File Manipulation

Common File Manipulation Commands

  • mkdir - make a directory
  • touch - make a file
  • mv - move a file/directory
  • cp - copy a file/directory
  • rm - remove a file/directory
  • sort - sort text files
  • grep - search text files
  • echo - write text to standard output
  • cat - read and concatenate files
  • > - redirect output to a file
  • >> - redirect and append output to a file
  • | - pipe output to another command

mkdir - Make a directory

Make a directory using mkdir, which accepts the name of the new directory as an argument. Note that when naming directories, using hyphens or underscores is recommended when separating words (don't use spaces).

mkdir living_room

Let's cd into our new living_room Look around with ls, and ls -la. What do you see?

touch - Create a file

Creating a file can be done by using the touch command. Then, the file can be opened in Atom for editing.

touch books.txt
subl books.txt

Add a few books, copy and paste the section below so we all have some books in common, and save the file. Make sure the books you add are in the same format: <author_given_name>, <author_last_name>:<title>.

Carroll, Lewis:Through the Looking-Glass
Shakespeare, William:Hamlet
Bartlett, John:Familiar Quotations
Mill, John :On Nature
London, Jack:John Barleycorn
Bunyan, John:Pilgrim's Progress, The
Defoe, Daniel:Robinson Crusoe
Mill, John Stuart:System of Logic, A
Milton, John:Paradise Lost
Johnson, Samuel:Lives of the Poets
Shakespeare, William:Julius Caesar
Mill, John Stuart:On Liberty
Bunyan, John:Saved by Grace

Now try ls -la again. Do you see the books.txt file?

cat - Reading and concatenating files

A quick way to read files without opening Atom is by using cat.

cat books.txt

If we had another file, we could provide additional filenames as arguments in order to concatenate files together.

cat books.txt schedule.txt

echo - Writing text to standard output

echo is a command that echoes (outputs) what we give to it as arguments.

echo "This bookshelf flexes under the weight of the books it holds."

At first glance, it seems too simple. Why would we need this command? Well every command that we run in the terminal has an input, an output, an error output, and arguments/options. Since echo produces output, we can change where this output will go!

> and >> - File Redirection

Let's try redirecting the output from echo to a file.

echo "This bookshelf flexes under the weight of the books it holds" > bookshelf.txt

Using the closing angle bracket > in this way is called redirection.

We are saying:

  • Run echo with this string as an argument
  • Take the output, and put it in a new file called bookshelf.txt.

Try running ls again, and cat our new file.

Two angle brackets >> works similarly, but it appends the string to the end of the file.

echo "It does not break, it does its job admirably" >> bookshelf.txt

Try cat bookshelf.txt to see the result

| - Piping

Let's look back at books.txt. Look at the file contents. Notice that the list of books is unsorted. We need to organize this using the sort command.

We can use the | character to pipe output into another command, specifically the sort command. This is different from file redirection because we're directing output to the input of a command, not a file.

cat books.txt | sort

Note that if we look at books.txt, nothing changed. We read the contents of books.txt and piped the contents into sort, but the output was never saved. Luckily, we can combine piping with file redirection.

cat books.txt | sort > sorted_books.txt

Look around again to see how the room has changed.

grep - Searching files

There are dozens of powerful tools we can leverage using pipes. One of the ones you'll be using the most is grep.

cat books.txt | grep Mil

See how we filtered out just the lines that contain Mil? Try grepping for something else. There are also additional options that can be passed to both sort and grep.

Adapted from

mv - Moving files

Now that we have our books sorted, we really don't need our unsorted list of books. mv stands for move, and that's how we move files and folders from place to place.

mv sorted_books.txt books.txt

cp - Copying files

To copy files, we use the cp command. Let's try adding a second bookshelf.

cp bookshelf.txt second_bookshelf.txt

Note that if we copy a folder, we'll need to use an additional option, -r.


To remove files, we use the rm command. Let's go back and remove that second bookshelf.

rm second_bookshelf.txt

Note that if we remove a folder, we'll need to use an additional option, -r and sometimes -f. IMPORTANT NOTE: This does not send files to the trash can or recycle bin. Your files are gone forever, so be careful when using this command!

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