Shell commands

Linux shell or the terminal is the lifeline of the developers, and of any power user. Things which can be done on the GUI (by clicking on different buttons), can be done much efficiently on the terminal by using commands. One can not remember all the commands, but with regular usage one can easily remember the most useful ones.

The following guide will introduce you to some basic minimal commands required to use your Linux computer efficiently.

Gnome Terminal


The above is the screenshot of the Gnome terminal application. As you can see the command prompt contains these following information:

[username@hostname directoryname]

In our case the username is babai, hostname is kdas-laptop, and directory is mentioned as ~. This ~ is a special character in our case. It means the home directory of the user. In our case the home directory path is /home/babai/.

What is a terminal and a shell?

Read the articles on Wikipedia to learn about computer teriminals, terminal emulattors and shell.

date command

date command tells the current date time.

$ date
Sun Jun 25 10:13:44 IST 2017

In case you want to know the current date/time in UTC, use the following command. (I added this in 2018, so please do not get confused at the date).

$ date -u
Mon May 21 01:43:47 UTC 2018

cal command

cal command is used to display calendar in your shell, by default it will display the current month

$ cal
      June 2017
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
            1  2  3
4  5  6  7  8  9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30

$ cal 07 2017
    July 2017
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
2  3  4  5  6  7  8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31

whoami command

whoami command will tell you which user account you are using in this system.

$ whoami

id command

id prints real user id, and various other details related to the account.

$ id
uid=1000(fedora) gid=1000(fedora) groups=1000(fedora),4(adm),10(wheel),190(systemd-journal) context=unconfined_u:unconfined_r:unconfined_t:s0-s0:c0.c1023

pwd command

pwd command will help you to find out the absolute path of the current directory. Let us see an example below:

[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ pwd

cd command

The next command we will learn is cd. This command will help you to change your current directory. We will move to /tmp directory in our example.:

[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ cd /tmp
[babai@kdas-laptop tmp]$ pwd
[babai@kdas-laptop tmp]$ cd ~
[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ pwd

Here you can see that first we moved to /tmp directory, and then we moved back to the home directory by using ~ character.

. directory and .. directory

. and .. has special meaning in the Linux. . means the current directory and .. means the parent directory. We can use these in various situations for daily activities.

$ cd ..

The above command moves to the parent directory.

ls command

We use ls command to view the files and directories inside any given directory. If you use ls command without any argument, then it will work on the current directory. We will see few examples of the command below.:

[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ ls
Desktop  Documents  Downloads  Music  Pictures  Public  Templates  Videos
[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ ls /tmp/
cpython           systemd-private-759094c89c594c07a90156139ec4b969-colord.service-hwU1hR
hogsuspend        systemd-private-759094c89c594c07a90156139ec4b969-rtkit-daemon.service-AwylGa
hsperfdata_babai  tracker-extract-files.1000
plugtmp           tracker-extract-files.1002
[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ ls /
bin   cpython  etc   lib    lost+found  mnt  proc  run   srv  sysroot  usr
boot  dev      home  lib64  media       opt  root  sbin  sys  tmp      var

In the last two commands we provided a path as the argument to the ls command. / is a special directory, which represents root directory in Linux filesystem. You will know more in the next chapter.

mkdir command

We can create new directories using mkdir command. For our example we will create a code directory in our home directory.:

[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ mkdir code
[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ ls
code  Desktop  Documents  Downloads  Music  Pictures  Public  Templates  Videos

We can also create directories in a recursive way using -p option.:

[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ mkdir -p dir1/dir2/dir3
[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ ls dir1/ dir1/dir2/


rm command

rm command is used to remove a file, or directory. The -rf option is being used to remove in a recursive way. But, always double check before you use rm -rf command, if you by mistake give this command in your home directory, or any other important directory, it will not ask to confirm, but it will delete everything there. -f stands for force, it will just delete everything. So, please be careful and read twice before pressing enter key.

