20 Unix/Linux Command Line Tricks – Part I

last updated in Categories Command Line Hacks

Let us start new year with these Unix and Linux command line tricks to increase productivity at the Terminal. I have found them over the years, and I am now going to share with you.
My Unix/Linux/maCOS command line tricks part I


Deleting a HUGE file on Unix like system

I had a huge log file 200GB I need to delete on a production web server. My rm command and ls command was crashed and I was afraid that the system to a crawl with huge disk I/O load. To remove a HUGE file, enter:

> /path/to/file.log
# or use the following syntax
: > /path/to/file.log

# finally delete it 
rm /path/to/file.log

Want to cache console output on the CLI?

Try the script command line utility to create a typescript of everything printed on your terminal.

script my.terminal.session

Type commands:

sudo service foo stop

To exit (to end script session) type exit or logout or press control-D


To view type:

more my.terminal.session
less my.terminal.session
cat my.terminal.session

Restoring deleted /tmp folder on Linux

As my journey continues with Linux and Unix shell, I made a few mistakes. I accidentally deleted /tmp folder. To restore it all you have to do is:

mkdir /tmp
chmod 1777 /tmp
chown root:root /tmp
ls -ld /tmp

Locking a directory

For privacy of my data I wanted to lock down /downloads on my file server. So I ran:

chmod 0000 /downloads

The root user can still has access and ls and cd commands will not work. To go back:

chmod 0755 /downloads

Password protecting file in vim text editor

Afraid that root user or someone may snoop into your personal text files? Try password protection to a file in vim, type:

vim +X filename

Or, before quitting in vim use :X vim command to encrypt your file and vim will prompt for a password.

Clear gibberish all over the screen

Just type the following command to fix the display and console gibberish:

## terminal initialization ##

Becoming human

Pass the -h or -H (and other options) command line option to GNU or BSD utilities to get output of command commands like ls command, df command, du command, in human-understandable formats:

ls -lh
# print sizes in human readable format (e.g., 1K 234M 2G)
df -h
df -k
# show output in bytes, KB, MB, or GB
free -b
free -k
free -m
free -g
# print sizes in human readable format (e.g., 1K 234M 2G)
du -h
# get file system perms in human readable format
stat -c %A /boot
# compare human readable numbers
sort -h -a file
# display the CPU information in human readable format on a Linux
lscpu -e
lscpu -e=cpu,node
# Show the  size of each file but in a more human readable way
tree -h
tree -h /boot

Show information about known users in the Linux based system

Just type:

## linux version ##
## *BSD version ##

Sample outputs:

  0 root             0        0   22:37:59 root
  1 bin              0        1            bin
  2 daemon           0        1            daemon
  3 adm              0        1            adm
  4 lp               0        1            lp
  5 sync             0        1            sync
  6 shutdown         0        1 2014-Dec17 shutdown
  7 halt             0        1            halt
  8 mail             0        1            mail
 10 uucp             0        1            uucp
 11 operator         0        1            operator
 12 games            0        1            games
 13 gopher           0        1            gopher
 14 ftp              0        1            FTP User
 27 mysql            0        1            MySQL Server
 38 ntp              0        1            
 48 apache           0        1            Apache
 68 haldaemon        0        1            HAL daemon
 69 vcsa             0        1            virtual console memory owner
 72 tcpdump          0        1            
 74 sshd             0        1            Privilege-separated SSH
 81 dbus             0        1            System message bus
 89 postfix          0        1            
 99 nobody           0        1            Nobody
173 abrt             0        1            
497 vnstat           0        1            vnStat user
498 nginx            0        1            nginx user
499 saslauth         0        1            "Saslauthd user"

How do I fix mess created by accidentally untarred files in the current dir?

So I accidentally untar a tarball in /var/www/html/ directory instead of /home/projects/www/current. It created mess in /var/www/html/. The easiest way to fix this mess:

cd /var/www/html/
/bin/rm -f "$(tar ztf /path/to/file.tar.gz)"
## or better ##
tar ztf /path/to/file.tar.gz | xargs -d'\n' rm -v

Confused on a top command output?

Seriously, you need to try out htop instead of top:

sudo htop

Want to run the same command again?

Just type !!. For example:

/myhome/dir/script/name arg1 arg2
# To run the same command again 
## To run the last command again as root user
sudo !!

The !! repeats the most recent command. To run the most recent command beginning with “foo”:

# Run the most recent command beginning with "service" as root
sudo !service

The !$ use to run command with the last argument of the most recent command:

# Edit nginx.conf
sudo vi /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
# Test nginx.conf for errors
/sbin/nginx -t -c /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
# After testing a file with "/sbin/nginx -t -c /etc/nginx/nginx.conf", you
# can edit file again with vi
sudo vi !$

Get a reminder you when you have to leave

If you need a reminder to leave your terminal, type the following command:

leave +hhmm


  • hhmm – The time of day is in the form hhmm where hh is a time in hours (on a 12 or 24 hour clock), and mm are minutes. All times are converted to a 12 hour clock, and assumed to be in the next 12 hours.

