Basic UNIX Commands

This reference sheet lists many of the commonly used commands in the UNIX operating system. To learn more about these commands, refer to the on-line manual pages (triggered by the man command). Notice that UNIX is case- sensitive so capitalization will matter. All commands should be typed in lower case.

In the following examples, please note that the " [" and " ]" symbols are not to be typed. They are intended to highlight specific, variable pieces of information to be entered by you as part of the command, such as file names or directory names.

Help and Logout

man [command]
with [command] being replaced by the specific command you wish to know more about
Get on-line help for a command.
man -k [keyword] Find documentation referring to the keyword.
lo Logout when finished using the system.

You can find more information about any of the commands on this page by using the "man" command above. And please remember to log off when you are finished with your terminal session.

File Manipulation

Directory Commands

cd [directory] change directory
ls [file(s)] list of files and directories
ls -a [file(s)] list files including hidden files
ls -l [file(s)] list files in long format (includes date, size, protection)
ls -F [file(s)] list files denoting directories and executables
mkdir [directory] make a new directory
pwd show the directory you are currently in
rmdir [directory] delete a directory

File Commands

Note: all these commands may be followed by -i for an interactive safety mode. This mode will cause the system to ask for confirmation before deleting or overwriting any files.
cp [source file(s)] [destination] copy files
cp -r [source file(s)] [destination] copy files and subdirectories
mv [source file(s)] [destination] move files
rm [file(s)] remove (delete) files
rm -r [file(s)] delete files including subdirectories

Display Commands

more [file] display a text file one screen at a time
cat [file] display a text file without pausing at the end of each page
cat [source files] [destination file] concatenate the source files into a destination fill

Process Control

UNIX is capable of running more than one process at a time. Processes can be run either in the foreground, as is normally the case, or they can be run in the background, where they are out of the way but still accessible to you later.
  • To stop a process in the foreground, the command to kill it is Ctrl-c.
  • To leave the process running, but move it to the background, the command is Ctrl-z.
  • A process can be started in the background by following the command with an & (ampersand) before pressing return.

The following commands will help to navigate through foreground and background files:

fg [%jobnumber] bring the specified job to the foreground. The default is the last job exited.
jobs list all jobs running including process numbers
ps list all processes running including process ID numbers
bg [%jobnumber] force specified job into the background
kill [-9] [%jobnumber or processID] Kill a specified process by job or process ID number. -9 is more powerful.


Mail Program

The default mail program on our UNIX systems is pine. The command to run pine is simply pine. To exit pine, type q for quit. All commands will be displayed at the bottom of the screen.

Text Editor

Pico is used to edit text files. The command is pico. Pico is the same used in pine to edit your messages. All commands will be displayed at the bottom of the screen. A [^X] means Control key + the [X] key.

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