[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ rm -rf dir1/dir2/dir3
[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ ls dir1/ dir1/dir2/


Copying a file using cp command

We use the cp command to copy a file in the Linux shell. To copy recursively use the cp command with the -r flag. We use the cp file_to_copy new_location format. In the example below, we are copying the hello.txt to hello2.txt.

$ cp hello.txt hello2.txt
$ ls -l
-rw-rw-r--. 1 fedora fedora   75 Jun 25 04:47 hello2.txt
-rw-rw-r--. 1 fedora fedora   75 Jun 25 04:33 hello.txt

In another example, I will copy the file passwordauthno.png from the Pictures directory in my home directory to the current directory.

$ cp ~/Pictures/passwordauthno.png .

In the following example, I will be copying the images directory (and everything inside it) from the Downloads directory under home to the /tmp/ directory.

$ cp -r ~/Downloads/images /tmp/

Renaming or moving a file

The mv command is used to rename or move a file or directory. In the
following example, the file hello.txt is renamed to nothello.txt
$ mv hello.txt nothello.txt
$ ls -l
-rw-rw-r--. 1 fedora fedora 75 Jun 25 04:33 nothello.txt

tree command

tree command prints the directory structure in a nice visual tree design way.:

[babai@kdas-laptop ~]$ tree
├── code
├── Desktop
├── dir1
│   └── dir2
├── Documents
├── Downloads
├── Music
├── Pictures
│   └── terminal1.png
├── Public
├── Templates
└── Videos

wc command

wc is an useful command which can help us to count newline, word and bytes of a file.

$ cat hello.txt
HI that is a file.
This is the second line.
And we also have a third line.
$ wc -l hello.txt
3 hello.txt
$ wc -w hello.txt
17 hello.txt

The -l flag finds the number of line in a file, -w counts the number of words in the file.

echo command

echo command echos any given string to the display.

$ echo "Hello"

Redirecting the command output

In Linux shells, we can redirect the command output to a file, or as input to another command. | is the most common way to do so. Using this we can now count the number of directories in the root (/) directory very easily.

$ ls /
bin  boot  dev  etc  home  lib  lib64  lost+found  media  mnt  opt  proc  root  run  sbin  srv  sys  tmp  usr  var
$ ls / | wc -w

Using > to redirect output to a file

We can use > to redirect the output of one command to a file, if the file exists this will remove the old content and only keep the input. We can use >> to append to a file, means it will keep all the old content, and it will add the new input to the end of the file.

$ ls / > details.txt
$ cat details.txt
$ ls /usr/ > details.txt
$ cat details.txt
$ ls -l /tmp/ >> details.txt
$ cat details.txt
total 776
-rwxrwxr-x. 1 fedora fedora     34 Jun 24 07:56
-rw-------. 1 fedora fedora 784756 Jun 23 10:49 tmp3lDEho

Moving around in the command line

There are key shortcuts available in Bash which will help you to move around faster. The following table is a good starting point.

Key combination Action
Ctrl + A Move to the beginning of the line
Ctrl + E Move to the end of the line
Alt + B Move to the previous word
Alt + F Move to the next word
Ctrl + U Erase to the beginning of the line
Ctrl + K Erase to the end of the line
Ctrl + W Erase the previous word

man pages

man shows the system’s manual pages. This is the command we use to view the help document (manual page) for any command. The man pages are organized based on sections, and if the same command is found in many different sections, only the first one is shown.

The general syntax is man section command. Example man 7 signal.

You can know about different sections below. Press q to quit the program.

1   Executable programs or shell commands
2   System calls (functions provided by the kernel)
3   Library calls (functions within program libraries)
4   Special files (usually found in /dev)
5   File formats and conventions eg /etc/passwd
6   Games
7   Miscellaneous (including macro packages and conventions), e.g. man(7), groff(7)
8   System administration commands (usually only for root)
9   Kernel routines [Non standard]