Aalto Linux

See also

https://linux.aalto.fi/ provides official information on Aalto Linux for all Aalto. This page is a bit focused on the Science-IT departments, but also useful for everyone.

Aalto Linux is provided to all departments in Aalto. Department IT co-maintains this, and in some departments provides more support (specifically, CS, NBE, PHYS and Math at least). It contains a lot of software and features to support scientific computing and data. Both laptop and desktop setups are available.

This page is mainly about the Linux flavor in CS/PHYS/NBE and partly Math, co-managed by these departments and Science-IT. Most of it is relevant to all Aalto, though.


  • Aalto home directory. In the Aalto Ubuntu workstations, your home directory will be your Aalto home directory. That is, the same home directory that you have in Aalto Windows machines and the Aalto Linux machines, including shell servers (kosh, taltta, lyta, brute, force).

  • Most installations have Ubuntu 20.04 or 22.04, 24.04 is coming soon.

  • A pretty good guide is availiable at https://linux.aalto.fi .

  • Login is with Aalto credentials. Anyone can log in to any computer. Since login is tied to your Aalto account, login is tied to your contract status. Please contact HR if you need to access systems after you leave the university or your account stops working due to contract expiration.

  • All systems are effectively identical, except for local Ubuntu packages installed. Thus, switching machines is a low-cost operation.

  • Systems are centrally managed using puppet. Any sort of configuration group can be set up, for example to apply custom configuration to one group’s computers.

  • Large scientific computing resources are provided by the Science-IT project. The compute cluster there is named Triton. Science-IT is a school of science collaboration, and its administrators are embedded in NBE, PHYS, CS IT.

  • Workstations are on a dedicated network VLAN. The network port must be configured before it can be turned on and you can’t just assume that you can move your computer to anywhere else. You can request other network ports enabled for personal computers, just ask.

  • Installation is fully automated via netboot. Once configuration is set up, you can reboot and PXE boot to get a fresh install. There is almost no local data (except the filesystem for tmp data on the hard disks which is not used for anything by default, /l/ below), so reinstalling is a low-cost operation. The same should be true for upgrading, once the new OS is ready you reboot and netinstall. Installation takes less than two hours.

  • Default user interface. The new default user interface for Aalto Linux is Unity. If you want to switch to the previous default interface (Gnome), before logging in please select “Gnome Flashback (Metacity)” by clicking the round ubuntu logo close to the “Login” input field.

  • Personal web pages. What you put under ~/public_html will be visible at https://users.aalto.fi/~username. See Filesystem details.

When requesting a new computer:

  • Contact your department IT

  • Let us know who the primary user will be, so that we can set this properly.

When you are done with a computer:

  • Ensure that data is cleaned up. Usually, disks will be wiped, but if this is important then you must explicitly confirm before you leave. There may be data if you use the workstation local disks (not the default). There is also a local cache ($XDG_CACHE_HOME), which stores things such as web browser cache. Unix permissions protect all data, even if the primary user changes, but it is better safe than sorry. Contact IT if you want wipes.


  • You can get laptops with Linux on it.

  • Each user should log in the first time while connected to the Aalto network. This will cache the authentication information, then you can use it wherever you want.

  • Home directories can be synced with the Aalto home directories. This is done using unison. TODO: not documented, what about this?

  • If you travel, make sure that your primary user is set correctly before you go. The system configuration can’t be updated remotely.

  • Otherwise, environment is like the workstations. You don’t have access to the module system, though.

  • If the keychain password no longer works: see FAQ at the bottom.


Most material on this page defaults to the workstation instructions.

Primary User

The workstations have a concept of the “primary user”. This user can install software from the existing software repositories and ssh remotely to the desktops.

  • Primary users are implemented as a group with name

    $hostname-primaryuser. You can check primary user of a computer by using getent group $hostname-primaryuser or check your primary-userness with groups.

  • If you have a laptop setup, make sure you have the PrimaryUser set! This can’t be set remotely.

  • Make sure to let us know about primary users when you get a new computer set up or change computers. You don’t have to, but it makes it convenient for you.

  • It is not currently possible to have group-based primary users (a group of users all have primary user capabilities across a whole set of computers, which would be useful in flexible office spaces). TODO: are we working on this? (however, one user can have primary user access across multiple computers, and hosts can have multiple primary users, but this does not scale well)


See the general storage page for the full story (this is mainly oriented towards Linux). All of the common shared directories are available on department Linux by default.

