Introduction to VAX/VMS

What is VAX and VMS

VAX is a family of computers manufactured by the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). There are a few different models of VAX, but we will not cover that. VAX is able to run several versions of operating systems. On the machine we discuss, the operating system is VMS. The operating system is what allows you to run commands and software application. No two operating systems have the exact same command set. What we will discuss here for the most part will not function on other operating systems like MS-DOS or UNIX. In this section we may also use the terms VAX and VMS interchangeably. Understand that we will be discussing the VMS operating system run on the VAX computer system.

Logging on to VMS

If you use one of the terminals on campus, a pc or Mac in the personal computer labs, you have access to the VAX systems. The terminals will use a direct line to the system. On the PCs or Macs, you would use the Telnet function. You even may log on to the VAX from home. To connect from home you need communication software, such as PC KERMIT, and a modem. To log on to the computer, you need to input some basic information to access your account.

You first must know what your account number is. To find out what your account number is, you can go to the information center on the second floor of the I Building. Against the wall is two terminals that are dedicated to providing the account numbers of students. To use the system just type in your last name and hit the enter key. The display will show your name and what your account number is. Once you have this information, you can go to one of the computer terminals and log on. If you have a problem getting your account number, ask for help at the information center.

When you get to a terminal, turn it on. After turning it on and letting the terminal do it's startup routine, you must hit the enter key two times and you will get a screen asking for your destination. You would respond VMS. Once you have entered that information, you will be asked for your User ID (account number). Enter your account number.
Once you have entered your account number, the system will prompt you to enter your password. The initial password that was assigned to you is your Social Security Number or your Student ID Number. After you enter your password, you will get the system welcome screen and then the DCL (Digital Command Language, a component of VMS.) prompt. The prompt is "$". This tells you that VMS is ready for your commands.

Change Your Password

The first operation that you should perform after you access your account is changing your password. The command to do this is "password". After you enter your command, the system will ask you for your current password. After you enter the password you will then be asked to enter the new password that you wish to have. You can make your password any combination of numbers or letters. You must have a minimum of six characters and a maximum of 31 characters. After entering your new password, the system will then ask you to enter it for a second time to verify that it is correct. After you enter it a second time, the system will either accept it or reject it because it is listed as already being used by someone else.
You are required to change your password frequently. As often as 45 days. It is good security to change your password frequently and not to choose obvious passwords.

VAX/VMS Online Tutorials-TEACH

The VAX system has an online tutorial system. To call it up at the command prompt type in "teach".
After typing in the command, you will be prompted to either type in the name of the tutorial you wish to take or a question mark. Typing in the question mark will allow you to view a listing of your choices and then to make a selection. If you wish to take one of the lessons, type in the name of the lesson you desire and hit enter. If you just hit the return key, you will be returned to the command prompt. Here is a listing of the available tutorials for you.

VMS - Introduction to VMS
EDIT -VAX Editor
VMS2 -Queens College site-specific commands
EMACS -EMACS Full Screen Editor
PASCAL - Using VMS Pascal
COMM - Communicating to other users
TAPE - How to use magnetic tapes on the VAX
SPSSX - Introduction to Statistical Programs for the Social Sciences

It's recommended that you take the VMS, EDIT and COMM tutorials. If you are a CS95 or CS101 student, you should also take the PASCAL tutorial. It is time well spent when you are a novice on the system.

Basic VMS Operations

For the most part, the majority of your computer usage will involve text editing and file management operations. You also may perform some software development and Internet functions, but text editing and file management will be most of your basic usage of the VAX. Otherwise you will be using communication aspects of the VAX Our goal is to get you started in the default VAX editor and be able to perform basic file management routines. Other topics will consider communications and other functions.

Using the VAX Editor - EDT

The default editor on VAX is EDT. It is recommended that you use the TEACH tutorial EDIT. In lieu of that the following basic instructions should be of assistance to you.

Calling the EDT Editor

You can call the editor in two different ways. You can just call the editor by entering the line "edit" at the command prompt. Once that is done, the editor is active and will prompt you for a file name. If you give it an active file name, it will call up the latest revision of that file name (VAX will create multiple revisions of files). If you give it the name of a file that does not exist, it will create that file. The other way is to enter the line "edit filename.ext" where filename.ext is the name of the file you wish the editor to find or create.

The editor will either come up in line mode or keypad mode. When edit is initially started it comes up in line mode. Line mode is just that. The editor works on one line at a time. It is visually difficult to work with. You can change to keypad mode by typing in "change"
Once you have done that, you are able to work on a full screen seeing what ever of your text will fit. This is visually simpler to work with. When you are creating a file, there is initially a string at the top of the screen "[EOB]". This stands for End Of Buffer. It signifies the end of the file that you are working on. When you start typing in text, the input will appear above this indicator.

