Using Linux At CSE

Getting access to a Linux environment

Almost all the coursework subjects at CSE requires you to use Linux for programming and practical work.

There are six main ways for you to use Linux for your work:

The CSE Linux environment

CSE maintains its own version of Debian Linux in our computing labs and on our login servers.

Your code must be tested in this environment; if it doesn't work on our systems, it will probably be marked as not working.

CSE computing labs

This is the simplest option for most people.

CSE provides 12 general-purpose teaching labs with desktop PCs running Linux (plus some other special-purpose labs).

When not booked for tutorial classes, they're free for all CSE students to use - just log in with your zID and zPass.

You will get a Linux desktop, a full range of development tools, and a common home directory that you can access from any machine.


If you're working remotely or using a laptop, you can connect to our virtual lab system called VLAB.

This will get you the exact same environment as the CSE computing labs, in a window on your personal machine.

It does require a reasonably fast internet connection, but it's very usable when using a physical lab machine isn't an option

Login servers

As a lighter-weight alternative to VLAB when you don't need a graphical desktop, you can connect to our servers using SSH.

This gets you a command-line terminal (similar to a terminal on a lab machine), with access to all the tools and applications in the CSE environment.

This is faster over slower network connections, and a bit more flexible and convenient as it can run in a much smaller window on your machine.

You can run graphical applications via SSH, and they will pop up as separate windows on your personal computer.

Running Linux on your own computer

Using the CSE Linux environment all the time can be a bit inconvenient for some people.

It may be difficult to find a free computing lab at specific times, or your internet connection might be limited.

In this case, you've got several options for running Linux directly on your own computer.

Installing Linux directly on your computer

You can download any Linux distribution you want and install it as the main operating system on your computer, replacing Windows or OSX.

This is certainly simple and effective, though it is kind of jumping in the deep end.

Most people prefer to keep their original operating system and software on their machine.

Dual booting

Instead of completely replacing the operating system on your computer, it's possible to install Linux alongside the existing one and dual-boot between them.

However, this can risk locking you out of your computer altogether if anything goes wrong, and we strongly recommend that you don't do this.

Using a virtual machine

A much better alternative to dual-booting is to use a virtual machine, such as VMware or VirtualBox.

These systems emulate a Linux PC directly on your computer, and run virtually as fast as the real thing.

Unlike direct installs or dual-boot environment, there's no risk of messing up your main OS, and removing a VM is as simple as deleting a file.

VMware is a commercial product, but it's available for free to CSE students via the VMware Academic Program.

VirtualBox is freely available to everyone, however it isn't quite as full-featured as VMware.

We generally recommend that students use VMware, as it's somewhat better-supported.

Using Windows Subsystem for Linux

Windows 10 lets you install a modified Linux distribution as part of the Windows environment.

It's called Windows Subsystem for Linux, and it offers a range of different Linux installs directly through the Microsoft Store.

There's a little fiddling required to get it installed and configured, but it's generally smooth sailing from there.

The main interface is a command-line window, similar to an SSH terminal.

Graphical Linux apps aren't officially supported by microsoft, but they mostly seem to work anyway.

Last edited by jbc 23/06/2020