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Linux. Command line basics

Read time: 7 minutes

Most likely you are reading this text in a browser window, which means you are using a graphical shell when working with the operating system. Now you open windows and click the cursor on the buttons and application icons, but this was not always the case.

50 years ago, all computer users saw something like this in front of them:

Old computer with command line

Imagine, for example, that even some Evlampia Sergeevna from the accounting department worked through the command line to generate a quarterly report.

Okay, before there were simply no graphical interfaces, and Evlampia Sergeevna had no alternatives - now why bother with this? I answer:

  • If you set up a server that may be on the other side of the globe, you will have no alternative but to remotely connect to its console
  • If you want to automate some scenario of working with a computer, the fastest way is to write a script that will execute the commands you have prescribed
  • If you want to better understand how your computer works and improve something in it, there are a huge number of programs for the command line that allow you to look into the deepest aspects of your computer
  • If you want to learn how to work comfortably even on the weakest computer - the command line is several orders of magnitude more productive than the graphical interface

If I convinced you, then connect your neural interface, cyber ninja - now you will learn how to:

This is the base from which you will control your computer through the command line.

Open command line

In English there are well-established abbreviations:

  • Graphical shell – GUI (Graphic User Interface), graphical user interface
  • Command line – CLI (Command Line Interface), command line interface

Also, the command line is called “Terminal” and “Console”.

Regardless of whether you’re on MacOS, Windows, or Linux, under the hood, the graphical shell and command line do the same thing - they interact with the operating system.

GUI and command line do the same thing

Okay, you already know how to move the cursor and press the buttons, but what commands you need to write in this console is completely unclear. There is no magic here - you have to remember the commands. This is not as difficult as it might seem at first glance, and after a couple of dozen repetitions, you will write them automatically.

To open the command line, you need to press the Ctrl+Alt+T combination or find the “Terminal” application among the installed applications.

Command line prompt and home directory

A command prompt window will appear, in which you will see an inscription like:


Here is how it is deciphered:

Symbol Meaning
kee-reel username specified during OS installation
@ separator character
home computer computer name specified during OS installation
: separating symbol
~ current directory
$ current access mode ($ - normal user, # - administrator)

This inscription is called Prompt (it can be translated into Russian as “invitation”, but such a term is not used, but they simply say “promt”).

The most important information here is what is in place ~ – because we need to somehow understand where we are now in the file system.

For example, here is how the current directory looks in the graphical shell of Windows OS:

Windows Explorer

On the command line it would look like this:

kee-reel@blog:~/Documents/Andrey/My Work$

By default, when you open a command prompt, you are in the “home” directory of the current user. It still contains all sorts of folders, like “Documents”, “Downloads” and so on.

To shorten the notation in Prompt, the home directory is denoted by the character “~” (tilde). Actually the “~” home directory is in “/home/kee-reel” (each user will have their own folder in “/home”).

If you do not understand what all these “/home” mean, then look for an article about the structure of the file system in Linux.

Execute commands

If you want to write some command, then it will be added after Prompt:

kee-reel@blog:~$ my-command

ls - directory contents

ls (from LiSt) – find out what folders/files we have in the current directory:

kee-reel@blog:~$ ls

Also, you can specify the path to the directory in which you want to display a list of files: ls Documents/OtherFolder/

cd - change directory

cd (from Change Directory) – change directory relative to the current one:

Let’s go to the Documents folder:

kee-reel@blog:~$ cd Documents

You can see that the current directory in the prompt has also changed:


Did you mean: \u003e Можно указывать переход сразу через несколько папок: cd Documents/Folder/Programming

You can specify the transition through several folders at once: cd Documents/MyFolder/Programming

Did you mean: Чтобы вернуться в предыдущую директорию, надо написать: To return to the previous directory, write:

kee-reel@blog:~$ cd ..

Prompt will change accordingly:


mkdir - create directory

mkdir (from MaKe DIRectory) – create a new folder in the current directory:

kee-reel@blog:~$ mkdir ultra

It can be seen with the ls command:

kee-reel@blog:~$ ls

nano - text editor

You probably already have the nano editor installed – it’s a console-based text editor.

Let’s use it to create a test.txt file in the ~/ultra folder:

kee-reel@blog:~/ultra$ nano test.txt

An editor window will open:

Nano Editor

Try to write anything there. The input works like in any other editor - we type letters, create a new line with Enter, move the cursor with the keyboard arrows, erase with Backspace and Delete.

When you’ve played enough with the file, close it by pressing Ctrl+X. In doing so, you will be asked:

Save modified buffer?
Y Yes
N No        ^X Cancel

Press Y to save, N to close but don’t save, Ctrl+X to cancel closing.

Let’s say you pressed Y - you will be asked for the name of the file with which you want to save it:

File name to Write: test.txt

It seems that everything suits - press Enter.

That’s it, the file is saved - try to display a list of files:

kee-reel@blog:~/ultra$ ls

cp - copy file or folder

cp (from CoPy) – copy a file or folder:

kee-reel@blog:~/ultra$ cp test.txt test_1.txt

You can check:

kee-reel@blog:~/ultra$ ls

To copy a folder, add the -r option:

kee-reel@blog:~$ cp -r ultra mega # made a copy of the ultra folder called mega
kee-reel@blog:~$ cd mega # moved to mega folder
kee-reel@blog:~/mega$ ls # list the contents of the mega folder

Program options like -r are quite common – they’re just additional specifiers that allow you to control how the program behaves. In the future, we will get to know them better.

mv - move file or folder

mv (from MoVe) – move a file or folder:

kee-reel@blog:~/ultra$ mv test.txt ../ # moved the file test.txt to the parent folder (home folder there)

In addition to moving, this command can also rename files:

kee-reel@blog:~/ultra$ mv test_1.txt test_666.txt # renamed test.txt to test_666.txt

If you need to move a folder, then you do not need to specify the -r option (unlike cp):

kee-reel@blog:~$ mv mega super-mega # renamed mega folder to super-mega folder

rm - delete file or folder

rm (from ReMove) – remove file or folder:

kee-reel@blog:~/ultra$ rm test_666.txt # deleted file test_666.txt

To delete a folder with all the files in it, you need to specify the -r option:

kee-reel@blog:~$ rm -r ultra # deleted the ultra folder

NEVER do a “rm” command on a directory that starts with “/” – this will delete all files on the computer

Do NOT do this: “rm -rf /”

The “-f” flag allows you to skip the confirmation prompt when deleting system files.

rm rf


In total, you learned 7 commands:

  • ls - directory contents
  • cd - change directory
  • mkdir - create a directory
  • nano - text editor
  • cp - copy file/directory
  • mv - move or rename a file/directory
  • rm - delete file/directory

If you understand everything, then it’s super-cool, if not, try to play with the commands again.

Next, we will see what directories generally exist in Linux - this will not take much time, and will have a positive effect on the general understanding of the operation of the operating system.

If anything - write, I will help and try to explain better.