Linux Commands All Users Should Know {Ultimate List}

October 4, 2022

Introduction

Linux is famous for its powerful commands. To use Linux effectively, all users should know how to use terminal commands. Although the OS has a GUI, many functionalities work faster when run as commands through the terminal.

This guide showcases basic Linux commands all users should know.

Linux Commands All Users Should Know

Prerequisites

  • A system running Linux.
  • Access to the command line/terminal.

Basic Linux Commands

All Linux commands fall into one of the following four categories:

  • Shell builtins - Commands built directly into the shell with the fastest execution.
  • Shell functions - Shell scripts (grouped commands).
  • Aliases - Custom command shortcuts.
  • Executable programs - Compiled and installed programs or scripts.

Note: Check any command type by running type <command>.

Below is a list of typical Linux commands with explanations and examples of how they work. Open the terminal (CTRL+ALT+T) and follow along.

1. pwd command

The pwd command (print working directory) is a shell builtin command that prints the current location. The output shows an absolute directory path, starting with the root directory (/).

The general syntax is:

pwd <options>

To see how the command works, run the following in the terminal:

pwd
pwd terminal output

The output prints the current location in the /home/<username> format.

2. ls command

The ls command (list) prints a list of the current directory's contents. Run the following:

ls
ls terminal output

Additional options provide flexibility with the display output. Typical usage includes combining the following options:

  • Show as a list:
ls -l
  • Show as a list and include hidden files:
ls -la
  • Show sizes in a human-readable format:
ls -lah

3. cd command

The cd command (change directory) is a shell builtin command for changing the current working directory:

cd <directory>

For example, to move to the Document directory, run:

cd Documents
cd documents terminal output

The working directory changes in the terminal interface. In a non-default interface, use the pwd command to check the current directory.

Use cd without any parameters to return to the home directory (~).

4. cat command

The cat command (concatenate) displays the contents of a file in the terminal (standard output or stdout). To use the command, provide a file name from the current directory:

cat <filename>
cat file.txt terminal output

Alternatively, provide a path to the file along with the file name:

cat <path>/<filename>

The command can also:

  • Display contents of multiple files:
cat <file 1> <file 2>
cat ><filename>

Add contents to the file and press CTRL+D to exit.

  • Display line numbers:
cat -n <filename>

5. touch command

The touch command's primary purpose is to modify an existing file's timestamp. To use the command, run:

touch <filename>
touch new_file.txt terminal output

The command creates an empty file if it does not exist. Due to this effect, touch is also a quick way to make a new file (or a batch of files).

6. cp command

The main way to copy files and directories in Linux is through the cp (copy) command. Try the command with:

cp <source file> <target file>
cp file.txt file_copy.txt terminal output

The source and target files must have different names since the command copies in the same directory. Provide a path before the file name to copy to another location.

7. mv command

Use the mv (move) command to move files or directories from one location to another. For example, to move a file from the current directory to ~/Documents, run:

mv <filename> ~/Documents/<filename>
mv file.txt to documents terminal output

8. mkdir command

The mkdir (make directory) command creates a new directory in the provided location. Use the command in the following format:

mkdir <directory name>
mkdir new_directory terminal output

Provide a path to create a directory in the given location, or use a space or comma-separated list to create multiple directories simultaneously.

9. rmdir command

Use the rmdir (remove directory) command to delete an empty directory. For example:

rmdir <directory name>
rmdir new_directory terminal output

If the directory is not empty, the command fails.

10. rm command

The rm command (remove) deletes files or directories. To use the command for non-empty directories, add the -r tag:

rm -r <file or directory>
rm -r documents directory terminal output

Unlike the rmdir command, rm also removes all the contents from the directory.

Note: Removing some directories in Linux is dangerous. Make sure you know what you're removing before running a dangerous Linux terminal command.

11. locate command

The locate command is a simple Linux tool for finding a file. The command checks a file database on a system to perform the search quickly. However, the result is sometimes inaccurate if the database is not updated.

To use the command, install locate and try the following example:

locate <filename>
locate file.txt terminal output

The output prints the file's location path. The matching is unclear and outputs any file that contains the file name.

12. find command

Use the find command to perform a thorough search on the system. Add the -name tag to search for a file or directory by name:

find -name <file or directory>
find -name file.txt terminal output

The output prints the file's path and performs an exact match. Use additional options to control the search further.

13. grep command

The grep (global regular expression print) enables searching through text in a file or a standard output. The basic syntax is:

grep <search string> <filename>
grep world file terminal output

The output highlights all matches. Advanced commands include using grep for multiple strings or writing grep regex statements.

14. sudo command

Use sudo (superuser do) elevates a user's permissions to administrator or root. Commands that change system configuration require elevated privilege.

Add sudo as a prefix to any command that requires elevated privileges:

sudo <command>

Use the command with caution to avoid making accidental changes permanent.

