15 Linux Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Prepare for your interview with these Linux questions and answers as your guide.

[Featured image] A systems administrator in a white sweater reviews Linux interview questions on his laptop in a co-working space.

Interviews can be stressful. One way to alleviate some of that stress is to practice with potential interview questions so you can feel confident and prepared. Depending on the role and company you’re interviewing for, you’ll be asked a series of technical and behavioral questions. 

Engineers, developers, and systems administrators are most likely to be asked questions about Linux operating systems. If during an interview you do not know the answer, explain how you would go about finding the answer and your thought process for moving forward. 

In this article, we’ll guide you through some common questions and answers that you might encounter in an interview.

15 Linux interview questions and answers

Linux is an open-source operating system that is considered faster and more efficient than other operating systems like Windows. Here, we give a range of technical and behavioral questions about Linux—so you can prepare for the interview all in one place.

Technical questions

Linux is just one of several operating systems including Apple’s macOS and Microsoft’s Windows, that developers and programmers use. To land a job in this field, you’ll most likely encounter technical questions and be asked to complete a coding problem or a take-home project.

1. What is Linux?

With this question, the interviewer is examining what you know about Linux. As a developer or programmer, you’re expected to be able to explain the systems and processes you work with clearly and accurately. Linux is a Unix-like, open-source operating system developed by Linus Torvolds in 1991. You can also mention its features, such as security based on authentication and access control, application support, and customizable keywords.

2. What are the basic components of Linux?

Linux’s architecture consists of the following components:

  • Kernel: The kernel is the core part of Linux OS that is responsible for operations and communicating between hardware and software.

  • Shell: The shell is an environment in which the Linux operator runs commands, programs, and shell scripts. It is the interface between the user and kernel and is used to execute commands.

  • System utility: These are software functions that allow the user to manage the computer.

  • Applications: These are software programs designed to accomplish specific tasks.

What are the real basic components?

Keep in mind that different sources might cite varying core components of Linux. Whether you choose to list three or five components, to include “hardware” or not, the more important thing is to explain why these are the basic components.


3. What is LILO?

LILO stands for Linux Loader, which is a boot loader used for the Linux operating system. Most Linux OS use LILO as a master or secondary program to boot the operating system into main memory to perform functions.

4. What is BASH?

BASH stands for Bourne Again Shell, which is a command language interpreter that is similar to and interchangeable with Bourne Shell. BASH has some extra features and is the default user shell on many Linux installations. It can also read commands from shell scripts.

5. What is swap space?

A swap space is space on a hard disk used when RAM is full. It is considered an extension of RAM when the original RAM doesn’t have enough space to run all the programs or as a substitute for physical memory.

6. What is the difference between Unix and Linux? 

Unix is a proprietary OS with commercial versions, while Linux is free, open-source, and non-proprietary. In other words, Linux is “for the people.”

7. What are shells used in Linux?

Shells that are commonly used in Linux include the following:

  • bash (Bourne Again Shell): This is the default shell of most Linux systems.

  • zsh (Z Shell): Default shell for Kali Linux and macOS 

  • ksh (Korn Shell): High-level programming language shell

  • Csh (C Shell): Borrows from C programming language

  • tcsh (Tenex Shell): This is a command-line shell based on the C Shell.

8. What are process states in Linux?

Process states in Linux include the following:

  • New/Ready: This is when a process is ready to run.

  • Running: This is when a process is being executed.

  • Blocked/Waiting: The process needs input or a system resource.

  • Terminated/Completed: The process has been completed or terminated by the OS.

  • Zombie: When a process has been paused, but information is still available.

9. What are the advantages and disadvantages of open source?

The advantages of open source is that it is completely free and available to the public, so users can download the file and change the code as desired. As long as they use the same license, they can even sell copies of the modified code. The disadvantages of open source is that it can make the software less compatible with other hardware and systems, and make it more difficult to use. There is also no user support because it is created by potentially thousands of contributors and belongs to the public.

Fun fact: The world’s largest open-source software project

Linux is the world’s largest open-source software project. Anyone can run, analyze, and redistribute the source code. Programmers and developers from different industries are constantly adding features, fixing bugs and security flaws, and sharing new code ideas. Open source is an excellent way for developers to give back to the community.


10. What are the different types of file permissions in Linux?

There are three different types of file permissions in Linux, which can be used by the three types of owners (user, group, others):

  • Read: Users can open and view the file, but may not modify or run it.

  • Write: Users can open and modify the file but they cannot execute it.

  • Execute: Users can execute the file.

Behavioral and situational questions

Across industries, hiring managers ask behavioral questions to assess how a candidate will perform in the workplace. Because these are entirely subjective, we’ll guide you through what the hiring manager wants to know and coach you through how to answer some key behavioral questions. 

11. How do you approach solving a problem?

This question wants to know your process for problem-solving. Explain how you might approach a problem when it arises or is assigned to you, starting with brainstorming, doing research, or testing several potential solutions. You could elevate your response by providing an example of how you approached a relevant problem in the past using the STAR method.

12. Describe your development process, from gathering requirements to deployment.

As a developer or programmer, you’re expected to have your own process for developing and know how to explain it clearly to both developers and non-developers. There isn’t a correct way to answer this question—again, you’re being assessed on how well you can describe the process, which usually means you have your own process and know it well.

13. Can you describe a time you fixed an especially difficult bug? How did you resolve it?

With this question, hiring managers are assessing your technical skills as well as your process for resolving issues. Did you have to tinker with it for a while? How did you go about finding potential fixes? They are interested in how you explain your thinking.

14. Can you describe a time when you had to make a decision between technical feasibility and business impact? What was the outcome?

This question is about understanding how you made the decision. It doesn’t matter what the trade-off was—why did you make the choice you did? Here, they want to know your principles and how you make a decision when there are larger stakeholders involved.

15. Tell me about a situation where you dealt with failure. 

While it may be tempting to twist this failure into a success in your answer, try to answer this question honestly. In most jobs, people will deal with some type of failure. This question helps assess your ability to explain what happened, how you dealt with it, what the outcome was, and most importantly, what you learned from it. They want to know that you possess the soft skills to come out on the other side of failure stronger and better.

Tips to prepare for your interview

Here are some tips and resources to help you bring your best to your Linux interview.

  • Do your research. Chances are, you already know a little bit about the company you’re interviewing for. However, it’s always a good idea to be thorough. Take a look at the organization’s website and recent news, as well as looking up potential managers or colleagues on LinkedIn to get a better understanding of who is interviewing you. Be prepared to know the lingo for whatever job role you’re pursuing.

  • Prepare some sample answers. Many people feel nervous just before an interview and this can lead to answering questions less confidently than they hoped. Taking the time to prepare your answers to common interview questions, both technical and behavioral, can help you feel more at ease during the interview. As a bonus, if you stumble upon something you don’t know, you can review it beforehand.

  • Ask questions. Your time with the hiring manager is precious. You’ll want to take advantage of being able to ask questions to assess the fit—is this the right job for you? Asking questions at the end of the interview about the company’s vision, culture, and flexibility can give you deep insights into whether you want to work there.

Read more: 15 Insightful Questions to Ask a Hiring Manager During Your Next Interview

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