Basic Linux Commands

20 Basic Linux Commands for Beginners Explained with Examples

Are you new to Linux? Here’s the list of basic Linux commands containing all the common commands you’ll need to know to get started.

Table of Contents

When dealing with Linux, you need to use a shell – an interface that gives you access to the operating system. The commands are required as inputs to inform or direct a computer program to perform a specific operation.

While most Linux distributions are user-friendly and come with an easy-to-use graphical interface, knowing how to use the command line can be very useful.

So let’s learn the must-know basic Linux commands with examples.

1. cd

cd (Change Directory) command in Linux is one of the most important and widely used commands. It is used to change the current working directory.

Change from the current directory to /tmp.

cd /tmp

Switch back to the previous directory where you were working earlier.

cd -

Change Current directory to parent directory.

cd ..

Move to the user’s home directory from anywhere.


2. pwd

pwd (Print Working Directory), as the name, states, prints the name of the present/current working directory. It prints the path, starting from the root /.


3. ls

ls (List Files and Directories) is one of the basic commands that any Linux user should know. It lists the content of a directory, such as files and folders.

Running ls without parameters will list the content of the current directory.

psforevermore.txt  pulse-linux-9.1r2.0-x64.rpm  website-logo.jpg

Using the -l (long format) option will display a long listing of the content of the current directory. The command will print not only the name of the file but also some attributes such as:

  • permissions
  • owner
  • group owner
  • size of the file in bytes
  • time and date the file is modified.
ls -l
total 22968
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac       19 Jul 27 13:53 psforevermore.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac 23271352 Jul 28 14:57 pulse-linux-9.1r2.0-x64.rpm
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac   240104 Jul 28 15:12 website-logo.jpg

To list the content of a particular directory refer the below command.

ls -l /home/linuxiac/
total 22968
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac       19 Jul 27 13:53 psforevermore.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac 23271352 Jul 28 14:57 pulse-linux-9.1r2.0-x64.rpm
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac   240104 Jul 28 15:12 website-logo.jpg

With the -h option, ls will display file sizes in a human-readable format. This option is only meaningful when combined with the -l option.

ls -lh
total 23M
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac   19 Jul 27 13:53 psforevermore.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac  23M Jul 27 14:57 pulse-linux-9.1r2.0-x64.rpm
-rw-r--r-- 1 linuxiac linuxiac 235K Jul 27 15:12 website-logo.jpg

In Linux, a file that begins with . is a hidden file. To show it on the ls command, we can use the -a parameter.

ls -a
.monitoring  psforevermore.txt  pulse-linux-9.1r2.0-x64.rpm  .usage.log  website-logo.jpg

If we want to list directory entries only, we can use -d parameter.

ls -d /home/linuxiac/

4. cp

cp (Copy) is a command used for copying files and directories in Linux. To copy a file with the cp command, pass the file’s name to be copied and then the destination.

For example, running the below-mentioned command will copy a file website-logo.jpg to a /tmp/ directory.

cp website-logo.jpg /tmp/

You need to specify the desired file name if you want to copy the file under a different name.

cp website-logo.jpg /tmp/new-logo.jpg

To copy multiple files, pass the names of files followed by the destination directory to the cp command.

cp website-logo.jpg psforevermore.txt images/

To copy a directory, including all its files and subdirectories, use the -r (recursive) option.

For example, we are copying the directory images to images_bckp.

cp -r images/ images_bckp/

5. mv

mv (Move) is used to move one or more files or directories from one place to another. Apart from moving the files, it can also rename a file or directory.

For instance, to move a file named website-logo.jpg from the current directory to the images directory, the command would be:

mv website-logo.jpg images/

If you want to rename a file named website-logo.jpg to new-logo.jpg, you can use the mv command in the following way:

mv website-logo.jpg new-logo.jpg

Like renaming a file, you can rename a directory using the mv command.

For example, to rename a directory named images to images_bckp, the command would be:

mv images images_bckp

6. rm

rm (Remove) is a command-line utility for removing files and directories.

Related: How to Delete Files and Directories in Linux from Command Line

To delete a single file, use the rm command followed by the file name as an argument:

rm website-logo.jpg

By default, rm does not remove directories. However, if the -r (recursive) option is presented, rm will remove any matching directories and their contents.

rm -r images/

The rm command will prompt you for confirmation if the given directory or a file within the directory is write-protected.

To remove a directory named images without being prompted, use the -f option:

rm -rf images/

Attention: Be careful when you are executing the rm -rf command. A little typo or ignorance may result in unrecoverable system damage.

7. mkdir

mkdir (Make Directory) is the primary Linux command for creating a directory. While the rm command lets you delete directories, the mkdir command allows you to create them.

Creating directories is pretty simple. All you need to do is pass the name of the directory you want to create to the mkdir command.

