Hi Dave! I want to start learning about Linux but only have a Chromebook. Is there a way to add Linux to Chrome OS or log in to a Linux server online to gain some experience?
Always glad to hear someone who wants to learn more about Linux, the operating system that’s lurking underneath a surprising number of devices and other systems. While Linux, and its predecessor Unix, isn’t exclusively a command-line interface, it is the command line where the system shines, offering far more power than any Windows or Mac system interface. So much so that you can get Linux or a similar command system to run within these other operating systems. And it turns out, with Chrome OS too!
If you think there are a lot of versions of Android, Linux will astonish you; there are dozens upon dozens of versions of Linux, typically known as “distros” or “distributions”, and then those have different install options, meaning that there are hundreds of different Linux “experiences”. Even at the command line, there are at least a half-dozen different popular “shells” for entering commands, each with subtly different syntax and notation. Not to panic, though, Linux also tends to be well documented too.
HOW TO INSTALL LINUX IN CHROME OS
First off, make sure that you’re running the latest version of Chrome OS on your Chromebook. Then go into Settings from the clock window on your Shelf (it’s the tiny gear icon). Scroll down until you can see “Advanced” at the left side, then click on it to reveal the Advanced settings and choose “Developers“:
There are a lot of settings you can adjust in Chrome OS, as you can see. But for Developers, there’s a single option: “Linux development environment“.
As a first step, click on the Learn more link. It takes you here: Set up Linux on your Chromebook. It’s worth reading, though I’ve got the installation instructions covered in this tutorial too. 🙂
Ready? Click on “Turn On” in the Linux Settings box. A helpful window will pop up:
It’s very festive and probably more colorful than you’ll experience with the Linux shell, but… we’ll give ’em a pass since it’s attractive! To proceed, click on “Next“.
SETTING UP LINUX DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT IN CHROMEOS
Really the only options you have are your Linux username and whether you want to use the default 10GB block of disk space or not:
You can use the default username or make it just your last name (a common Linux notation, so my typical Linux username is ‘taylor’). 10GB is a lot of disk space, but there’s a fair bit included in the Linux environment, so I suggest you use the recommended size.
Ready? Click on “Install” to have the actual system installed!
On my Lenovo Chromebook this process took about four minutes to complete, so don’t be surprised if yours takes a few minutes or even longer if you’re on a slower connection.
Once it’s done the next thing you’ll see is the actual Linux terminal program!
THE LINUX COMMAND LINE IN CHROME OS
This program pops up and I’m ready to type in some commands.
I’ve typed in a typical Linux command – ls -la – to get a long (detailed) listing of all files and folders in my current “home” directory. It’s pretty bare-bones, as you can see. Note that Linux is going to give you a different home folder than Chrome OS itself, but you can learn to navigate around, no worries.
Turns out that the version of Linux that’s running on your Chromebook is actually known as Crostini, and it appears to be built atop a stock GNU/Linux distribution, identifying itself as Linux penguin 5.10.x. There are some other distros you can use instead if you’re curious; do a Google search for “best linux distro for chrome os”, for example. Before you upgrade, however, I encourage you to get some practice and learn more with this version you just installed.
To make it easier to get to the Linux shell (the program that’s running within the Terminal and offering up the command line interface, it’s called Bash) don’t forget to pin the app to your Shelf. Easily done with a right-click:
That’s it. Now you can start learning about the Linux command line and the rest of the powerful operating system that’s now a visible part of your Chromebook. Have fun!
Pro Tip: You can find more useful Chromebook tutorials in my Chrome OS and Chromebook help library here on the site, along with hundreds of articles offering Linux help too. Why not check it out while you’re visiting?