15. df command

The df (disk free) command shows the statistics about the available disk space on the filesystem. To see how df works, run the following:

df
df terminal output

The output shows the amount of space used by different drives. Add the -h tag to make the output in human-readable format (kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes).

16. du command

The du (disk usage) command helps show how much space a file or directory takes up. Run the command without any parameters:

du
du terminal output

The output shows the amount of space used by files and directories in the current directory. The size displays in blocks, and adding the -h tag changes the measure to human-readable format.

17. head command

Use the head command to truncate long outputs. The command can truncate files, for example:

head <filename>

Alternatively, pipe head to a command with a long output:

<command> | head

For example, to see the first ten lines of the du command, run:

du | head
du head terminal output

The output shows the first ten lines instead of everything.

18. tail command

The tail command does the opposite of head. Use the command to show the last ten lines of a file:

tail <filename>

Or pipe tail to a command with a long output:

<command> | tail

For example, use tail to see the last ten lines of the du command:

du | tail
du tail terminal output

Both head and tail commands are helpful when reading Linux log files.

19. diff command

The diff (difference) command compares two files and prints the difference. To use the command, run:

diff <file 1> <file 2>

For example, to compare files test1.txt and test2.txt, run:

diff file1.txt file2.txt
diff file1.txt file2.txt terminal output

Developers often use diff to compare versions of the same code.

20. tar command

The tar (tape archiver)  command helps archive, compress, and extract archived files.

The command manages and creates files known as tarballs, which often appear during installation processes. The options provide different functionalities depending on the task.

21. chmod command

Use the chmod (change mode) command to change file and directory permissions. The command requires setting the permission code and the file or directory to which the permissions apply.

For example:

chmod <permission> <file or directory>

The permission is a number code consisting of three numbers:

  • The first number is the permission of the current user (owner).
  • The second number is the permission for the group.
  • The third number is permissions for everyone else.

For example, to change the file permissions for a test.txt file so anyone can read, write, and execute, run:

chmod 777 file.txt
chmod 777 file.txt terminal output

Read about Linux file permissions to see how the command works in detail.

Note: Allowing anyone to read, write, and execute files is considered a bad security practice. Implement privileged access management to maximize security on your system.

22. chown command

The chown (change ownership) command changes the ownership of a file or directory. To transfer ownership, use the following command as sudo:

sudo chown <new owner name or UID> <file or directory>

For example:

sudo chown bob file.txt
sudo chown bob file.txt terminal output

Configuring ownership is a common task during installations. The chown command allows daemons and processes to access files during setup.

23. ps command

The ps (process status) command lists the currently running processes on the system. Every task creates a single or multiple processes running in the background.

Run ps without any options to see the running processes in the terminal session:

ps
ps terminal output

The output shows the process ID (PID), the terminal type, CPU time usage, and the command that started the process.

24. top command

The top (table of processes) command is an extended version of the ps command. Run the command without any options to see the result:

top
top command terminal program output

The output lists all running processes in real-time. To exit the viewer, press CTRL+C.

25. kill command

Use the kill command to terminate an unresponsive process. The command syntax is:

kill <signal option> <process ID>

There are sixty-four different signal numbers, but the most commonly used are:

  • -15 saves all progress before closing the process.
  • -9 forces a stop immediately.

The process ID (PID) is unique for every program. Use the ps or top command to find the PID of a process.

26. ping command

Use the ping (packet internet groper) command to check internet connectivity. The tool is valuable in troubleshooting networking issues. Add an address to test how it works, for example:

ping google.com
ping google.com terminal output

The output shows the response time from the website. Press CTRL+C to stop the ping. If no response shows, there's a problem connecting to the host.

27. wget command

The wget (WWW get) is a command for downloading files from the internet. Use the following syntax to download a file:

wget <URL>

The command is robust and can continue downloads in unstable and slow networks.

28. uname command

Use the uname (Unix name) command to print system information. Add the -a option to print a complete overview:

uname -a
uname -a terminal output

The output shows the kernel version, OS, processor type, and other helpful information about the system.

29. history command

The terminal session keeps a history log of commands. To see the list, use the history command:

history
history command terminal output

Add a number after the command to limit the number of entries if the list is long.

30. man command

The man (manual) command is a convenient manual available in the terminal. Add man as a prefix to any command to check the manual reference:

man <command>

For example, to check the manual for the man command, run:

man man
man manual page terminal

To exit the manual, press q.

31. echo command

Use the echo command to print arguments to the terminal. The syntax is:

echo <argument>

For example, to print Hello, world! to the terminal run:

echo Hello, world!
echo hello world terminal output

The command helps append text to files, print program results, and display Linux environment variables.

32. hostname command

To check the DNS name of the current machine, use the hostname command:

hostname
hostname terminal output

The hostname shows in the terminal as a result. Advanced features include changing the hostname, viewing and changing the system's domain, and checking the IP address.

