Basic Linux Commands

Here is a list of basic Linux commands, the first 6 are my favorites:

NOTE: You can run multiple commands in one single command by using the “;” to separate them. For example Command1; Command2; Command3. Or use && if you only want the next command to run when the first one is successful.

Ctrl Commands

Ctrl+C and Ctrl+Z are used to stop any command that is currently working. Ctrl+C will stop and terminate the command, while Ctrl+Z will simply pause the command. I use Ctrl+C all the time, it’s really handy.

If you accidental freeze your terminal by using Ctrl+S, simply undo this with the unfreeze Ctrl+Q.

Ctrl+A moves you to the beginning of a line while Ctrl+E moves you to the end.

Tab for Auto Complete

Try the TAB button to autofill what you are typing. For example, if you need to type Documents, begin to type a command (let’s go with cd dow, then hit the TAB key) and the terminal will fill in the rest, showing you cddownloads.

pwd command

Use the pwd command to find out the path of the current working directory (folder) you’re in. The command will return an absolute (full) path, which is basically a path of all the directories that starts with a forward slash (/). An example of an absolute path is /home/username.

cd command

To navigate through the Linux files and directories, use the cd command. It requires either the full path or the name of the directory, depending on the current working directory that you’re in.

Let’s say you’re in /home/username/Documents and you want to go to cars, a subdirectory of Documents. To do so, simply type the following command: cd cars.

Another scenario is if you want to switch to a completely new directory, for example,/home/username/files. In this case, you have to type cd followed by the directory’s absolute path: cd /home/username/files.

There are some shortcuts to help you navigate quickly:

  • cd .. (with two dots) to move one directory up
  • cd to go straight to the home folder
  • cd- (with a hyphen) to move to your previous directory

On a side note, Linux’s shell is case sensitive. So, you have to type the name’s directory exactly as it is.

ls command

The ls command is used to view the contents of a directory. By default, this command will display the contents of your current working directory.

If you want to see the content of other directories, type ls and then the directory’s path. For example, enter ls /home/username/Documents to view the content of Documents.

There are variations you can use with the ls command:

  • ls -R will list all the files in the sub-directories as well
  • ls -a will show the hidden files
  • ls -al will list the files and directories with detailed information like the permissions, size, owner, etc.

chmod command

chmod is another Linux command, used to change the read, write, and execute permissions of files and directories.

Clear the Screen

Use the clear command to clean out the terminal if it is getting cluttered with too many past commands.

cat command

cat (short for concatenate) is one of the most frequently used commands in Linux. It is used to list the contents of a file on the standard output (sdout). To run this command, type cat followed by the file’s name and its extension. For instance: cat file.txt.

Here are other ways to use the cat command:

  • cat > filename creates a new file
  • cat filename1 filename2>filename3 joins two files (1 and 2) and stores the output of them in a new file (3)
  • to convert a file to upper or lower case use, cat filename | tr a-z A-Z >output.txt

cp command

Use the cp command to copy files from the current directory to a different directory. For instance, the command cp scenery.jpg /home/username/Pictures would create a copy of scenery.jpg (from your current directory) into the Pictures directory.

mv command

The primary use of the mv command is to move files, although it can also be used to rename files.

The arguments in mv are similar to the cp command. You need to type mv, the file’s name, and the destination’s directory. For example: mv file.txt /home/username/Documents.

To rename files, the Linux command is mv oldname.ext newname.ext

mkdir command

Use mkdir command to make a new directory — if you type mkdir Music it will create a directory called Music.

There are extra mkdir commands as well:

  • To generate a new directory inside another directory, use this Linux basic command mkdir Music/Newfile
  • use the (parents) option to create a directory in between two existing directories. For example, mkdir -p Music/2020/Newfile will create the new “2020” file.

rmdir command

If you need to delete a directory, use the rmdir command. However, rmdir only allows you to delete empty directories.

rm command

The rm command is used to delete directories and the contents within them. If you only want to delete the directory — as an alternative to rmdir — use rm -r.

Warning: Be very careful with this command and double-check which directory you are in. This will delete everything and there is no undo.

locate command

You can use this command to locate a file, just like the search command in Windows. What’s more, using the -i argument along with this command will make it case-insensitive, so you can search for a file even if you don’t remember its exact name.

To search for a file that contains two or more words, use an asterisk (*). For example, locate -i school*note command will search for any file that contains the word “school” and “note”, whether it is uppercase or lowercase.

find command

Similar to the locate command, using find also searches for files and directories. The difference is, you use the find command to locate files within a given directory.

As an example, find /home/ -name notes.txt command will search for a file called notes.txt within the home directory and its subdirectories.

Other variations when using the find are:

  • To find files in the current directory use, find . -name notes.txt
  • To look for directories use, / -type d -name notes. txt

grep command

Another basic Linux command that is undoubtedly helpful for everyday use is grep. It lets you search through all the text in a given file.

To illustrate, grep fish cookbook.txt will search for the word fish in the cookbook.txt file. Lines that contain the searched word will be displayed fully.

sudo command

Short for “SuperUser Do”, this command enables you to perform tasks that require administrative or root permissions. However, it is not advisable to use this command for daily use because it might be easy for an error to occur if you did something wrong.

df command

Use df command to get a report on the system’s disk space usage, shown in percentage and KBs. If you want to see the report in megabytes, type df -m.

du command

If you want to check how much space a file or a directory takes, the du (Disk Usage) command is the answer. However, the disk usage summary will show disk block numbers instead of the usual size format. If you want to see it in bytes, kilobytes, and megabytes, add the -h argument to the command line.

head command

The head command is used to view the first lines of any text file. By default, it will show the first ten lines, but you can change this number to your liking. For example, if you only want to show the first five lines, type head -n 5 filename.ext.

tail command

This one has a similar function to the head command, but instead of showing the first lines, the tail command will display the last ten lines of a text file. For example, tail -n filename.ext.

diff command

Short for difference, the diff command compares the contents of two files line by line. After analyzing the files, it will output the lines that do not match. Programmers often use this command when they need to make program alterations instead of rewriting the entire source code.

The simplest form of this command is diff file1.ext file2.ext

tar command

The tar command is the most used command to archive multiple files into a tarball — a common Linux file format that is similar to zip format, with compression being optional.

This command is quite complex with a long list of functions such as adding new files into an existing archive, listing the content of an archive, extracting the content from an archive, and many more.

ping command

Use the ping command to check your connectivity status to a server. For example, by simply entering ping, the command will check whether you’re able to connect to Google and also measure the response time.

wget command

You can download files from the internet with the help of the wget command. To do so, simply type wget followed by the download link.

uname command

The uname command, short for Unix Name, will print detailed information about your Linux system like the machine name, operating system, kernel, and so on.

top command

As a terminal equivalent to Task Manager in Windows, the top command will display a list of running processes and how much CPU each process uses. It’s very useful to monitor system resource usage, especially knowing which process needs to be terminated because it consumes too many resources.

man command

Confused about the function of certain Linux commands? Don’t worry, you can easily learn how to use them right from Linux’s shell by using the man command. For instance, entering man tail will show the manual instruction of the tail command.

echo command

This command is used to move some data into a file. For example, if you want to add the text, “Hello, my name is John” into a file called name.txt, you would type echo Hello, my name is John >> name.txt

zip, unzip command

Use the zip command to compress your files into a zip archive, and use the unzip command to extract the zipped files from a zip archive.

hostname command

If you want to know the name of your host/network simply type hostname. Adding a -I to the end will display the IP address of your network.