Editing with the EDT Editor

Using the editor after the operations above is simple. To enter text to the buffer, simply type whatever you want. To move to certain sections of your work, use the up, down, left and right arrow keys. To remove what you have typed, set the cursor to the right of the character you wish to delete. When you have gotten to that point, use the delete key to remove the undesired characters. The delete key will remove any character to the left of the cursor. Be aware of what you are doing.

Saving and Exiting the EDT Editor

Saving your work is not very difficult. You just need to perform several keystrokes to do so. While you are in the keypad mode, the command input line is no longer active. To get the command input line active again, you need to enter CTRL Z. This will place a * under the [EOB] symbol. At this point you can enter two commands.
To save your work, you would enter the command "exit". This would save the work you just performed and exit the editor. If you were working on a new file, the file will appear in your directory.

A note about the VMS file saving process
Unlike other systems that overwrite previous files, VMS creates a second file. The files are numbered after the file extension. The higher the number, the more recent the revision. VMS will save the three most recent copies. This is a safety measure, but can be confusing and harmful if you do not pay attention to this. To eliminate older versions of files in your directory, use the "purge" command at the command line prompt. This will discard all older copies of files and save only the most recent revision.

If you wish to get out of the editor and not save your file, you must again get the command line input * and enter the command "quit". This will result in the editor shutting down and your work being discarded. There will be no changes to existing files. If it was a new file that was being created, the creation process will be terminated. There will be no sign of any such file.

PICO an Alternative Text Editor

Many people find the EDT editor to be a pain to work with. A simpler editor to use is PICO. PICO is the editor that is used by the PINE mail client. PINE is not recommended for use due to reported problems it causes in VMS. The PICO editor though does not create any system problems and works quite well.

To use PICO, you call it as if you were calling the VAX editor EDT. Just type in "pico filename.ext" and PICO will activate with the file you specified. If the file does not exist PICO will create it as EDT does.

We will not supply you with other operating instructions. There is no need for them. PICO is a menu driven editor. On the bottom of your screen, you will see all the operating commands and how to carry them out. Try PICO, it might just become your editor of choice while operating in VMS.

There are no tutorials on PICO, nor are there any references in the VAX online help. Whatever the menu system gives you is all the assistance you are going to get on the editor. The help center in either the pc labs or in the I Building will not give you assistance either. If this is undesirable to you, then do not use the PICO editor.

Basic VAX/VMS File Management

File management is exactly what it says. It is the activity of managing your files.
When you have an account given to you on the VAX system, you are allotted a 512 block directory for your personal use. A block equates to around one kilobyte of storage space. You in essence have about 512 Kilobytes of storage on the VAX. That is less than what can be stored on a modern floppy disk.

Directory Commands

DIR: DIR will five you a basic listing of what files are in your directory. This will list files in a particular format.
the file listing format would be "filename.ext;1". In the example, filename is the name of a particular file, .ext is the extension of that file and ;1 is the revision number of that file. The revision number will reflect how many times the file has been revised. In the instance where a file has more than one listing with different revision numbers, the one with the highest number listing will be the most recent copy.
When the command is used it list the file names across the screen. When the end of the line is reached, it will begin listing the rest of the files on the next line. It will repeat this until there are no more files to list.

DIR/SIZE: DIR/SIZE will give you the information that is provided by the DIR command. It also will tell you how many storage blocks are being used by the file. The files will not list across the screen. The files will be listed one file per line and scroll through the screen until there are no more files to list.

DIR/FULL: DIR/FULL will give you all information on a file. It will be presented as a report. It will give you all the information that the two previous commands will give you. You also will get information about file creation date, revision date, file attributes and protection levels.

QUOTA: QUOTA will tell you how many storage blocks you have used. It also will tell you how much you have left and what overdraft blocks you have left.

Transferring Large Files
With the advent of the Internet and obtaining files using anonymous FTP, there will be times that you need temporary disk space. You might need space just for the amount of time to download your retrievals or leave a file in an open space where people can access it. For this purpose, there is a scratch disk on our system. If you plan what you are doing in advance, the scratch disk can be advantageous. To use the scratch disk you could use the command "set default". The set default command is used to change you directory. To do this with the scratch disk just enter "set default scratch". From now on, any work that you do will be saved in the scratch disk directory. All files will be accessible only to you. You can get files on the Internet and save them, download using KERMIT and perform all the other functions you normally would be able to. When you have finished, to return to your directory enter "set default pubdisk:[username]. After you entered that command, you will have returned to your own home directory.