For example, to create a new directory named images in the current directory, the command would be:

mkdir images

Building a structure with multiple subdirectories using mkdir requires adding the -p option. The -p option tells mkdir also to create parent directories.

mkdir -p images/upload/new

8. cat

cat (Concatenate) is a command used to display the contents of one or more files without opening the file for editing. It can read, concatenate, and write file contents to the standard output.

The most basic and common usage of the cat command is to read the contents of files.

For example, the following command will display the contents of the psforevermore.txt file on the terminal:

cat psforevermore.txt
You're the sunshine in my eyes,
You're the color of my life,
You're the reason why I'm here to say, "Alright."

9. less

The less command is used to display file contents or command output one page at a time in your terminal. It is most helpful for viewing the content of large files or the results of commands that produce many lines of output. 

The syntax for the less command is straightforward. For example, if you want to read the contents of the psforevermore.txt file, the command would be:

less psforevermore.txt

The output of less is divided into sort pages. You’ll see only the text that fills to your terminal screen. You can use the up and down arrow keys to move line by line. If you want to move page by page, use the space key to move to the next page and the b key to go back to the previous page.

Press q at any given point to exit from less.

10. head

The head command is used for outputting the first part of files given to it via standard input. Then, It writes results to standard output. By default, the head command returns the first ten lines of each file given.

For example, to view the first ten lines of a file, pass the name of a file to the head command. 

head psforevermore.txt

To set the number of lines to show with the head command, pass the -n option followed by the number of lines to show.

head -n 2 psforevermore.txt

Related: Head And Tail Commands In Linux Explained With Examples

11. tail

The tail is complementary to the head command. It prints the last N number of data of the given input. The tail command default prints the last ten lines of the specified files.

tail psforevermore.txt

You can use the -n option to specify the number of lines shown.

tail -n 10 psforevermore.txt

You can also omit the letter n and use just the hyphen - and the number with no space between them.

tail -10 psforevermore.txt

12. grep

grep (Global Regular Expression Print) searches for a string of characters in a specified file. It is among the most useful commands in Linux.

For example, to search any line that contains the word color in the filename psforevermore.txt, the command would be:

grep color
You're the color of my life,

Because the grep command is case sensitive, one of the most useful operators for grep searches is -i. Instead of printing lowercase results only, the terminal displays both uppercase and lowercase results.

grep -i Color psforevermore.txt
You're the color of my life,

To include all subdirectories in a search, add the -r (recursively) operator to the grep command.

The example command below prints the matches for word username in all files in the /etc directory and its subdirectories.

grep -r username /etc

13. man

man (Manuals) gives users access to manual pages for command-line utilities and tools. In addition, it allows users to view the reference manuals of a command or utility run in the terminal.

The man page includes a command description, applicable options, flags, examples, and other informative sections.

In the terminal window, type man followed by the Linux command name which man page you want to see. For example:

man telnet

To exit, press q.

14. chown

The chown (Change Owner) command is used to change the file owner or group. Whenever you want to change ownership, you can use the chown command. Superuser (sudo) permissions are necessary to execute the chown command.

Changing the owner of a file with chown requires you to specify the new owner and the file.

The following command changes the ownership of a file website-logo.jpg from linuxiac to the user john:

chown john website-logo.jpg

To assign a new owner of a file and change its group at the same time, run the chown command in the format given below.

For example, to set john as the new owner and users as the new group of the file website-logo.jpg:

chown john:users website-logo.jpg

The chown command allows changing the ownership of all files and subdirectories within a specified directory. Add the -R option to the command to do so.

In the following example, we will recursively change the owner and the group for all files and directories in the images directory.

chown -R john:users images/

15. chmod

chmod (Change Mode) allows you to change the permissions on a file. Only the root, the file owner, or user with sudo privileges can change the permissions of a file.

The references are used to distinguish the users to whom the permissions apply:

  • u (owner): File’s owner.
  • g (group): Users who are members of the file’s group.
  • o (others): Users who are neither the file’s owner nor members of the file’s group.
  • a (all): All three of the above (same as ugo).

The operators are used to specify how the modes of a file should be adjusted:

  • + Adds the specified modes to the specified classes.
  • - Removes the specified modes from the specified classes.
  • = The modes specified are to be made the exact modes for the specified classes.

The modes indicate which permissions are to be granted or removed from the specified classes:

  • r Read the file.
  • w Write or delete the file.
  • x Execute the file or in the case of a directory, search it.

For example, in the following command, read permission will be added for all three levels: user, group, and other.

chmod a+r website-logo.jpg

Remove the execute permission for all users:

chmod a-x website-logo.jpg

Remove the read, write, and execute permission for all users except the file’s owner:

chmod og-rwx website-logo.jpg

If you want the file’s owner to have read and write permissions and the group and other users to have read permissions only:

chmod u=rw,go=r website-logo.jpg

Using the = operator means we wipe out existing permissions and then set the ones specified.

You can add the execute permission for everyone with the following command:

chmod a+x website-logo.jpg

To recursively operate on all files and directories under a given directory, use the chmod command with the -R (recursive) option.

