This will be my little into to bash for anyone that needs it. It’s broken up into two sections. The first of which is limited to just the basic commands and text manipulation. If you need to learn to use the terminal for a class or for work, this should be all you need to get through it. The second section will deal more with scripting. You may not need to learn it, but it’ll make your life a lot easier, so don’t skip it.

If at anytime you need help with something, you can throw in the option --help. Options are the little arguments you can append to the end of a command to specify certain functionality. Most programs include some time of help, so $ command --help should give you some guidance on how to use it. Most user-friendly distributions also have man built in, which provides the manual on how to use a command.


These commands help you figure out how to move around once you have access to a terminal. You should also be able to manipulate the files you’re working with.

lslists the files in your current directory
cdchange directory
pwdprint working (i.e. current) directory
mvmoves a file
cpcopies a file
rmremoves a file
mkdirmake a directory
rmdirremoves a directory
touchcreate a file without any content
findhelps locate files and perform operations on them
whoamiprints your current username
unameprints system information

For a few of these, I generally use them with an option or two for my purposes.

ls is a loaded one. It will generally be used with -alh. -a specifies to list all the files, including the hidden ones. These are prefixed with a period (i.e .). Withing your home directory, there should be .bashrc which is included in most systems. This file allows you to add some specifications and aliases to your session. With a straight ls, it will not be listed; however, if you add on that option, it will. -l formats all the output into a list, which includes a column for them each file uses. -h lists these files in a human-readable format. Note that human-readable format is in bytes. You can also add the option -R to list everything within a directory recursively, meaning it will also list the files inside directories. Default is to just list directories. Also, notice how I chained together all these options. Instead of typing ls -a -l -h, you can simplify it to -ls -alh. You can also add a destination if you want to list the contents of a specific directory.

ls -l also gives you a couple of other things on the left-hand side. Modes make up the first column, and it’s made of 10 characters. Modes designate permissions for that file and are also addressed later. The first character will always be a - or d. This stands for a plain file or a directory. The following nine can be split up into three groups relating to user, group, and other permissions. Each of the three sections will have three spaces for those modes (i.e. rwx). So, if you were to see -rwx------, you would know that it is a file, not a directory, and it can be read, written to, and executed by only you. (mind you superusers can override all of these). The first section (i.e. the second space to the fourth) correspond to the user. The next three space after that correspond to the group. The last three spaces correspond to anyone else that may come across that file. The next column after the modes are the number of files that link to it. You can table this for now since this won’t be of much use. The next column is the user, followed by the group, the space it takes up, the date and time it was edited, and the name.

The command line also accepts wildcards. These are either the asterisk (i.e. *), the question mark (i.e. ?), or any characters specified in hard brackets (i.e. []). The question mark is limited to matching any singular character, and the asterisk will replace one or more matches. Let’s take a directory with the files file1.txt, file2.txt, file3.txt. ls file?.txt and ls file*.txtwill both list all of them since there’s only a one character difference between them. ls file[1,2].txt will only list file1.txt and file2.txt. Using ls * also has the same effect as running ls -R.

With cp and mv, a source and destination is required. If a destination filename is omitted, the default action is to take the name of the original file. mv can also be used to rename a file. A single period (.) normally references the current directory. You can use .. to specify the directory above you. Notice when you use ls -a, . and .. are two of the items returned.

If rm is used on a directory, it will throw an error. You can add the option -r for it to act recursively. Adding on the option -f will preemptively answer yes for any confirmations that come up.

find is also another loaded command. I generally use it for a quick search of files. You should use is as find -name [filename]. You can also limit your searches based on other criteria. Take a look at find --help for all of them.

uname by default justs lists the kernel. That alone just returns Linux, which isn’t all that helpful to most. Use it with -a to return all the information.

Explore a file, piping, and redirections

Once you can figure out where you are and move around files, you can start messing around with them.

catprints out the contents of a file
headprints out the first 10 lines of a file
tailprints out the last 10 lines of a file
echoprint to stdout
filedetermine file type
grepmatches patterns
wc“word count” returns number of lines, words, or bytes

Since we’ll need a file to use as an example, run wget to download an sample text file. W3 is the site for the World Wide Web Consortium who helps define standards for the web; however, that’s not important right now. The file is just to serve as an example text file. wget is another utility we’ll get into later that downloads items from the web.