CREATING FILES: To create files you would need to use one of the text editors. The default text editor is EDT and can be accessed by typing "edit". Binary files can only be created by a language compiler. You would need to know how to program in that language to utilize the compiler.

DELETE: There are several ways to delete a file on VMS. One way is to type "delete filename.ext;". This will delete the most recent revision of a file only. You must include the semicolon in order to perform the deletion. If you do not include the semicolon, you will get an error message.
To delete all versions of a file, enter the command "delete filename.ext;*". The asterisk acts as a wild card in VMS. After you perform this command, you will have deleted all files that met the specification of filename.ext.
You are able to delete all older versions of a file and keep the latest revision. To do this enter "purge filename.ext". there is no need to include the semicolon here. The purge command will cause all files that meet the specification of filename.ext that are not the highest revision level to be deleted. To purge an entire directory, just enter "purge". This will clean out the entire directory of all older versions of files.

COPY: To copy a file you need to use the command, have the source file name and specify a destination file name. An example of this is "copy filename1.ext filename2.ext". The source file is filename1.ext. The destination file is filename2.ext. Sometimes you would have to copy files from the scratch disk to your account. To do this first change your default drive to the scratch disk. Next issue the command "copy filename ext pubdisk:[userid]*.*". This will transfer the file from the scratch disk over to your directory. Of course this will only work if the file is yours. The file belongs to you if you saved it to the scratch disk or copied it to the scratch disk.

RENAME: To change the name of a file you would enter "rename filename1 filename2". The command rename will rename the files for you. In the example, filename1 is the original filename of the file and filename2 is the name that you want the file to have. This can be a convenient feature to have when you have several versions of a file and you want to avoid having them lost as you keep revising. Remember VMS only allows you to keep three revisions of a file with the same filename.

TYPE: At times, you may want to view a file on the terminal screen. To do this enter "type filename". This command will display a text file on to your screen. If the file is longer than 25 lines, it will scroll until it reaches the end of the file. To view files longer than 25 lines enter "type/page filename". This will stop the scrolling. You will be prompted to hit the return key to view the next full screen of text. This command only works on text files.

Communications with VAX/VMS

Besides getting in touch with the Internet, you can perform communications with VAX. You can send messages to internal users. You can have real-time text based conversations with other users. there is an assortment of other features to be covered.

Messaging Other Users

You are able to send messages to other users on the system. The basic command for doing this is SEND.
In order to send a one line message to another user you would enter "send userid messagetext". This would result in userid getting a one line message at the top of his screen.

You also can use the PHONE feature of VAX. With phone you are able to have a text based real time conversation with other users of the system. To enter the system type in "phone". A triple horizontally sectioned screen will appear. The top section of the screen is a command section for you to add user id numbers to phone. the mid section of the screen is where you will see the text that you type. The bottom section of the screen is where the section party of the conversation's text will appear.
Initially, the cursor is at the command prompt. You just have to enter the user id of the person you wish to contact. They will answer and your cursor will move in to your window and you can enter text.
When you are being contacted by phone, VAX will put a message on your screen that someone is phoning you. At the DCL command prompt, enter "phone answer". You will then have the screen come up and you can begin your phone conversation.
To exit a conversation and to exit phone you just have to input CTRL-Z.

In Case of Emergency

The title says it all. No matter what system you are on. No matter where you may be. No matter how good you are. The gods of the CPU world will frown upon you or what you may be doing. You may just have a system lock up. When this occurs, you need to key in certain commands to attempt to regain control. While you are running a program, if it freezes up on you or enters an endless loop, you may either enter "CTRL-c" or "CTRL-y". Either one of the keystrokes is an interrupt signal to the system. If neither of the keystrokes work, your last resort is "CTRL-y-y-return". What this last keystroke does is send a signal to QCNET to disconnect your terminal. After you do this, you would have to log in all over.


It is highly recommended that you go and purchase the following publication at the Queens College Bookstore. In the Spring of 1995 it cost only one dollar.

The User Guide to
Published by the Academic Computer Center, Edition 10.0 February 1995

If the edition is later, do not worry about it. The information should be the same if not better.

This document was written by Ilana Giesenberg, Louis Bianchi and Dr. Bon K. Sy. We owe many thanks to the feedback provided by Bert and the students of CS101. More specific details about this document are available.

Please send suggestions and further details to:

Dr. Bon K. Sy
Queens College/CUNY
Department of Computer Science
Flushing, NY 11367
Voice: (718)-997-3500 x-3477
Fax: (718)-997-3513

Copyright 1995 - 2000