CPS 250, 356, & 444/544 Lecture notes: Files & directories

(manipulation & management)

Coverage: [UPE] Chapters 2 and Chapter 7 (pp. 201-202)

Basic UNIX file nomenclature

  • absolute or fully qualified path vs. relative path
  • current working directory (stored in PWD variable)
  • . and .. (are not shell metacharacters)
  • types of files
    • see man ls
    • ls -l
    • bblock special file
      ccharacter special file
      lsymbolic link
      ssocket link
      -regular file

ls and cal

  • ls [<dir(s)/file(s)>] (list): lists directory contents; without a directory argument defaults to the current directory, as do most UNIX commands
  • ls with file arguments lists information about only those files
  • ls -a [<dir(s)/file(s)>] (all): lists directory contents including hidden (dot) files; also lists hidden (dot) files, which are typically configuration files (e.g., .profile)
  • ls -l [<dir(s)/file(s)>] (long listing): lists directory contents using long listing format; explanation of fields
    • file permission string (-rwx------)
    • owner, group, other
  • ls -al
  • ls -F [<dir(s)/file(s)>] (fancy): lists directory contents following directories with a slash, executable files with an asterisk, links with a @, including other various decorations; fancier output
  • ls -ld <dir>: lists details of actual directory, rather than its contents
  • cal
  • cal 9 (print calendar for year 9, not Sep, current year)
  • cal 2004
  • cal 9 1752

Explanation of ls -l output

    total 6
    drwxr-xr-x  6 lucy cps444  480 Dec  6 17:42 .
    drwxr-xr-x 26 root system  816 Dec  6 14:45 .. 
    drwxr-xr-x  2 lucy cps444   80 Oct 25 08:33 bin
    drwx------  2 lucy cps444  144 Nov 30 14:25 C
    -rw-rw-r--  1 lucy cps444  104 Sep 12 19:54 notes
    -rwxrwxr--  1 lucy cps444   85 Jan  4 20:06 run*
    drw-rw-rw-  2 lucy cps444   32 Mar 23 13:45 memos
    drwx------ 16 lucy cps444 1296 Dec  6 17:33 text
  • total line gives the number of blocks in the directory; a block in most UNIX systems = 1/2k (512 bytes), the above directory contains 3k

  • the first character of each following row indicates the type of file: d = directory; - = plain file; l = link
  • characters 2 thru 10 give the file access permissions (r = read; w = write; x = execute)
  • characters 2, 3, 4 give the owner's permissions

  • characters 5, 6, 7 given the group's permissions

  • characters 8, 9, 10 given the other user's permissions

  • - denotes absence of the permission
  • number of links to the file
  • file owner's user id
  • group name for the file
  • size of the file in bytes (characters)
  • file creation or modification date and time, and the name of the file

UNIX filesystem

  • directories (branches) contain either files or subdirectories (branches of branches)
  • the filesystem is usually viewed as an inverted (upside down) tree

    • highest level directory = root /
    • user's current directory is known as the working directory
  • all of the following directories are owned by user root (system administrator)
  • /tmp (temporary files); need not have special privileges to write here
  • /bin (binaries, executables)
  • /sbin
  • /src (source code)
  • /usr
  • /usr/src
  • /usr/src/lib
  • /usr/bin
  • /usr/include ← contains stdio.h and string.h
  • /usr/lib
  • /usr/lib64 ← contains libc.a
  • /home (user home directories)
  • /lib (libraries)
  • /lib64 (libraries) ← contains libc.so.6
  • /etc (configuration files)
  • /dev
  • (devices)
  • /dev/null (system trashcan)
  • hier (only on some systems)
  • tree (only on some systems)

Absolute vs. relative path

  • pathname: filename preceded by directories leading to the file
  • absolute pathname: the complete pathname of a file starting with the root / (e.g., /home/cps444-n1.01/homeworks/hw1/wc.c)

  • relative pathname: pathname which implicitly starts at the working directory (e.g., homeworks/hw1/wc.c)

Two special files in every directory

  • . and ..
    • . is a link to the current working directory
    • .. is a link to the directory containing the current working directory (i.e., its parent)

  • why do we need these?

Navigating through directories

(below pathnames to <file> or <dir> can be absolute or relative)
  • cd <dir> (change directory): changes directory to <dir> alters working directory; used to traverse UNIX hierarchical tree file structure
  • cd: changes to home directory
  • cd ..: changes to parent directory of working directory
  • cd ~<logname>: changes to home directory of user with login name <logname>
  • cd ~-: changes to previous working directory

File manipulation and management

  • pwd: print working directory; displays current working directory path
  • cp <src> <dest>: copy file(s)
    • for instance, cp ../hw1/wc.c wc.bak: creates a separate file wc.bak; changes made to one do not affect the other
    • for instance, $ cp ../hw1/* .; copies all files from parent/hw1 to the current directory
  • rm <file(s)> (remove): erases file(s)
    • be careful, no undelete, no training wheels
    • does not notify user of the action that has occurred
    • rm accepts a list of files to erase
    • for instance, rm *.c erases all of the C files,
    • whereas rm * erases all of the files in the working directory
  • rm -i wc.c: forces rm to query before erasing files
    • interactive
    • adds confirmation (training wheels)
    • for instance, rm -i ../hw1/wc.c
    • some like alias rm="rm -i"
  • mkdir <dir(s)> (make directory): creates one or more directories
  • rmdir <dir(s)> (remove directory): deletes one or more directories which must be empty
  • rm -r <file(s)/dir(s)>
    • use with extreme caution
    • directory need not be empty
  • mv <src> <dest> (move): relocates the file(s) into the specified directory
    • for instance, mv wc.c ../backups/
    • mv is also used to rename a file leaving the location unaltered (e.g., mv wc.c wc1.c)
  • more <file(s)> (or page): displays <file(s)> one screen at a time; use spacebar to page through
  • less <file(s)>: displays/browses file(s) one screen at a time, move forward or backward through file, and can search for patterns (unlike more, browsing begins before entire file loaded into memory)
    • spacebar pages through
    • enter key scrolls down a line
    • searchable through /<keyword>; n moves cursor to next match
    • hit q key to quite
  • head, tail: can specify number of lines with option
  • lpr <file(s)> (line printer): prints one or more files on the default printer
  • pushd and popd


    [C] C Language for Experienced Programmers, Version 2.0.0, AT&T, 1988.
    [UPE] B.W. Kernighan and R. Pike. The UNIX Programming Environment. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Second edition, 1984.

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