two.

  45. Hello,

    This is Hamid from Egypt, I am so interested to learn Unix. I found out that most of people in my country are tide up to Windows while I’ve had a quick look at Unix and I liked it so much. I am not asking you for any thing just to guide me to the right and true way to get the whole thing about it. Please tell me what to do to get it .

    With kindness always,
    Hamid Kamel

  46. i got more knowledge about this linux & unix this explanation helps me a lot for my future and also the reply of peoples explanation is also good .still provide me more about linux and unix

  47. Its a Good Explanation , Appriciating for the same.
    Adding few terms , Linux is not the same OS as compare to UNIX OS , it is developed the way it Actually looks like UNIX , in a Era , UNIX is being used in Telecommunication based Servers like Sun-Solaries Netra V440/v890/M3000/X4170 (All are Solaries based Unix OS) , Installed the Application on this Servers.

  48. Whenever i am searching about basics of unix, every other search comes up with basics of linux.
    is it because both of the are similar at base level? or am i missing something? since i have just started learning about unix, i am a bit confused whether leaning about one makes you understand the other then?

  49. Article is seriously flawed by omitting discussion of modern Unix-derived open-source systems such as OpenBSD (the guys who gave you OpenSSH, the PF firewall and other innovations), FreeBSD and NetBSD, all derived from Berkeley Unix, a version developed at UC Berkeley in the late 1970’s.

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