33. useradd command

The useradd command creates a new user on a Linux system. Since adding new users requires making changes to system files, add the sudo command to enable access.

The general syntax is:

sudo useradd <username>

The command creates a non-login user. Additional setup is necessary to activate the user account fully.

Note: The adduser command is the user-friendly version of useradd. Learn about the difference between useradd vs. adduser.

34. userdel command

Use the userdel (user delete) command to remove a user from the system. Add sudo to enable the elevated privileges, for example:

sudo userdel <username>

The result does not show an output.

35. file command

The file command provides information about a file, printing the file type and the contents type. To use the command, run:

file <filename>
file file.txt terminal output

The command does not take into account the file's extension. Instead, file performs testing on the file contents to determine the type.

36. wc command

The wc (word count) command counts the number of lines, words, and bytes in a file. Provide a filename to count the elements in the file:

wc <filename>
wc file.txt terminal output

Combine with other commands, such as cat, find, and ls, to perform advanced counts.

37. whoami command

Use the whoami command to show the currently logged-in user for the shell session:

whoami
whoami command terminal output

The name of the effective user prints to the screen. Use the command in Bash scripts to show which user is running a script.

38. ip command

The ip command contains many useful networking functionalities. For example, show the private IP address of the machine with:

ip addr
ip addr terminal output

The command offers other networking functions, such as IP and routing table management.

39. apt, yum, RPM, pacman

Package managers help install, delete, and manage software on Linux systems. Different distributions of Linux use distinct package managers.

An example install looks like the following:

1. For Ubuntu, use the APT package manager:

apt install <package name>

2. For CentOS and RHEL, use yum or RPM:

yum install <package name>
rpm -i <package name>.rpm

3. For Arch, use pacman:

pacman -S <package name>

40. passwd command

Use the passwd command to alter your password from the terminal. Run without any parameters:

passwd
passwd terminal output

The command also helps create a login for a new user added through useradd. Changing another account's password requires elevated privileges.

41. mount command

The mount command allows attaching additional devices to the file system. The syntax for mounting is:

mount -t <type> <device> <directory>

Use the command to mount ISO files, USB drives, NFS, etc.

42. reboot command

The reboot command restarts the system immediately from the terminal. First, save changes to all files and then run:

reboot

The system reboots instantly.

43. which command

The which command shows the path of an executable program (command). To see a path for a command, run:

which <command>

For example:

which cat
which cat terminal output

The output shows the location of the command. Use which to troubleshoot installed programs that do not run.

Note: Check out our guide on adding directories to PATH.

44. nano command

GNU nano (Nano's another editor) is a keyboard-oriented Linux text editor. Make a new file or open an existing one in nano with:

nano <filename>
nano exitor file.txt

The editor automatically opens, allowing you to append text or code to the file. To save and close, press CTRL+X, then Y, and confirm with Enter.

45. vim command

Vim (Vi improved) is a Linux text editor that runs in the terminal. To make a new file or open an existing one in Vim, run:

vim <filename>
vim editor file.txt

Press I to enter insert mode and enter some text. To save changes and exit Vim, press Esc, write :wq, and hit Enter.

Note: Vim is not installed by default. Try using the old version (Vi) or install it by following one of our guides:

46. whatis command

The whatis command is a quick way to determine what a command does. Add it as a prefix to any command, for example:

whatis cat
whatis cat terminal output

The output shows a one-line description for the cat command from the documentation.

47. alias command

Use the alias command to show and set customized command shortcuts. Without any parameters, alias lists the current shortcuts:

alias
alias terminal output

To add a new alias, use the following format:

alias <name>=<command>

For example, to set meow as the alias for the cat command, run:

alias meow=cat
alias cat terminal output

The meow command acts as an alias for the cat command and displays file contents.

48. unalias command

To remove a defined alias, use the unalias command. For example, to remove the meow alias, run:

unalias meow
unalias cat command terminal output

Running the same command next time throws an error.

49. clear command

Use the clear command to clear the contents of the terminal quickly:

clear

The command clears the visual output and sets the terminal line at the top.

Note: Refer to our article How to Clear Terminal in Linux to learn alternative methods for clearing screen in Linux.

50. exit command

To exit the current terminal session, run the exit command:

exit

If no other sessions were open, the command also closes the terminal.

Download Basic Linux Commands

If you prefer to have all the commands in one place, we've prepared a free downloadable PDF for you. Click the Download Basic Linux Commands button below to save the file to your machine.

Linux commands all users should know PDF preview

Conclusion

After reviewing the examples in this guide, you've learned about some essential Linux commands. Many more commands exist to achieve various tasks directly through the terminal.

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Milica Dancuk
Milica Dancuk is a technical writer at phoenixNAP who is passionate about programming. Her background in Electrical Engineering and Computing combined with her teaching experience give her the ability to easily explain complex technical concepts through her content.
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