Join a free shell

There are a lot of people running Linux with more Linux servers than they know what to do with (keep in mind that a “Linux server” can be anything from the latest supercomputer to a discarded 12-year-old laptop). To put excess computers to good use, many administrators open their spare boxes up for free shell accounts.

If you want to log time in a Linux terminal to learn commands, shell scripting, Python, and the basics of web development, a free shell account is an easy, no-cost way to get started. Here’s a short list to try:

  • is a public access Linux system that’s been online since 2002. You get SSH access (to experiment in a Linux shell), IPv6, and OpenSSL, and you can request a MySQL database.
  • Blinkenshell provides a Linux shell to learn Unix, use IRC, host simple websites, and share files. It’s been online since 2006.
  • SDF Public Access Unix System was established in 1987 to offer free NetBSD accounts. NetBSD isn’t Linux, of course, but it’s open source Unix, so it offers a similar experience. It also has several homebrewed applications, so it straddles the line between old-school BBS and plain-old free shell.

Free shell accounts are subject to a lot of abuse, so the more you demonstrate trustworthiness and willingness to participate in the goings-on of the collective, the better your experience. You can often gain access (through a special request or a small donation to demonstrate goodwill) to database engines, compilers, and advanced programming languages. You can also ask for additional software or libraries to be installed, subject to administrator approval.

How to use it

Public access shell accounts are a great way to try out a real Linux system. The fact that you don’t get root access means you get to learn local software management without having to mow your own lawn or fix leaky faucets. You can do just enough real-life activities to make them viable for getting real work done, although they’re not reliable enough to be mission critical.