The origin of the names of some Unix commands

Knowing the history of the origin of things and their names, whether it be a simple pencil, a car or an operating system team, makes their everyday use much more interesting. In this article, I tried to figure out the reasons for the seemingly strange name of some programs used in the Unix operating system and its relatives: * BSD, Solaris, HP-UX, Linux, etc.

Reprint of my article , written, in turn, based on the page What does {some strange unix command name} stand for?


Aho, Weinberger, Kerninghan
First letters of the names of the language developers, employees of the Center for Computer Research at Bell Labs: Alfred Aho (research director at this center from 1963 to 1991 and from 1997 to 2002, now professor at Columbia University in New York), Peter Weinberger (in 1985, his stylized portrait became a kind of meme for the Bell Labs research center) and Brian Kernigan (best known as a co-author of one of the first books about the C language)


Global regular expression print
According to one version, the name “grep” comes from the editor’s command ed to print all lines matching the regular expression (regular expression, re): g/re/p


Fixed grep
The command fgrep searches for given fixed lines in files; a list of these lines can be read from another file. “F” means “fixed”. It is a common misconception that “f” means “fast”. This is not so: it fgrep can work more slowly egrep , however, its use can give an advantage when searching for more fixed substrings than it egrep can handle.


Extended grep
The command egrep uses more powerful regular expressions than grep , and is also the fastest of the three grep , fgrep and egrep .


“Catenate,” a vague word meaning “connect in sequence,” that is, what the command cat does with one or more files. There is no connection with the abbreviation C / A / T (Computer Aided Typesetter, computer layout system, a very common abbreviation in the West).

nroff, troff

new roff, typesetter new roff roff
text formatting system is one of the central parts of any Unix system. It is thanks to her that the man documentation is being prepared for display on the screen. Actually, the evolution of Unix is ​​inextricably linked with the development of this program. Its first version, called RUNOFF, was written for CTSS (the first operating system to share computer time) in the 60s by Jerome Saltzer , then was rewritten for Multics from CTSS assembler to BCPL, a little later - to PL / I. In the 70s, its capabilities ceased to meet the increased needs of users, so the functionality of runoff, already ported to the first Unix, was significantly expanded by Joseph Osanna, and the name was reduced to roff. After that, Brian Kernigan ported it from the PDP-11 assembler to C and in 1976 released the first version of the Troff User's Manual specification . Thus roff acquired a classic look, which has remained largely unchanged to this day.

The name “runoff” itself comes from the typographic term “run off” - “print run”.


The name of the team tee comes from the term "tee" - T-pipe joint. This program copies its standard input to the specified file and to the terminal to the user, which is very similar to the behavior of the stream when passing through such a joint.


The biff program was used in BSD systems to urgently alert a user who worked in the console of incoming mail. The official version of the origin of the name is Eric Cooper :
Могу рассказать о происхождении названия biff, если интересно. Бифф был собакой Хейди Стетнер, когда Хейди, я и Билл Джой (один из отцов BSD и сооснователь Sun Microsystems) были студентами в Беркли и ранние версии BSD еще разрабатывались. Бифф был весьма популярен среди обитателей Эванс Холла и прославился тем, что лаял на почтальона, отсюда и название команды

According to Peter Salus’s book “25 Years of UNIX,” released in 1994, the dog Biff really existed and gave his name to the program, but he did not bark at the postman: Heidi claimed that it was a vile slander. Biff was a very friendly dog ​​and loved to chase balls down the hallways of the hostel. Together with Heidi, he attended classes and once even received a “B” mark there; his portrait hung on a notice board explaining that he was working on a dog’s dissertation. Biff died in 1993 at the age of 15.


The combination “rc” used in the names of some files and directories (~ / .bashrc or /etc/rc.d) comes from the name of the RUNCOM program from the aforementioned CTSS system. This program ran the programs listed in the file; and such a file was also called runcom, abbreviated as “rc”.

Subsequently, many modern shells came from RUNCOM. In particular, the shell in Plan 9 was called - rc .


Bourne Again Shell
A pun based on the similarities in the sound of “Bourne” (surname of the author of the shell sh Stephen Bourne) and “born” (born). The phrase “born again” (born again, revived), in turn, is also religiously motivated: in many Protestant denominations the concept of spiritual rebirth is the key, and in Orthodoxy and Catholicism the second, spiritual, birth (better known as baptism) plays not the last role. This phrase was heard thanks to a variety of American Protestant movements and was constantly used in place and out of place. In particular, this was the name of the book of one of the defendants in the Watergate scandal, Charles Coulson, released in 1975.


Quote from an excellent DD article : a command that is not like the others :
Команда dd практически ровесник ОС Юникс. Днем рождения последней считается 1 января 1970, и точно известно, что уже в 1970 году утилита dd работала с ленточными накопителями, при помощи которых данные переносили с одной ЭВМ на другую, а также запускали и устанавливали ОС Юникс на популярные тогда мини-ЭВМ PDP/11.

Расшифровка названия команды тоже относится к этим давно ушедшим временам. В языке IBM System/360 JCL был оператор DD «Dataset Definition» (Определение набора данных), имя которого и получила вновь созданная команда.

Расшифровок приходилось встречать много, в частности в рунете популярна расшифровка Disk Dump (не то разгрузка, не то загрузка диска) — версия слабая, так как в описываемые времена ни дисков, ни дампов (что бы под ними не понимали) еще не было. Гораздо ближе к сути команды шутливые расшифровки: «data destroyer» или «delete data», что можно перевести как «Доконай Диск» или «Добей Данные», потому что при неправильном использовании команды раздел или выходной файл мгновенно превращаются в хлам.


The shortest unambiguous abbreviation for the command to switch to visual mode ( :visual ) in the line editor ex (the command :v executes a certain command for lines that do not match the specified pattern)


Vi IMproved
Superior vi.


Derived from "a patchy server" - in the early stages of development apache was a set of patches for NCSA HTTPd 1.3


Squid FAQ :
Жалоба Харриса гласит: «все хорошие уже заняты». Нам нужно было как-то отделить наше детище от программы Harvest. Кодовым именем новой разработки было «squid», так и привязалось.

A traditional bonus for those who have read to this place :)


The word “pencil” is derived from the Turkic “karadas” - “slate”, “graphite” (kara - “black” and das - “stone”). The first prototypes of pencils - sticks made from a mixture of lead with zinc, appeared in the XIV century. In the sixteenth century, graphite was discovered in England, the rods of which could be used as a writing instrument, wrapping them in a rag; A modern look (a mixture of graphite and clay in different proportions inside a wooden case) acquired a pencil in the 18th century. The first mechanical pencils appeared in 1869. Another important milestone in the development of the pencil industry was the idea expressed at the end of the 19th century that pencils should be made multifaceted to avoid rolling them on an inclined surface. After that, the pencils no longer changed their shape.