Linux & Open Source » New User Tutorial: Basic Shell Commands

Linux and all version of unix (including MacOS) have a very rich command line that can be used in many different ways to form very powerful commands. These commands can be joined together to do complex jobs in a very simple way. These are some of the basic commands to get you started.

ls – List Directory Contents

List files in the current directory
ls -l
Display directory contents in a “long list” format.
ls -lah
Display all files, including hidden, with a human-readable file size.

cd – Change Directories

cd /var/log
Changes location to /var/log
cd ~
Changes to your user’s home directory.
cd –
Returns you to the previous directory you were working in.
cd ..
Moves you one directory up/back in the directory structure.

cp – Copy a File

The cp command copies a file from one place to another, or can create a new copy of a file in the same location with a different name.

cp file.txt newfile.txt
Copy file.txt to newfile.txt
cp -r /home/user/pics /home/user2/
Recursively (meaning the directory and all of its contents) copy the pics directory from /home/user/ to /home/user2/

mv – Move and Rename Files

mv file.txt /home/user/newuser/
Moves the file called file.txt to the directory /home/user/newuser/
mv oldfile.txt newfile.txt
Renames the file oldfile.txt to newfile.txt

mkdir - Make Directory

mkdir files
Makes a new directory called files

rm – Remove a File (Delete)

rm file.txt
Deletes the file called file.txt
rm -r files
Deletes the directory called files along with everything in it

rmdir - Remove Directory (Delete)

rmdir files
Deletes an empty directory called files

cat – Display File Contents

cat file.txt
Displays the entire contents of the file file.txt

locate - Locate a file

The locate - a.k.a. find - command is meant to find a file within the filesystem. If you don't know the name of a certain file or you aren't sure where the file is saved and stored, the locate command comes in handy.

locate -i filename
Searches the filesystem for filename ignoring case


ping - send a packet of data to another network device and time the reply

Sends a packet to (Google's public DNS server) and waits for the reply


Get instructions for a particular command

man man
Get help with the man command 
man ls
Get help on ls 

w – List Active System Users

Displays a list of users who are logged in to the system through a remote shell or local terminal, what they are doing, and other relevant information.