POSIX: Explanation & Insights

POSIX stands for Portable Operating System Interface, and it's a set of standards defined by the IEEE Computer Society. The purpose of POSIX is to maintain compatibility between operating systems, with a focus on Unix-like systems such as Linux. It is an important concept for system administrators and developers because it enables software portability.

In essence, POSIX is a contract between the software developer and the operating system. It helps to ensure that a program that uses the POSIX standards can be compiled and run on any POSIX-compliant operating system, like Linux, BSD, or macOS, with little or no changes to the source code.

Importance of POSIX

The main advantage of POSIX is portability. With POSIX, a developer can write a program on one system and be confident that it will run on any other POSIX-compliant system, without having to worry about the differences between operating systems.

This portability extends to shell scripting as well. For example, a shell script written for a POSIX-compliant shell is more likely to work without modification on a variety of systems.

How POSIX works

POSIX defines several aspects of an operating system's behavior, including its shell, utilities, and APIs for system calls. It describes how these elements should behave and interact with each other.

However, it's important to note that POSIX is not an implementation. It does not provide the code to implement these behaviors. Rather, it provides a standard that operating system developers can follow to ensure their systems are compatible with others.

POSIX and Linux

Linux is largely POSIX-compliant, but there are some differences and exceptions. The POSIX standards are quite old and do not cover some of the more modern features of Linux.

However, when working on a Linux server, you can use POSIX as a guide to understanding how the system works. Many fundamental Linux commands, such as ls and pwd, are defined by POSIX.

For example, the ls command, as defined by POSIX, should display the contents of a directory. You can count on any POSIX-compliant system to have an ls command that behaves this way.


Common POSIX-related difficulties

POSIX compliance is not perfect, and there are some common issues that you might encounter.

One issue is that not all operating systems are fully POSIX-compliant. Some systems might implement only a subset of the POSIX standards, or they might add their own extensions that are not covered by POSIX. This can lead to compatibility issues when moving software between systems.

Another issue is that the POSIX standards do not cover all features of modern operating systems. As a result, software that uses non-POSIX features might not be portable, even if it is running on a POSIX-compliant system.

POSIX commands

Even though POSIX does not define all Linux commands, it does define a core set of commands that are common to all POSIX-compliant systems. These include, but are not limited to:

Here is an example of how you might use these commands in a shell script:

ls | grep '.txt' | xargs cat

This script lists the contents of the current directory, filters for files that end in .txt, and then displays the contents of those files.


Understanding POSIX is crucial for anyone working with Unix-like systems, including Linux servers. It provides a key set of standards that promote software portability and predictability, making life easier for both system administrators and software developers.

While POSIX does not cover every aspect of a modern operating system, it provides a strong foundation upon which to build your understanding of how these systems work.

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license CC BY SA