We recommend that most data is stored in shared group directories, to provide access control and sharing. See the Aalto data page.

You can use the program unison or unison-gtk to synchronise files.

Full disk encryption (Laptops)

All new (Ubuntu 16.04 and 18.04) laptops come with full disk encryption by default (instructions). This is a big deal and quite secure, if you use a good password.

When the computer is first turned on, you will be asked for a disk encryption password. Enter something secure and remember it - you have only one chance. Should you want to change this password, take the computer to an Aalto ITS service desk. They can also add more passwords for alternative users for shared computers. Aalto ITS also has a backup master key. (If you have local root access, you can do this with cryptsetup, but if you mess up there’s nothing we can do).

Desktop workstations do not have full disk encryption, because data is not stored directly on them.


Already available

  • Python: module load anaconda (or anaconda2 for Python 2) (desktops)

  • Matlab: automatically installed on desktops, Ubuntu package on laptops.

Ubuntu packages

If you have PrimaryUser privileges, you can install Ubuntu packages using one of the following commands:

  • By going to the Ubuntu Software Center (Applications -> System Tools -> Administration -> Ubuntu Software Centre). Note: some software doesn’t appear here! Use the next option.

  • aptdcon --install $ubuntu_package_name (search for stuff using apt search)

  • By requesting IT to make a package available across all computers as part of the standard environment. Help us to create a good standard operating environment!

The module system

The command module provides a way to manage various installed versions of software across many computers. This is the way that we install custom software and newer versions of software, if it is not available in Ubuntu. Note that these are shell functions that alter environment variables, so this needs to be repeated in each new shell (or automated in login).

Note: The modules are only available on Aalto desktop machines, not on laptops.

  • See the Triton module docs docs for details.

  • module load triton-modules will make most Triton software available on Aalto workstations (otherwise, most is hidden).

  • module avail to list all available package.

  • module spider $name to search for a particular name.

  • module load $name to load a module. This adjusts environment variables to bring various directories into PATH, LD_LIBRARY_PATH, etc.

  • We will try to keep important modules synced across the workstations and Triton, but let us know.

Useful modules:

  • anaconda and anaconda2 will always be kept up to date with the latest Python Anaconda distribution, and we’ll try to keep this in sync across Aalto Linux and Triton.

  • triton-modules: a metamodule that makes other Triton software available.

Admin rights

Most times you don’t need to be an admin on workstations. Our Linux systems are centrally managed with non-standard improvements and features, and 90% of cases can be handled using existing tools:

Do you want to:

  • Install Ubuntu packages: Use aptdcon --install $package_name as primary user.

  • This website tells me to run sudo apt-get to install something. Don’t, use the instructions above.

  • This website gives me some random instructions involving sudo to install their program. These are not always a good idea to run, especially since our computers are networked, centrally managed, and these instructions don’t always work. Sometimes, these things can be installed as a normal user with simple modifications. Sometimes their instructions will break our systems. In this case, try to install as normal user and then send a support request first. If none of these work and you have studied enough to understand the risk, you can ask us. Make sure you give details of what you want to do.

  • I need to change network or some other settings. Desktops are bound to a certain network and settings can’t be changed, users can’t be managed, etc.

  • It’s a laptop: then yes, there are slightly more cases you need this, but see above first.

  • I do low-level driver, network protocol, or related systems development. Then this is a good reason for root, ask us.

If you do have root and something goes wrong, our help is limited to reinstalling (wiping all data - note that most data is stored on network drives anyway).

If you do need root admin rights, you will have to fill out a form and get a new wa account, then Aalto has to approve. Contact your department IT to get the process started.

Remote access to your workstation

If you are primary user, you can ssh to your own workstation from certain Aalto servers, including at least taltta. See the remote access page.

More powerful computers

There are different options for powerful computing.

First, we have desktop Linux workstations that are more powerful than normal. If you want one of these, just ask. It includes a medium-power GPU card. You can buy a more powerful workstation if you need, but…

Beyond that, we recommend the use of Triton rather than constructing own servers which will only be used part-time. You can either use Triton as-is for free, or pay for dedicated hardware for your group. Your own hardware as part of Triton means that you can use all Triton and even CSC if you need with little extra work. You could have your own login node, or resources as part of the queues.

