How to Rename Files in Linux

October 13, 2021

Introduction

Linux provides several options for renaming files, including using the GUI and multiple dedicated terminal commands. This makes it relatively easy to rename individual files, but it can be challenging to rename multiple files at once.

In this tutorial, we will go over different commands you can use in the Linux terminal to rename files in Linux.

How to rename files in Linux

Prerequisites

  • A system running a Linux distribution
  • An account with sudo privileges
  • Access to the terminal window/command line
  • Access to a text editor, such as Vim or Nano

Rename Files with the mv Command

The Linux mv (move) command is used to move files and directories from the terminal. It uses the following syntax:

mv [options] [source] [destination]

If you specify a directory as the destination when using the mv command, the source file moves to that directory. If the destination is another file name, the mv command renames the source file to that name instead.

Note: Learn more about using the mv command in our guide to moving directories in Linux.

Rename a Single File with the mv Command

Using the mv command with its default syntax allows you to rename a single file:

mv [options] [current file name] [new file name]

For example, if we want to rename example1.txt into example2.txt, we would use:

mv example1.txt example2.txt

Since there is no output if the command is successful, we are using the ls command to check if the name is changed:

ls -l
Renaming a single file using the mv command

Rename Multiple Files with the mv Command

On its own, the mv command renames a single file. However, combining it with other commands allows you to rename multiple files at the same time.

One method is to use the find command to select multiple files with a similar name, then use the mv command to rename them:

find . -depth -name "[current file name element]" -exec sh -c 'f="{}"; mv -- "$f" "${f%[current file name element]}[new file name element]"' \;

Using this syntax, the find command defines an element of the current file name as the search parameter. Next, -exec executes the mv command on any files that match the search, changing their current filenames to the new one.

For instance, if we have example1.txt, example2.txt, and example3.txt and want to change the extension to .pdf:

find . -depth -name "*.txt" -exec sh -c 'f="{}"; mv -- "$f" "${f%.txt}.pdf"' \;
Renaming multiple files using the find and mv commands

Another method is to use the mv command as a part of a <strong>for</strong> loop in a bash script.

Using the same example, start by creating and opening a bash script file using a text editor such as Nano:

sudo nano rename_files.sh

Add the following lines to the script:

#!/bin/bash
for f in *.txt; do
    mv -- "$f" "${f%.txt}.pdf"
done

In the script above:

  • The first line instructs the script to search for all the files in the current directory ending with .txt.
  • The second line uses the mv command on each file found to replace the .txt extension with .pdf.
  • The third line ends the loop segment.

Press Ctrl+X, then type Y and press Enter to save the changes to the script and exit.

Use the sh command to execute the script:

sh rename_files.sh
Renaming multiple files using a bash script

Rename File with the rename Command

The rename command is used to rename multiple files or directories in Linux. It offers more features than the mv command but can be more challenging to use since it requires basic knowledge of Perl expressions.

How to Install the rename Command

On many Linux distributions, the rename command is not available by default. If your system is missing the rename command, install it with:

  • For Ubuntu and Debian, use sudo apt install rename
  • For CentOS and Fedora, use sudo yum install prename
  • For Arch Linux, use sudo pacman -S rename

rename Command Syntax and Options

There are three types of Perl regular expressions: match, substitute and translate. The rename command uses substitute and translate expressions to change file and directory names.

Substitute expressions replace a part of the filename with a different string. They use the following syntax:

rename [options] 's/[filename element]/[replacement]/' [filename]

With this syntax, the command renames the file by replacing the first occurrence of the filename element with the replacement. In the command above:

  • rename: Invokes the rename command.
  • [options]: Provides an optional argument that changes the way the command executes.
  • s: Indicates a substitute expression.
  • [filename element]: Specifies the part of the filename you want to replace.
  • [replacement]: Specifies a replacement for the part of the current filename.
  • [filename]: Defines the file you want to rename.

A translate expression translates one string of characters into another, character for character. This type of expression uses the following syntax:

rename [options] 'y/[string 1]/[string 2]/' [filename]

An example of a rename command using a translate expression:

rename 'y/abc/xyz/'

In this example, every a character in the filename is replaced by an x, every b by a y, and every c by a z.

The rename command uses the following options:

  • -a: Replaces all the occurrences of the filename element instead of just the first one.
  • -f: Forces an overwrite of existing files.
  • -h: Displays the help text.
  • -i: Displays a prompt before overwriting existing files.
  • -l: Replaces the last occurrence of the filename element instead of the first one.
  • -n: Performs a dry run, making no permanent changes. Best combined with the verbose output (-v).
  • -s: Renames the target instead of the symlink.
  • -v: Shows a verbose version of the output.
  • -V: Displays the command version.

rename Command Examples

1. Change File Extension

Returning to our last example, to change the file extension from .txt to .pdf, use:

rename -v 's/.txt/.pdf/' *.txt
Using the rename command to replace the file extension

2. Replacing a Part of a Filename

Replacing a different part of the filename follows the same syntax. To rename example1.txt, example2.txt, and example3.txt to test1.txt, test2.txt, and text3.txt, use:

rename -v 's/example/test/' *.txt
Renaming multiple files using the rename command

3. Delete a Part of a Filename

The rename option also allows you to delete a part of the filename by omitting the replacement part of the expression. For instance, if we want to shorten example into ex:

rename -v 's/ample//' *.txt
Removing a part of the file name using the rename command

4. Rename Files with Similar Names

Another use for the rename option is to rename files with similar names. For instance, if we want to rename files with example and sample in their name to test:

rename -v 's/(ex|s)ample/test/' *.txt
Renaming multiple files with similar names using the rename command

5. Rename Files Character-by-Character

The rename command also allows you to use translate expressions to rename files on a character-by-character basis. For instance, if you want to rename multiple files named example file by replacing the blank space with an underscore (_):

rename -v 'y/ /\_/' *.txt
Removing blank spaces from file names using the rename command

6. Convert Lowercase Characters

To convert lowercase characters in filenames into uppercase characters, use:

rename -v 'y/a-z/A-Z/' *.txt
Converting file names from lowercase to uppercase using the rename command

7. Convert Uppercase Characters

The reverse also works if we switch the order of the uppercase and lowercase characters in the expression:

rename -v 'y/A-Z/a-z/' *.TXT
Converting file names from uppercase to lowercase using the rename command

Note: Be careful when changing the character case, as this also changes the file extension.

Conclusion

After reading this tutorial, you should be able to rename files using the mv and rename commands in Linux.

Learn more about using Linux commands in our Linux Commands Cheat Sheet.

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Aleksandar Kovačević
Aleksandar Kovacevic is an aspiring Technical Writer at phoenixNAP. With a background in both design and writing, he aims to bring a fresh perspective to writing for IT, making complicated concepts easy to understand and approach.
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