Getting started with the UTCS lab machines

May 15, 2019

The UT Computer Science department provides some pretty good facilities for students to use. When students first enter UTCS, they are told to create an account, with the expectation they will figure out how to use the rest of the facilities on their own. This post aims to explain what one can do with their UTCS account, on the lab machines, and how to use the facilities.

How the lab machines work

The lab machines are computers in the 1st and 3rd floors of the Gates–Dell Complex (GDC), which is the computer science building here at UT Austin. They run Ubuntu Linux.

Students log into the lab machines using their UTCS account credentials. All of your user files are stored on the same storage cluster, so it does not matter which machine you use.

The list of lab machines are listed on the CS website here. You can SSH into them using ssh, where csid is your UTCS account username (discussed more in detail below) and labmachinehost is where you put the lab machine's hostname in. For instance, I might do ssh to log into a lab machine.

Creating a UTCS account

Each CS student gets to create a UTCS account online beginning about two weeks before classes start for their first semester at UT Austin. It is separate from your UT EID. (In fact, your EID password and your UTCS account password can't be the same, last I checked.) This is what you use for all UTCS student services and what you use to log in to the lab machines.

Unlike your UT EID, you get to pick your UTCS account name. For instance, I picked wang because it's my last name. However, as long as it's appropriate, you can pick anything you want. Someone I know decided to go with dab.

Each UTCS account can be configured to use a shell of your choice. The default is bash, but zsh and tcsh are also available.

The account comes with two really nice perks: your own email and a webpage on They are both determined by your username. For instance, right now, you are reading this webpage on, and you can email me via The email can either be forwarded to an address or you can choose to use the mail servers that the department maintains.

Note: Logging into the UTCS machines from an external network (i.e. neither on utexas Wi-Fi nor on the UT VPN) requires you to use public-key authentication. The department provides a tutorial for those who need assistance setting this up.

Creating your UTCS website

Once you have an account, you can log in to a lab machine, either via SSH or physically on a lab machine.

In your user directory, you'll see there is a public_html directory. Whatever files that are put inside there with world-readable permissions will be properly served by the UTCS web servers under or, where csid is your UTCS account username.

The server supports PHP scripts and CGI scripts for languages such as Perl and Python. In the future, I'll publish another blog post on how to get a Python CGI script running on the UTCS web servers, since it's not possible to set up a Flask/WSGI configuration.

Using UTCS-specific functionality on lab machines

To look someone's UTCS account up, you can use the finger command. For instance, if you do finger, then the following information would appear:

[ phingerd responds at Wed May 15 18:15:31 2019]

Last login:   never logged in

Recent sessions:
wang     the-professor:pts/3      May 12 03:43 - 07:54  (1+04:11)
wang     the-professor:pts/1      May 13 14:00 - 15:19  (01:19)
wang     the-professor:pts/0      May 14 20:32 - 02:45  (06:13)
wang     the-professor:pts/4      May 14 22:28 - 09:24  (10:56)
wang     the-professor:pts/5      May 14 22:29 - 09:24  (10:55)

Name:         Jeffrey Wang                                                    
Org:          University of Texas at Austin, Department of Computer Science   
Office Ph#:                                                                   

Home Ph#:                              Birthday:                             

Login:        wang                     Sponsor:    mcicero                   
Group:        under                    Type:       under                     
Shell:        /bin/zsh                 Expires:    Sep 30, 2019              
Server:       /v/filer5b/v38q001/wang  Quota:      under-default             

Mailbox:      Aliased to <>

My email is, not sure what's supposed to go here. -- August 16, 2018

You can also simply finger for names instead of using a specific username. For instance, my user would appear if you did finger wang. (To protect the privacy of others, that output will not be displayed here.) You can finger yourself by typing in finger $(whoami).

To see who else is on the lab machine with you at that point, you can type users or who, with who giving more detailed output than users does.

Each undergraduate student is given a 10 GB user space quota. (It used to be 2 GB, so we're not complaining too much at the moment!) To check how much disk space you are using, type chkquota. You can actually check how much disk space other users are using by doing chkquota csid, but don't be a creep.

To print from the lab machines, you can do so directly from the command line by using lpr -PlwXXX filename.pdf, where XXX is the printer number. The printer numbers will be evident in the GDC. To check on the print queue, use lpq -PlwXXX. In case you want to cancel, you can remove a print job by using lprm -PlwXXX printjobnum. Obviously, you should not use this command if you are not in the GDC.

As long as you follow these below rules, the lab machines are your oyster!

Please note: this system is intended to serve the instructional,
research, and administrative needs of the students, faculty, and
staff of the UT Austin Department of Computer Sciences.  Any other
use of this system, including but not limited to using any method
to circumvent proper authentication or authorization, constitutes
unauthorized access and may subject the user to criminal prosecution
under Texas Computer Crime Statutes and other state or federal laws.

(Updated May 24, 2019 to include the who command.)

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