For example, in the following command user can read, write, and execute. However, group members and other users can read and execute but cannot write. This applies to all files and subdirectories under the /tmp/test directory.

chmod -R u=rwx,go=rx /tmp/test

16. top

The top command allows users to monitor Linux processes and system resource usage. It is one of the most useful tool tools in a sysadmin’s toolbox, and it is pre-installed on every Linux distribution.

You simply need to type this in the terminal to launch top:


17. find

The find command allows users to search for files and directories based on conditions. It is one of the most important and frequently used commands in Linux.

Find all the files whose name is website-logo.jpg in a current working directory.

find . -name website-logo.jpg

The -name option is case-sensitive. If you don’t know the exact case of the item you’re looking for, you can use the -iname option, which is case insensitive.

find . -iname website-logo.jpg

Find all directories whose name is linuxiac in / directory.

find / -type d -name linuxiac

Find all .php files in /var/www/html directory.

find /var/www/html -type f -name "*.php"

18. df

The df (Disk Free) command displays the amount of available disk space for file systems.

To view disk space usage, run the df command. This can be useful to discover the amount of free space available on a system or filesystems.

Filesystem     1K-blocks     Used Available Use% Mounted on
udev             1984900        0   1984900   0% /dev
tmpfs             403004     1472    401532   1% /run
/dev/vda5       30314436 12798764  16057744  45% /
tmpfs            2015016        0   2015016   0% /dev/shm
tmpfs               5120        4      5116   1% /run/lock
/dev/vda1         523248        4    523244   1% /boot/efi

To view disk space in human readable format pass the -h option. This prints sizes in G for Gigabytes, M for Megabytes and B for Bytes.

df -h
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
udev            1.9G     0  1.9G   0% /dev
tmpfs           394M  1.5M  393M   1% /run
/dev/vda5        29G   13G   16G  45% /
tmpfs           2.0G     0  2.0G   0% /dev/shm
tmpfs           5.0M  4.0K  5.0M   1% /run/lock
/dev/vda1       511M  4.0K  511M   1% /boot/efi

19. du

The du (Disk Usage) command estimates the amount of disk space used by a given file or directory.

To find out the disk usage summary of a /home/linuxiac directory tree and each of its sub directories, enter the command as shown below. The output will display the number of disk blocks in the /home/linuxiac directory and its sub-directories.

du /home/linuxiac
4	/home/linuxiac/Documents
888	/home/linuxiac/.cache/fontconfig
8	/home/linuxiac/.ssh
2143400	/home/linuxiac/

If we want to print sizes in human readable format (K, M, G), use -h option.

du -h /home/linuxiac
4.0K	/home/linuxiac/Documents
888K	/home/linuxiac/.cache/fontconfig
8.0K	/home/linuxiac/.ssh
2.1G	/home/linuxiac/

To get the summary of a total disk usage size of a directory, use the options -s as follows.

du -sh /home/linuxiac
2.1G	/home/linuxiac/

20. ps

The ps (Process Status) command displays the currently running processes in the system. In addition, it will display the list of processes running on the system, including details such as process id, name of terminal currently logged in, CPU time, etc.

System administrators generally use ps with a, u, x, and w options to get all details in a single ps command execution.

  • a: All other user processes.
  • u: Owner of the process.
  • x: Other processes those not attached to the terminal.
  • w: Wide output.
ps auxw


Basic Linux commands help users execute tasks quickly and effectively. Although you can perform most of the system-related tasks using a graphical interface, the command line makes you more productive and can get more done in less time.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment.

Bobby Borisov
Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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  1. rm -rf dir/ is very dangerous, better use : rm dir/ -rf (-rf at the end) so we have a reflexion grace delay, avoiding catastrophic récursive delete… 😏

  2. Everytime I scroll through a list like this, and it is good and useful for new users, I wonder about pwd. I can’t remember the last time I installed a distro that didn’t come with .bashrc already configured to provide that information in the prompt. I probably haven’t used pwd in over a decade.

    • I think like many other at-first-glance antiquated inclusions in shells, PWD is useful in scripting if nothing else.

      I once made a sort of home TV station that would randomly select and schedule a series of shows to play throughout the day on an remote output so I could simply flip to an input on my TV and watch. With that script, I called another function to email me the schedule for the day, and PWD was useful for the finding, the sorting, and the collating/formatting of the schedule output file because of the way I structured my storage (Show/Season/EpName, etc)

  3. Dear sir,

    According to the cat example, the filesize of psforevermore.txt is 111 bytes. But, in the ls section, in the ls -l and ls -lh examples, the filesize of psforevermore.txt is not returned.


    • Oh wait! The filesize of psforevermore.txt is indeed listed! It is 19 bytes. My mistake! Sorry!


  4. The find command is very powerful and very useful. However it can be difficult to remember all the option flags. Can anyone recommend a good GUI front-end app to use with the find command? I know that there are several out there and just wanted to see your recommendations.

    • Hey Richard,

      Catfish is a great GUI tool that enables you to search for any kind of files. As far as I know, it uses find and locate commands underneath.

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