Triton is Aalto’s high-performance computing cluster. It is not a part of the department Linux, but is heavily used by researchers. You should see the main documentation at the Triton user guide, but for convenience some is reproduced here:

  • Triton is CentOS (compatible with the Finnish Grid and Cloud Infrastructure), while CS workstations are Ubuntu. So, they are not identical environments, but we are trying to minimize the differences.

    • Since it is is part of FGCI, it is easy to scale to more power if needed.

  • We will try to have similar software installed in workstation and Triton module systems.

  • The paths /m/$dept/ are designed to be standard across computers

  • The project and archive filesystems are not available on all Triton nodes. This is because they are NFS shares, and if someone starts a massively parallel job accessing data from here, it will kill performance for everyone. Since history shows this will eventually happen, we have not yet mounted them across all nodes.

    • These are mounted on the login nodes, certain interactive nodes, and dedicated group nodes.

    • TODO: make this actually happen.

  • Triton was renewed in 2016 and late 2018.

  • All info in the triton user guide

Common problems

Network shares are not accessible

If network shares do not work, there is usually two things to try:

  • Permission denied related problems are usually solved by obtaining new Kerberos ticket with command ‘kinit’

  • If share is not visible when listing directories, try to ‘cd’ to that directory from terminal. Shares are mounted automatically when they are accessed, and might not be visible before you try to change to the directory.

Graphical User Interface on Aalto CS Linux desktop is sluggish, unstable or does not start

    1. Check your disk quota from terminal with command quota. If you are not able to log in to GUI, you can change to text console with CTRL+ALT+F1 key combo and log in from there. GUI login can be found with key combo CTRL+ALT+F7.

    2. If you are running low on quota (blocks count is close quota), you should clean up some files and then reboot the workstation to try GUI login again.

      • You can find out what is consuming quota from terminal with command: bash -c 'cd && du -sch .[!.]\* \* \|sort -h'

Enter password to unlock your login keyring

You should change your Aalto password in your main Aalto workstation. If you change the password through e.g. https://password.aalto.fi, then your workstation’s password manager (keyring) does not know the new password and requests you to input the old Aalto password.

If you remember your old password, try this:

  1. Start application Passwords and Keys (“seahorse”)

  2. Click the “Login” folder under “Passwords” with right mouse button and select “Change password”

  3. Type in your old password to the opening dialog

  4. Input your current Aalto password to the “new password” dialog

  5. Reboot the workstation / laptop

If changing password didn’t help, then try this:

  • Then instead of selecting the “change password” from the menu behind right mouse key select “delete” and reboot the workstation. When logging in, the keyring application should use your logging key automatically.

In linux some process is stuck and freezez the whole session

You can kill a certain (own) process via text console.

How do I use eJournals, Netmot and other Aalto library services from home?

There is a weblogin possibility at Aalto Library. After this, all library provided services are available. There are links for journals (nelli) and netmot. Or use VPN which should already be configured.

Rsync complains about Quota, even though there is plenty left.

The reason usually is that default rsync -av tries to preserve the group. Thus, there is wrong group in the target. Try using rsync -rlptDxvz --chmod=Dg+s <source> <target>. This will make group setting correct on /scratch/ etc and quota should then be fine.

Quota exceeded or unable to write files to project / work / scratch / archive

Most likely this is due to wrong Linux filesystem permissions. Quota is set per group (e.g. braindata) and by default file go to the default group (domain users). If this happens under some project, scratch etc directory it will complain about “Disk quota exceeded”.

In general this is fixed by admins by setting the directory permissions such that all goes ok automatically. But sometimes this breaks down. Some programs often are responsible for this (rsync, tar for instance).

There are two easy ways to fix this

  • In terminal, run the command find . -type d -exec chmod g+rwxs {} \; under your project directory. After this all should be working normally again.

  • If it’s on scratch or work, see the Triton quotas page

  • Contact NBE-IT and we will reset the directory permissions for the given directory

I cannot start Firefox

There are two reasons for this.

1. Your network home disk is full

# Go to your user dir
cd ~/..
# Check disk usage
du -sh *

The sum should be less than the max quota which is 100GB (as of 2020). If your disk is full then delete something or move it to a local directory, /l/.

2. Something went wrong with your browser profile

If you get an error like “The application did not identify itself”, following might solve the issue.

Open terminal,

firefox -P -no-remote

This will launch Firefox and ask you to choose a profile. Note that when you delete a profile you delete passwords, bookmarks and etc. So it’s better to create a new profile, migrate bookmarks and delete the old one.