Here a /bin, There a /bin, Everywhere a /bin /bin

So, most of you GNU/Linux users have by now peaked into that File System directory on the left frame of your file manager, huh?

Ever wonder how all that /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin stuff came about? Well, thanks to a really interesting article by Thom Holwerda at OSNews, you can now read all about it.

It seems that back in the day (early 70s), when Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie were at Bell Labs tinkering around with Unix in its infancy, how they came to name these directories was primarily determined by their available storage space at the time. Geeks just being practical; ain’t it great?

From list:

Rob Landley
Thu Dec 9 15:45:39 UTC 2010

When the operating system grew too big to fit on the first RK05 disk pack (their root filesystem) they let it leak into the second one, which is where all  the user home directories lived (which is why the mount was called /usr). They replicated all the OS directories under there (/bin, /sbin, /lib, /tmp…) and wrote files to those new directories because their original disk was out of space.  When they got a third disk, they mounted it on /home and relocated all the user directories to there so the OS could consume all the space on both disks and grow to THREE WHOLE MEGABYTES (ooooh!).

3Meg… WOW! Nowadays, we dash off inane missives that often exceed 3 Meg in size. We don’t even think about it. Can you imagine? I was 10 years old in ’71, running around in a neighbor’s overgrown yard playing “war” with my pals. Dennis and Ken were in their late twenties and using their genius to create the foundation for pretty much everything you see in front of you right now… the Internet, the operating system on your computer, the code that is the foundation for most of it, etc. Amazing, huh?

Thom Holwerda from his OSNews article laments:

Arguing that the UNIX directory structure is a horrible, horrible mess that defiles an otherwise elegant system is like trying to convince a floor tile to flip over. People are so used to their knee-jerk responses about how it all supposedly makes sense, they often refuse to even think about redesigning it for the modern age. Since the geek is a proud and stubborn creature, there’s little to no chance of this ever changing in my lifetime.

PhotobucketThom is not a big fan of the Unix file structure. I can see his points. When you read how those directories actually came about, you begin to wonder, as Thom often does, whether the whole thing needs a reboot/rename. Well, it probably won’t ever happen. Hell, some of us still like to boot into a command line interface rather than a graphic one. Holwerda says that geeks are a proud and stubborn. Yup… mostly stubborn. 😉

Read the article. Click on the links. It’s some interesting stuff, folks.



Image credits: Ken Thompson/Dennis Ritchie courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, a worthy Internet resource. Help if you can.

Further reading:

The Creation of the Unix Operating System

Dennis M. Ritchie

Ken L. Thompson

The Linux Directory Structure



3 Comments on “Here a /bin, There a /bin, Everywhere a /bin /bin”

  1. comhack says:

    Very interesting, thanks Eric!!

  2. The /bins have certainly spread out a bit, but there used to be a very good reason for keeping the system /bin in the / partition. If something goes wrong, the tools you need are all available without having to mount /usr or any other partitions.

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