Home sweet home

Want to go the directory you were just in? Run:
cd -
Need to quickly return to your home directory? Enter:
The variable CDPATH defines the search path for the directory containing directories:

export CDPATH=/var/www:/nas10

Now, instead of typing cd /var/www/html/ I can simply type the following to cd into /var/www/html path:

cd html

Editing a file being viewed with less pager

To edit a file being viewed with less pager, press v. You will have the file for edit under $EDITOR:

less *.c
less foo.html
## Press v to edit file ##
## Quit from editor and you would return to the less pager again ##

List all files or directories on your system

To see all of the directories on your system, run find command:

find / -type d | less
# List all directories in your $HOME
find $HOME -type d -ls | less

To see all of the files, run:

find / -type f | less
# List all files in your $HOME
find $HOME -type f -ls | less

Build directory trees in a single command

You can create directory trees one at a time using mkdir command by passing the -p option:

mkdir -p /jail/{dev,bin,sbin,etc,usr,lib,lib64}
ls -l /jail/

Copy file into multiple directories

Instead of running cp command as follows:

cp /path/to/file /usr/dir1
cp /path/to/file /var/dir2
cp /path/to/file /nas/dir3

Run the following command to copy file into multiple dirs:

echo /usr/dir1 /var/dir2 /nas/dir3 |  xargs -n 1 cp -v /path/to/file

Creating a shell function is left as an exercise for the reader

Quickly find differences between two directories

The diff command compare files line by line. It can also compare two directories:

ls -l /tmp/r
ls -l /tmp/s
# Compare two folders using diff ##
diff /tmp/r/ /tmp/s/
Fig. : Finding differences between folders
Fig. : Finding differences between folders

Text formatting

You can reformat each paragraph with fmt command. In this example, I’m going to reformat file by wrapping overlong lines and filling short lines:

fmt file.txt

You can also split long lines, but do not refill i.e. wrap overlong lines, but do not fill short lines:

fmt -s file.txt

See the output and write it to a file

Use the tee command as follows to see the output on screen and also write to a log file named my.log:

mycoolapp arg1 arg2 input.file | tee my.log

The tee command ensures that you will see mycoolapp output on on the screen and to a file same time. We can also use the tee to append text to a file when using sudo command:

cat foo | sudo tee -a bar.txt > /dev/null
find /path/to/dir1/ -iname "*.py" -ls | sudo tee -a lists.txt > /dev/null


We cover some basic and useful Unix and Linux command line tips and tricks to increase your productivity at the bash shell prompt for fun and profit.


Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

Start the discussion at www.nixcraft.com

Historical Comment Archive

14 comment

  1. : > /path/to/file.log

    Can somebody explain what does it do the above command ? To be more specific what is this
    “: >” (without quotes)

    The code snippet is taken from first example of this how-to article

    > /path/to/file.log
    # or use the following syntax
    : > /path/to/file.log
    # finally delete it
    rm /path/to/file.log

    1. > filename just empties the file.
      I should rather not remove it., If the file is in use, let say, there a process with a filehandle to it, it may crash or you may loose information.

      Also you can use
      cat /dev/null > filename

      Also, if you don’t want to loose that log, you can configure lograte properly and force a controlled rotation.

  2. § Quickly find differences between two directories
    And… quicker:
    diff -y <(ls -l ${DIR1}) <(ls -l ${DIR2})

    1. I freelance from comfort of my home, by working some basic jobs which only required a computer and access to internet and I am happier than ever… Six months have passed since i started this and i earned so far in total 36,000 bucks… Basicly i make about $80 each hour and work for three to four hrs a day.And awesome thing about this job is that you can make your own schedule when you work and for how long and the payments are weekly.

  3. Thanks but cd html does not work for me. I put export CDPATH=/var/www:/nas10 into my .bashrc and reload it. What I do wrong?

  4. i can’t find command “lslogin”, i use ubuntu and centos, i used apt-cache search and yum provides, how do you have that command?

      1. Looks like it was not available in earlier version of util-linux package.

        I found it is available with 2.17 version of util-linux-ng but not with v2.13

        1. ionice -c3 : > /path/to/file.log
          is your best shot, then rm will belong to idle I/O class and only uses I/O when any other process does not need it.

          Explanation: It is faster to zero/truncate the file first before removing it and that is what the part after the ionice -c3 does.

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