IRIX 101

This guide aims to educate new users to IRIX about the differences between IRIX and other UNIX and Unix-like systems. This includes through FAQs, explanations of how some parts of the OS work, and how a new user can adjust to these changes easily.

A Brief History of IRIX

IRIX began life as an evolution of two earlier projects, GL2 and RISCOS (a product by MIPS Computer Systems, not the Acorn RISC OS), the latter of which was acquired by Silicon Graphics in 1992. GL2 code from the 68000-based IRIS machines was ported to System V R3, making 4D1-3.x - the immediate predecessor of IRIX de jure, but defacto IRIX under the hood. 4D1-3.x utilized NeWS in the form of 4Sight, replacing MEX, the windowing system on GL2. When SGI acquired MIPS Computer Systems, RISCOS had many things taken from it to form IRIX 4, which used XSGI and the familiar 4DWM instead of 4Sight. IRIX now steadily advanced, with 6.x introducing XFS, and 6.5 introducing many more HPC elements to the OS. The last major release was 6.5 in 1998, but the OS continued minor development until 2006 with the discontinuation of all MIPS development by SGI and the migration to IA-64 and GNU/Linux, ending the reign of IRIX and effectively relegating it to maintenance mode.

Throughout the 1990s, IRIX was influential in many industries such as HPC, education, scientific, 3D graphics (Autodesk Maya began life as PowerAnimator on IRIX for example) and music production. This legacy is a huge contribution to continued hobbyist development of IRIX.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is IRIX related to GNU/Linux?
IRIX's XFS filesystem was ported to the Linux kernel and continues to be a major filesystem on GNU/Linux. Beyond that, IRIX is entirely different, predating Linux by years of development.

2. What systems does IRIX run on?
IRIX runs on MIPS workstations produced by SGI, and a modified version of it underpins UNICOS/mp on the Cray X1 and X1E. Other than that, it cannot run on anything else.

3. What does IRIX use for GUI?
IRIX, like most UNIX systems uses X11, a proprietary variant called XSGI, and the window manager is called 4DWM - standing for 4D Window Manager (early SGI machines were called 4D, and this also hearkens back to 4Sight and 4D1, the old name for IRIX).

4. Why are machines that run IRIX expensive?
There are no new machines being produced, and high-end machines are in short supply. Less expensive machines can be had. We do not recommend using eBay to search, as the prices are usually extremely inflated.

5. What shell does IRIX use? It doesn't behave like Bash!
Most UNIX do not use bash. IRIX uses tcsh and ksh as shells. tcsh is the one that has many of the features users are after (history, tab completion of arguments, repeat last argument (!$, not ESC-.), and thus the recommended interactive shell. However, should a user prefer it is possible to use bash from Nekoware, or other sources. It's not recommended to replace the root shell with bash, however.

6. What startup system does IRIX use?
IRIX uses a customized System V init. It is not the same as GNU/Linux's former default (sysvinit).

7. Where are eth0, sda1, and why does ifconfig show nothing unless I append -a?
IRIX, similar to BSDs and System V UNIX OSes, names devices by driver, not type. The disk naming scheme is similar to Solaris and illumos, /dev/dsk/dksXdXsX, or disk, scsi bus id, drive id, slice ID. ifconfig shows nothing unless -a is hit because it's not the same code as GNU/Linux.

8. Where can I get the source to IRIX?
IRIX is closed source, and there was no major release of the source during its lifetime. Community efforts to free it from limbo are ongoing.

9. Is USB supported?
Only HID, USB audio and some controllers are supported. No USB mass storage or cameras or anything like that.

10. Can I mount an ISO of IRIX software?
No, not within IRIX. IRIX has no loopback filesystem support. Additionally, IRIX software is distributed on EFS CDs, not Joliet/rockridge/iso9660 (the format that is specified by .iso) so don't use .iso - use .efs or .img

11. My backspace key doesn't work.

This is common on some configurations. To fix, type the following sequence into a shell: stty erase CTRL-V BACKSPACE the caps indicate actual keys to hit, not actual things to type. This should result in either stty erase
H or stty erase
? or something similar.

12. CTRL-C doesn't do SIGINT
Fixable. stty intr ^C

Both 11 and 12 can be permanently solved by adding those commands to .cshrc or .bashrc or .profile, depending on the shell used and such.

13. Where is nano?
GNU nano never was packed with IRIX. Get used to using vi, that's the default commandline editor. There's jot as well, a graphical editor, and nedit. Nano is available from many distributions.

14. Can IRIX be emulated?
MAME currently supports (slow) emulation of IRIX. Do not use qemu-irix - it's not designed to run actual IRIX software, it's designed as a hack for N64 devs to use the IDO/MIPSPro compilation suite to reverse engineer N64 games.

15. Inst doesn't help with dependencies
IRIX is from an era where dependencies needed to all be supplied at once or in-order for a package manager to work. It does not currently support dependency resolution at all.