cp (copy)

cp file1 file2 is the command which makes a copy of file1 in the current working directory and calls it file2

What we are going to do now, is to take a file stored in an open access area of the file system, and use the cp command to copy it to your testdir directory.

First, cd to your testdir directory.

compsci-user@tim: cd ~/testdir

Then at the Linux prompt, type,

compsci-user@tim: cp /vol/examples/tutorial/science.txt . 
(Note: Don't forget the dot (.) at the end. Remember, in UNIX, the dot means the current directory.)

The above command means copy the file science.txt to the current directory, keeping the name the same.

(Note: The directory /vol/examples/tutorial/ is an area to which everyone in the department has read and copy access. If you are from outside the University, you can grab a copy of the file here. Use 'File/Save As..' from the menu bar to save it into your testdir directory.)
Exercise 2a

Create a backup of your science.txt file by copying it to a file called science.bak

mv (move)

mv file1 file2 moves (or renames) file1 to file2

To move a file from one place to another, use the mv command. This has the effect of moving rather than copying the file, so you end up with only one file rather than two.

It can also be used to rename a file, by moving the file to the same directory, but giving it a different name.

We are now going to move the file science.bak to your backup directory.

First, change directories to your testdir directory (can you remember how?). Then, inside the testdir directory, type

compsci-user@tim: mv science.bak backups/.

Type ls and ls backups to see if it has worked.

rm (remove), rmdir (remove directory)

To delete (remove) a file, use the rm command. As an example, we are going to create a copy of the science.txt file then delete it.

Inside your testdir directory, type

compsci-user@tim: cp science.txt tempfile.txt
compsci-user@tim: ls (to check if it has created the file)
compsci-user@tim: rm tempfile.txt 
compsci-user@tim: ls (to check if it has deleted the file)

You can use the rmdir command to remove a directory (make sure it is empty first). Try to remove the backups directory. You will not be able to since UNIX will not let you remove a non-empty directory.

Exercise 2b

Create a directory called tempstuff using mkdir , then remove it using the rmdir command.

clear (clear screen)

Before you start the next section, you may like to clear the terminal window of the previous commands so the output of the following commands can be clearly understood.

At the prompt, type

compsci-user@tim: clear

This will clear all text and leave you with the % prompt at the top of the window.

cat (concatenate)

The command cat can be used to display the contents of a file on the screen. Type:

compsci-user@tim: cat science.txt

As you can see, the file is longer than than the size of the window, so it scrolls past making it unreadable.


The command less writes the contents of a file onto the screen a page at a time. Type

compsci-user@tim: less science.txt

Press the [space-bar] if you want to see another page, type [q] if you want to quit reading. As you can see, less is used in preference to cat for long files.

The head command writes the first ten lines of a file to the screen.

First clear the screen then type

compsci-user@tim: head science.txt 

Then type

compsci-user@tim: head -5 science.txt 

What difference did the -5 do to the head command?


The tail command writes the last ten lines of a file to the screen.

Clear the screen and type

compsci-user@tim: tail science.txt 

How can you view the last 15 lines of the file?

Simple searching using less

Using less, you can search though a text file for a keyword (pattern). For example, to search through science.txt for the word 'science', type

compsci-user@tim: less science.txt 

then, still in less (i.e. don't press [q] to quit), type a forward slash [/] followed by the word to search

  • /science

As you can see, less finds and highlights the keyword. Type [n] to search for the next occurrence of the word.

grep (don't ask why it is called grep)

grep is one of many standard UNIX utilities. It searches files for specified words or patterns. First clear the screen, then type

compsci-user@tim: grep science science.txt 

As you can see, grep has printed out each line containg the word science.

Or has it????

Try typing

compsci-user@tim: grep Science science.txt 

The grep command is case sensitive; it distinguishes between Science and science.

To ignore upper/lower case distinctions, use the -i option, i.e. type

compsci-user@tim: grep -i science science.txt 

To search for a phrase or pattern, you must enclose it in single quotes (the apostrophe symbol). For example to search for spinning top, type

compsci-user@tim: grep -i 'spinning top' science.txt 

Some of the other options of grep are:

-v display those lines that do NOT match

-n precede each matching line with the line number

-c print only the total count of matched lines

Try some of them and see the different results. Don't forget, you can use more than one option at a time, for example, the number of lines without the words science or Science is

compsci-user@tim: grep -ivc science science.txt 

wc (word count)

A handy little utility is the wc command, short for word count. To do a word count on science.txt, type

compsci-user@tim: wc -w science.txt 

To find out how many lines the file has, type

compsci-user@tim: wc -l science.txt 
Command Meaning
cp file1 file2 copy file1 and call it file2
mv file1 file2 move or rename file1 to file2
rm file remove a file
rmdir directory remove a directory
cat file display a file
less file display a file a page at a time
head file display the first few lines of a file
tail file display the last few lines of a file
grep 'keyword' file search a file for keywords
wc file count number of lines/words/characters in file