×We're offering Women's Scholarships for applicants to our February class! Details here.
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
Now that we have a good understanding of how to change directories and navigate in Terminal, let's see how we can create our own folders and files. To create a folder we use the
mkdir command (short for "make directory"), followed by the name (or space-separated names) of the folder(s) that we would like to create. So let's head over to our
Desktop and create a new folder called
cd /Users/$USER/Desktop mkdir first_folder
Whoa...you should be asking yourself, what is that
$USER thing? It is an environment variable in your shell that keeps track of the current user of the shell. You can also see who
$USER by typing
echo $USER or by using the command
whoami. Try out both methods of checking who the current user is.
As another side note, this tutorial will use absolute paths to navigate, just to make it easier for you to follow along. However, don't feel like you MUST use absolute paths over relative ones.
Now that we made the
first_folder, how do we change directories into it? If you are thinking of the
cd command, you're right! So let's
cd /Users/$USER/Desktop/first_folder. Or, if you are already in your Desktop, you can just
We just mentioned "if you are already in your Desktop." How do you know which directory you are in if you forget? Thankfully, there is a handy command called
pwd which will display the absolute path and let you know what current directory you are working in. So if you are ever unsure, just type in
pwd (which is short for present working directory).
Now that we are inside our new folder,
first_folder, let's create a new file. A simple way to create a file is with the
touch command. The
touch command simply creates an empty file. Let's create a file called
touch /Users/$USER/Desktop/first_folder/first_file. Alternatively, if you are currently in the
first_folder directory, you can simple type
touch first_file. Now use the
ls command to verify that your file was created.
ls, which is short for "list," will list all of the files and folders in your current directory.
A very common command to display the contents of a file is the
cat command. If you type
cat NAME_OF_FILE you can see the contents of the file easily, right there in Terminal. Try it out on the file you just created,
first_file. You should see no output after pressing enter. There is no output because
first_file is empty.
Let's add some text to the file so that we can use
echo "Hello World" > first_file
echo command simply writes text to the terminal. The
> is called a redirect. The
> redirects the output from the command on the left side into the file on the right hand side. We will see more redirects in the next chapter.
Now try using
cat on the file again. Do you see
There are other ways of seeing the contents of a file in the terminal. Try using the command
less is a program that displays the contents of a file and allows the user to navigate up and down through the file or search for text in the file. To exit
less, just press
If you would like to open up a file, you can use the
open command. So if we want to see the contents of
first_file we can do
open first_file. The
open command is also very useful if you want to open all the files and folders in a directory (using your operating system's user interface). Try typing in
open . and see what happens! If you are on Windows, the command to do this is
Now that you understand how to create files and folders, let's move onto another essential operation: moving and copying folders. To move files and folders we use the
mv command. Let's try this out!
Head back to the Desktop by typing in
cd ~/Desktop and let's make a new file called
test.txt (remember that command? If not - stop reading and go through the previous section again). Now on your Desktop you should have a folder called
first_folder and a file called
test.txt. Our goal is to move
test.txt inside of
first_folder - let's do that using the
mv command. First make sure you are in the Desktop (type
pwd to be sure), type
mv test.txt first_folder/test.txt, and press enter.
Did it work? You shouldn't see any kind of success message or confirmation from Terminal, but you also should not see an error. This is very common when working with Terminal: you will see error messages if a command is incorrect, but very rarely see a success message. In other words, no news is good news. In this case, to make sure we did the correct thing, let's
first_folder and type in
ls. We should see
test.txt inside of
Sometimes you may want to make a copy of a file or a folder. To copy a file, we use the
cp command (short for copy). The general syntax looks like this:
cp PATH_TO_ORIGINAL_FILE PATH_TO_COPIED_FILE
For example, if we wanted to create a copy of
test.txt and call it
test_copy.txt, we could enter the following command (assuming we're inside of
cp test.txt test_copy.txt
If you list all of the files in
first_folder, you should now see three text files.
What if you want to copy an entire directory of files? Try moving up a directory from
first_folder, and then type
cp first_folder first_folder_copy. Uh oh! You should see an error:
cp: questions_copy is a directory (not copied).
In order to copy a directory, you need to modify the
cp command as follows:
cp -r first_folder first_folder_copy
-r is called a flag; you can think of a flag for a command as an option that can be passed to that command. To learn more about the flags that you can pass to
cp, you can type
man cp (
man is short for manual, on Windows this command is
--help) and use the arrow keys to move up and down. When you're finished, press
q to quit.
Alright, enough with all of these files and folders, let's get rid of them. Make sure you are inside the
first_folder and type
rm test.txt. Once again, you shouldn't see much of a response from the terminal, so run a quick
ls to make sure that the file is removed. Now that it is gone... where did it go? The Trash? The answer is it is completely removed from your computer. There is no confirmation or undo so be VERY careful when using the
rm command. After you have removed this file, go ahead and remove the copied file as well. Finally, remove
first_file. Now that the
first_folder is empty, let's move up a directory and remove the
first_folder directory itself.
Here you may run into a problem. If you try to use
rm on a directory, you will see this message:
rm: first_folder: is a directory. It turns out that
rm is for a file, while the command
rmdir is used to remove (empty) directories. So, let's use the
rmdir command to remove
first_folder. Make sure that there is nothing else inside that folder, or else you will see a message that looks like this:
rmdir: first_folder: Directory not empty.
If there is anything inside the folder, you will have to use
rm -rf first_folder. Like we saw with
-rf are examples of flags. How can you learn more about the flags for
rm? Go ahead and remove the
first_folder_copy directory using
mvcommand. What does this tell you about the command?
cpcommand, make a copy of
rename.txtand call it
cp -rwhat is the
-rcalled? What does it do?
questionsfolder and the copy.
When you're ready, move on to Listing Files and Flags