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Working with Files

Managing files in your home directory involves using one or more easily remembered commands.

Creating a File with touch

If you are the user matthew, to create an empty file called myfile within your current directory, use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ touch myfile

To edit this file, you must use a text editor. (Several text editors are discussed in Chapter 14, “Automating Tasks and Shell Scripting.”) However, it is sometimes useful to create an empty file as doing so also creates an access record because of the time and date information that is connected to the file. You can also use touch to update this information, called a timestamp, without otherwise accessing or modifying a file.

You can create a file in a different location by changing what is after touch. To create a new file in /home/matthew/randomdirectory, if you are already in your home directory, you can use the following:

matthew@seymour:~$ touch randomdirectory/newfile

Or from anywhere using an absolute path, you can use this:

matthew@seymour:~$ touch /home/matthew/randomdirectory/newfile

Or from anywhere using a path shortcut, you can use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ touch ~/randomdirectory/newfile

Creating a Directory with mkdir

To create an empty directory called newdirectory within your current directory, use this command:

matthew@seymour:~$ mkdir newdirectory

If you are the user matthew, you can create a directory in a different location by changing what is after mkdir. To create a new directory in /home/matthew/music, if you are already in your /home directory, you can use the following:

matthew@seymour:~$ mkdir music/newdirectory

Or from anywhere using an absolute path, you can use this:

matthew@seymour:~$ mkdir /home/matthew/music/newdirectory

Or from anywhere using a path shortcut, you can use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ mkdir ~/music/newdirectory

The -p option is valuable. It enables you to create a directory and its parent directories at the same time, if they do not already exist. This can be a real time saver. If the parent directories exist, the command works normally. For example, suppose you want to make a new directory with two layers of subdirectories. In this example, music and newdirectory already exist, but subdir1 and subdir2 are to be created:

matthew@seymour:~$ mkdir -p ~/music/newdirectory/subdir1/subdir2

Deleting a Directory with rmdir

If you are the user matthew, to delete an empty directory named directoryname, use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ rmdir directoryname

You can remove a directory in a different location by changing what is after rmdir. To remove a directory in /home/matthew/music, if you are already in your /home directory, you can use the following:

matthew@seymour:~$ rmdir music/directoryname

Or from anywhere using an absolute path, you can use this:

matthew@seymour:~$ rmdir /home/matthew/music/directoryname

Or from anywhere using a path shortcut, you can use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ rmdir ~/music/directoryname

The directory must be empty to be removed using rmdir. However, you can remove a directory with its contents by using rm.

Deleting a File or Directory with rm

If you are the user matthew, to delete a file named filename, use this command:

matthew@seymour:~$ rm filename

You can remove a file in a different location by changing what is after rm. To remove a directory in /home/matthew/randomdirectory, if you are already in your /home directory, you can use the following:

matthew@seymour:~$ rm randomdirectory/filename

Or from anywhere using an absolute path, you can use this:

matthew@seymour:~$ rm /home/matthew/randomdirectory/filename

Or from anywhere using a path shortcut, you can use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ rm ~/randomdirectory/filename

If you try to use rm to remove an empty directory, you receive an error message: rm: cannot remove `random/': Is a directory. In this case, you must use rmdir. However, you can remove a directory and its contents by using rm.

To delete a directory and all its contents, use the -r recursive switch (which works with many commands, not only rm):

matthew@seymour:~$ rm -r /home/matthew/randomdirectory/

Everything in randomdirectory as well as the directory itself will be deleted, including other subdirectories, without considering whether they are empty or have contents.

Moving or Renaming a File with mv

In Linux land, moving and renaming a file are the same thing. It doesn’t matter whether you are moving the directory to another or from one filename to another filename in the same directory; there is only one command to remember. To move a file named filename from ~/documents to ~/archive, use this command:

matthew@seymour:~$ mv documents/filename archive

Notice that the filename is not included in the destination. The destination here must be an existing directory. If it is not, the file is renamed to the term used. Some examples will make this clear.

Assuming that you are the user matthew, to rename a file that is in your current directory, you could use the following:

matthew@seymour:~$ mv oldfilename newfilename

To rename a file as you move it from ~/documents to ~/archive, you could use this:

matthew@seymour:~$ mv documents/oldfilename archive/newfilename

Or from anywhere using an absolute path, you could use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ mv /home/matthew/documents/oldfilename
arrow.jpg/home/matthew/archive/newfilename

Or from anywhere using a path shortcut, you could use this:

matthew@seymour:~$ mv ~/documents/oldfilename ~/archive/newfilename

Copying a File with cp

Copying works similarly to moving, but it retains the original in the original location. Assuming that you are the user matthew, to copy a file named filename from ~/documents to ~/archive, use this command:

matthew@seymour:~$ cp documents/filename archive

Notice that the filename is not included in the destination. The destination here must be an existing directory. If it is not, the file is renamed to the term used. Some examples will make this clear.

To copy a file that is in your current directory, you could use the following, and it will work exactly the same as mv, except that both files will exist afterward:

matthew@seymour:~$ cp oldfilename newfilename

To rename a file as you copy it from ~/documents to ~/archive, you could use this:

matthew@seymour:~$  cp documents/oldfilename archive/newfilename

Or from anywhere using an absolute path, you could use the following command:

matthew@seymour:~$ cp /home/matthew/documents/oldfilename
arrow.jpg/home/matthew/archive/newfilename

Or from anywhere using a path shortcut, you could use this:

matthew@seymour:~$ cp ~/documents/oldfilename ~/archive/newfilename

Displaying the Contents of a File with cat

To view the contents of a text file named filename on your screen, assuming that you are the user matthew, use this command:

matthew@seymour:~$ cat filename

Notice that the text is displayed on your screen but that you cannot edit or work with the text in any way. This command is convenient when you want to know the contents of a file but don’t need to make any changes. Text editors for the terminal are covered in Chapter 12, “Command-Line Master Class, Part 2.” This command works best with short files because the contents of longer files scroll off the screen too quickly to be read.

Displaying the Contents of a File with less

When you need to view the contents of a longer text file from the command line, you can use less. This produces a paged output, meaning that output stops each time your screen is full. You can then use your up- and down-arrow keys and page-up and page-down keys to scroll through the contents of the file. Then, use q to quit and return to the command line:

matthew@seymour:~$ less filename

In the early days of UNIX, a program called more gave paged output. It was the first paged output program but did not include the ability to scroll up and down. less was written to add that capability and was named as a bit of hacker humor because “less is more.” You can also use more, but today it is merely an alias for less.

Using Wildcards and Regular Expressions

Each of the commands in the previous sections can be used with pattern-matching strings known as wildcards or regular expressions. For example, to delete all files in the current directory beginning with the letters abc, you can use an expression beginning with the first three letters of the desired filenames. An asterisk (*) is then appended to match all these files. Use a command line with the rm command like this:

matthew@seymour:~$ rm abc*

Linux shells recognize many types of file-naming wildcards, but this is different from the capabilities of Linux commands supporting the use of more complex expressions. You learn more about using wildcards in Chapter 11, “Command-Line Master Class, Part 1,” and in Chapter 14, “Automating Tasks and Shell Scripting.”

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