The 29 Most Useful Linux Commands

I have been using Linux more and more at work and at home. I am still by no means a master at memorizing and recalling the specific commands that I need all of the time. Usually a search has to be done and then I can continue working as planned. Then I found this great post from The Geek Stuff detailing the 50 most frequently used Unix commands and I had to share. Here is a slightly modified list of my favorite, most frequently used and most helpful commands.

1. tar command examples

Create a new tar archive.

$ tar cvf archive_name.tar dirname/

Extract from an existing tar archive.

$ tar xvf archive_name.tar

More tar examples: The Ultimate Tar Command Tutorial with 10 Practical Examples

2. find command examples

Find files using file-name ( case in-sensitve find)

# find -iname "MyCProgram.c"

Execute commands on files found by the find command

$ find -iname "MyCProgram.c" -exec md5sum {} \;

Find all empty files in home directory

# find ~ -empty

More find examples: Mommy, I found it! — 15 Practical Linux Find Command Examples

3. sed command examples

When you copy a DOS file to Unix, you could find \r\n in the end of each line. This example converts the DOS file format to Unix file format using sed command.

$sed 's/.$//' filename

Print file content in reverse order

$ sed -n '1!G;h;$p' thegeekstuff.txt

Add line number for all non-empty-lines in a file

$ sed '/./=' thegeekstuff.txt | sed 'N; s/\n/ /'

More sed examples: Advanced Sed Substitution Examples

4. vim command examples

Go to the 143rd line of file

$ vim +143 filename.txt

Go to the first match of the specified

$ vim +/search-term filename.txt

Open the file in read only mode.

$ vim -R /etc/passwd

More vim examples: How To Record and Play in Vim Editor

5. ls command examples

Display filesize in human readable format (e.g. KB, MB etc.,)

$ ls -lh
-rw-r----- 1 ramesh team-dev 8.9M Jun 12 15:27 arch-linux.txt.gz

Order Files Based on Last Modified Time (In Reverse Order) Using ls -ltr

$ ls -ltr

Visual Classification of Files With Special Characters Using ls -F

$ ls -F

More ls examples: Unix LS Command: 15 Practical Examples

6. pwd command

pwd is Print working directory. What else can be said about the good old pwd who has been printing the current directory name for ages.

7. cd command examples

Use “cd -” to toggle between the last two directories

Use “shopt -s cdspell” to automatically correct mistyped directory names on cd

More cd examples: 6 Awesome Linux cd command Hacks

8. shutdown command examples

Shutdown the system and turn the power off immediately.

# shutdown -h now

Shutdown the system after 10 minutes.

# shutdown -h +10

Reboot the system using shutdown command.

# shutdown -r now

Force the filesystem check during reboot.

# shutdown -Fr now

9. crontab command examples

View crontab entry for a specific user

# crontab -u john -l

Schedule a cron job every 10 minutes.

*/10 * * * * /home/ramesh/check-disk-space

More crontab examples: Linux Crontab: 15 Awesome Cron Job Examples

10. df command examples

Displays the file system disk space usage. By default df -k displays output in bytes.

$ df -k
Filesystem           1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda1             29530400   3233104  24797232  12% /
/dev/sda2            120367992  50171596  64082060  44% /home

df -h displays output in human readable form. i.e size will be displayed in GB’s.

ramesh@ramesh-laptop:~$ df -h
Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda1              29G  3.1G   24G  12% /
/dev/sda2             115G   48G   62G  44% /home

Use -T option to display what type of file system.

ramesh@ramesh-laptop:~$ df -T
Filesystem    Type   1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda1     ext4    29530400   3233120  24797216  12% /
/dev/sda2     ext4   120367992  50171596  64082060  44% /home

11. kill command examples

Use kill command to terminate a process. First get the process id using ps -ef command, then use kill -9 to kill the running Linux process as shown below. You can also use killall, pkill, xkill to terminate a unix process.

$ ps -ef | grep vim
ramesh    7243  7222  9 22:43 pts/2    00:00:00 vim

$ kill -9 7243

More kill examples: 4 Ways to Kill a Process – kill, killall, pkill, xkill

12. rm command examples

Get confirmation before removing the file.

$ rm -i filename.txt

It is very useful while giving shell metacharacters in the file name argument.

Print the filename and get confirmation before removing the file.

$ rm -i file*

Following example recursively removes all files and directories under the example directory. This also removes the example directory itself.

$ rm -r example

13. cp command examples

Copy file1 to file2 preserving the mode, ownership and timestamp.

$ cp -p file1 file2

Copy file1 to file2. if file2 exists prompt for confirmation before overwritting it.

$ cp -i file1 file2

14. mv command examples

Rename file1 to file2. if file2 exists prompt for confirmation before overwritting it.

