Chapter 1: Directories and the Filesystem

1.1 Listing files and directories

ls (list)

When you first login, your current working directory is your home directory. Your home directory has the same name as your username and it is where your personal files and subdirectories are saved. To find out what is in your home directory, type

$ ls [Enter]

The ls command lists the contents of your current working directory. When your supercomputing account is first created, you should see the compute directory and maybe a few other directories in the output of ls

It is also important to note that ls does not, in fact, cause all the files in your home directory to be listed, but only those ones whose name does not begin with a dot (.) Files beginning with a dot (.) are known as hidden files and usually contain important program configuration information. They are hidden because you should not change them unless you are very familiar with UNIX! To list all files in your home directory including those whose names begin with a dot, type

$ ls -a

ls is an example of a command which can take options; -a is an example of an option. The options change the behaviour of the command. There are manual pages that tell you which options a particular command can take, and how each option modifies the behaviour of the command. (See later in this tutorial)

1.2 Making Directories

mkdir (make directory)

We will now make a subdirectory in your home directory to hold the files you will be creating and using in the course of this tutorial. To make a subdirectory called unixstuff in your current working directory type

$ mkdir unixstuff

To see the directory you have just created, type

$ ls

1.3 Changing to a different directory

cd (change directory)

The command cd directory means change the current working directory to 'directory'. The current working directory may be thought of as the directory you are in, i.e. your current position in the file-system tree. To change to the directory you have just made, type

$ cd unixstuff

Type ls to see the contents (which should be empty).

Exercise 1a

Make another directory inside the unixstuff directory called backups

1.4 The directories . and ..

Still in the unixstuff directory, type

$ ls -a

As you can see, in the unixstuff directory (and in all other directories), there are two special directories named (.) and (..). In UNIX, (.) means the current directory, so typing

$ cd .
Note: there is a space between cd and the dot

means stay where you are (the unixstuff directory). This may not seem very useful at first, but using (.) as the name of the current directory will save a lot of typing, as we shall see later in the tutorial. (..) means the parent of the current directory, so typing

$ cd ..

will take you one directory up the hierarchy (back to your home directory).

Typing cd with no argument always returns you to your home directory. This is very useful if you are lost in the file system.

1.5 Pathnames

Absolute and Relative Pathnames

Pathnames are a way to specify the location of a file or directory. Pathnames can be either relative or absolute. Relative pathnames specify the location of the file or directory relative to the current working directory. When you first login, the current working directory is your home directory and changes each time you use cd. So, for example, unixstuff/backups is the path to backups relative to my home directory. Absolute paths differ from relative paths in that they always start with /. The / indicates that we want to start from the "root" of the file tree. In a sense, absolute paths are composed of multiple relative paths that are all relative to /.

pwd (print working directory)

There happens to be an easy way to find out the absolute path of any given directory. The pwd command will show the absolute path of the current working directory. To find out the absolute pathname of your home directory, type cd to get back to your home directory and then type

$ pwd

The absolute pathname will look something like this:


Each "/" indicates a subdirectory. This means that myusername (your home directory) is in the directory fslhome which is in the "root" directory of the file tree (/). Using the absolute path of your home directory and the path of backups relative to it (unixstuff/backups), it is possible to work out the absolute path to backups. We simply add the relative path to the end of the absolute path with a "/" in between. Thus, the absolute path to backups would be /fslhome/myusername/unixstuff/backups. We can verify this by using cd to go to that directory and then using pwd.

Exercise 1b

Use the commands ls, pwd and cd to explore the file system. Remember, if you get lost, type cd by itself to return to your home directory.

1.6 More about home directories and pathnames

Understanding pathnames

First type cd to get back to your home directory, then type

$ ls unixstuff

to list the contents of your unixstuff directory. Now type

$ ls backups

You will get a messsage like this:

backups: No such file or directory

The reason is, backups is not in your current working directory. To use a command on a file (or directory) not in the current working directory (the directory you are currently in), you must either cd to the correct directory, or specify its full pathname. To list the contents of your backups directory, you must type

$ ls unixstuff/backups

~ (your home directory)

Home directories can also be referred to by the tilde ~ character. It can be used to specify paths starting at your home directory. So typing

$ ls ~/unixstuff

will list the contents of your unixstuff directory, no matter where you are currently in the file system.

Exercise 1c

What do you think

$ ls ~

would list?

What do you think

$ ls ~/..

would list?

Now, check your answers by running the commands.


ls list files and directories
ls -a list all files and directories
mkdir make a directory
cd directory change to named directory
cd change to home directory
cd ~ change to home directory
cd .. change to parent directory
pwd display the path of the current directory