We’ll also introduce piping and redirection here because, more often than not, it’ll be used to explore files. We’ll start with the basic pipe (i.e. |) and redirect (i.e. > or < ). Pipes pass output to another program, versus redirects which pass output to a file or stream. For instance, let’s take cat and grep. If you run cat *.txt | grep file, it will spit out all the content of all the files that end with .txt, search through them, and return the lines that have the word “file” in them. My file1.txt has a single line that reads this is from inside fi1e1.txt. If you run file1.txt > redirect.txt, you’ll see that it redirects everything from cat intro the new file. If you do it with file2.txt, you’ll see it will overwrite the target. If you double the redirect (i.e. »), it appends to the file instead of overwriting it. It’s also worth noting you can chain commands as well with &&. If you run cat file1.txt && cat file2.txt, the contents of both files will be printed to the screen.

head and tail by default print out 10 lines. You can specify a number by using the option -n(i.e. head -n file1.txt)

You can use file to determine the file type. file iso_8859-1.txt should tell you its a text file made of ASCII text. Also, in the last section we used touch to create an empty file. Just to reiterate this is empty, run file new_file.txt, and it will tell you it’s empty.

Other useful commands and tools

So far, we’ve touched on the basics and piping/redirecting. I’ll close up this post with a few other entries that should be in your repertoire, including some that aren’t commands.

sudo“superuser do”; elevates your privileges
lessprints out contents until your screen is full, then it pauses. Continue by pressing Enter. Exit by pressing q.
historyeverything you’ve typed in the command line; notice these are indexed on the left
tararchives files into a single file for manipulation
chmodchange the mode of a file
chownchange the ownership of a file
pingsends a signal to a website and waits for a response
wgetdownloads files from the internet
curlexchange requests or responses from servers
dfdisk space free
clearclears your terminal
!!returns your last command
![# from history]execute that command
exitexits out of the terminal; ends your session
Ctrl+Lclears your terminal; same as typing clear
Ctrl+Ccancels out of your current process
Ctrl+Zpauses out of your current process; use fg [command] to resume
Ctrl+Dexits out of the terminal; ends your session; same as typing exit in the terminal
Ctrl+Ssuspends any output to your terminal; resume with Ctrl + Q.
Ctrl+Ucut text from the beginning to before the cursor
Ctrl+Amove cursor to the beginning of the line
Ctrl+Emove cursor to the end of the line
Tabtab completion; double-tap to display all the possibilities

sudo basically escalates your privileges to that of an administrator. If you’re on public access, you are probably blocked from using it. Beginning users will probably use it for basic tasks like updates and editing your file system outside of your home directory. Sorry, no examples for this one.

tar makes dealing with multiple files easier by archiving it into a single file, a tarball, in the event you need to maybe upload it to a server. You can also compress it simultaneously. tar -czvf is what is usually used when compressing a file. -c tells it to create an archive, -z compresses the archive, -v stands for verbose and displays the progress to the terminal, and -f allows you to specify the filename. gzip and gunzip is what’s also used to zip and unzip .gz files. Archived and compressed files usually have the suffix .tar.gz.

chmod changes the mode of your file. Modes designate read, write, and execute access. Run ls -l and inspect the modes for all the files. For example, to add read and write privileges to your file for your group, run chmod g=rw filename. Run chmod g=-rw,u=-r filename to remove those rights and the read rights for others. If you start running any scripts, your going to start to want adding the +x mode.

wget is usually only used to download files through HTTP/HTTPS or HTP requests. wget is only on the command line. curl is based on the library libcurl, so it can be found on a variety of platforms. curl can still be used to download files, but it can also support a lot more protocols. Default is to also spit everything out into the terminal. if we take that same W3 address for the text file as above and use curl, its contents will be spilled onto the screen, which can be ideally piped into something else. This can easily be turned into some kind of web scraper if need be.

df -h will give you the free space on your drives. The one of most relevance is probably /home.

!! returns the last command. This is helpful when you forget you need sudo permissions, so just enter a quick sudo !! to fix it. You can also use ! to run one of your previous commands. View history and take note of that number on the left of whatever line you want to enter again. if you run !# it should execute it again.

This of course isn’t everything; however, these are the ones I probably use the most.