$ mv -i file1 file2

Note: mv -f is just the opposite, which will overwrite file2 without prompting.

mv -v will print what is happening during file rename, which is useful while specifying shell metacharacters in the file name argument.

$ mv -v file1 file2

15. cat command examples

You can view multiple files at the same time. Following example prints the content of file1 followed by file2 to stdout.

$ cat file1 file2

While displaying the file, following cat -n command will prepend the line number to each line of the output.

$ cat -n /etc/logrotate.conf
    1	/var/log/btmp {
    2	    missingok
    3	    monthly
    4	    create 0660 root utmp
    5	    rotate 1
    6	}

16. mount command examples

To mount a file system, you should first create a directory and mount it as shown below.

# mkdir /u01

# mount /dev/sdb1 /u01

You can also add this to the fstab for automatic mounting. i.e Anytime system is restarted, the filesystem will be mounted.

/dev/sdb1 /u01 ext2 defaults 0 2

17. chmod command examples

chmod command is used to change the permissions for a file or directory.

Give full access to user and group (i.e read, write and execute ) on a specific file.

$ chmod ug+rwx file.txt

Revoke all access for the group (i.e read, write and execute ) on a specific file.

$ chmod g-rwx file.txt

Apply the file permissions recursively to all the files in the sub-directories.

$ chmod -R ug+rwx file.txt

More chmod examples: 7 Chmod Command Examples for Beginners

18. chown command examples

chown command is used to change the owner and group of a file. \

To change owner to oracle and group to db on a file. i.e Change both owner and group at the same time.

$ chown oracle:dba

Use -R to change the ownership recursively.

$ chown -R oracle:dba /home/oracle

19. passwd command examples

Change your password from command line using passwd. This will prompt for the old password followed by the new password.

$ passwd

Super user can use passwd command to reset others password. This will not prompt for current password of the user.

# passwd USERNAME

Remove password for a specific user. Root user can disable password for a specific user. Once the password is disabled, the user can login without entering the password.

# passwd -d USERNAME

20. mkdir command examples

Following example creates a directory called temp under your home directory.

$ mkdir ~/temp

Create nested directories using one mkdir command. If any of these directories exist already, it will not display any error. If any of these directories doesn’t exist, it will create them.

$ mkdir -p dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/

21. ifconfig command examples

Use ifconfig command to view or configure a network interface on the Linux system.

View all the interfaces along with status.

$ ifconfig -a

Start or stop a specific interface using up and down command as shown below.

$ ifconfig eth0 up

$ ifconfig eth0 down

More ifconfig examples: Ifconfig: 7 Examples To Configure Network Interface

22. whatis command examples

Whatis command displays a single line description about a command.

$ whatis ls
ls		(1)  - list directory contents

$ whatis ifconfig
ifconfig (8)         - configure a network interface

23. locate command examples

Using locate command you can quickly search for the location of a specific file (or group of files). Locate command uses the database created by updatedb.

The example below shows all files in the system that contains the word crontab in it.

$ locate crontab

24. man command examples

Display the man page of a specific command.

$ man crontab

When a man page for a command is located under more than one section, you can view the man page for that command from a specific section as shown below.

$ man SECTION-NUMBER commandname

Following 8 sections are available in the man page.

  1. General commands
  2. System calls
  3. C library functions
  4. Special files (usually devices, those found in /dev) and drivers
  5. File formats and conventions
  6. Games and screensavers
  7. Miscellaneous
  8. System administration commands and daemons

For example, when you do whatis crontab, you’ll notice that crontab has two man pages (section 1 and section 5). To view section 5 of crontab man page, do the following.

$ whatis crontab
crontab (1)          - maintain crontab files for individual users (V3)
crontab (5)          - tables for driving cron

$ man 5 crontab

25. su command examples

Switch to a different user account using su command. Super user can switch to any other user without entering their password.


Execute a single command from a different account name. In the following example, john can execute the ls command as raj username. Once the command is executed, it will come back to john’s account.

[john@dev-server]$ su - raj -c 'ls'


Login to a specified user account, and execute the specified shell instead of the default shell.


26. ping command examples

Ping a remote host by sending only 5 packets.

$ ping -c 5

More ping examples: Ping Tutorial: 15 Effective Ping Command Examples

27. wget command examples

The quick and effective method to download software, music, video from internet is using wget command.

$ wget

Download and store it with a different name.

$ wget -O

More wget examples: The Ultimate Wget Download Guide With 15 Awesome Examples

28. clear command examples

This helpful command will simply clear the screen.


29. top command examples

The top command will show you a real-time display of your processes and the CPU they are using.


Or display processes for a specific user

top -u devon

Thanks to Mitch Bartlett for suggesting his favorite command.

What do you think of the list? Is there anything else that you use on a regular basis that you think should be added?

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