Unix LS Command: 15 Practical Examples

by Ramesh Natarajan on July 13, 2009

Ls Command for Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, Red Hat, AIX, SUSE, CentOSls – Unix users and sysadmins cannot live without this two letter command. Whether you use it 10 times a day or 100 times a day, knowing the power of ls command can make your command line journey enjoyable.

In this article, let us review 15 practical examples of the mighty ls command.

1. Open Last Edited File Using ls -t

To open the last edited file in the current directory use the combination of ls, head and vi commands as shown below.

ls -t sorts the file by modification time, showing the last edited file first. head -1 picks up this first file.

$ vi first-long-file.txt
$ vi second-long-file.txt

$ vi `ls -t | head -1`
[Note: This will open the last file you edited (i.e second-long-file.txt)]

2. Display One File Per Line Using ls -1

To show single entry per line, use -1 option as shown below.

$ ls -1
bin
boot
cdrom
dev
etc
home
initrd
initrd.img
lib

3. Display All Information About Files/Directories Using ls -l

To show long listing information about the file/directory.

$ ls -l
-rw-r----- 1 ramesh team-dev 9275204 Jun 13 15:27 mthesaur.txt.gz
  • 1st Character – File Type: First character specifies the type of the file.
    In the example above the hyphen (-) in the 1st character indicates that this is a normal file. Following are the possible file type options in the 1st character of the ls -l output.

    • Field Explanation
    • - normal file
    • d directory
    • s socket file
    • l link file
  • Field 1 – File Permissions: Next 9 character specifies the files permission. Each 3 characters refers to the read, write, execute permissions for user, group and world In this example, -rw-r—– indicates read-write permission for user, read permission for group, and no permission for others.
  • Field 2 – Number of links: Second field specifies the number of links for that file. In this example, 1 indicates only one link to this file.
  • Field 3 – Owner: Third field specifies owner of the file. In this example, this file is owned by username ‘ramesh’.
  • Field 4 – Group: Fourth field specifies the group of the file. In this example, this file belongs to ”team-dev’ group.
  • Field 5 – Size: Fifth field specifies the size of file. In this example, ’9275204′ indicates the file size.
  • Field 6 – Last modified date & time: Sixth field specifies the date and time of the last modification of the file. In this example, ‘Jun 13 15:27′ specifies the last modification time of the file.
  • Field 7 – File name: The last field is the name of the file. In this example, the file name is mthesaur.txt.gz.

4. Display File Size in Human Readable Format Using ls -lh

Use ls -lh (h stands for human readable form), to display file size in easy to read format. i.e M for MB, K for KB, G for GB.

$ ls -l
-rw-r----- 1 ramesh team-dev 9275204 Jun 12 15:27 arch-linux.txt.gz*

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

5. Display Directory Information Using ls -ld

When you use “ls -l” you will get the details of directories content. But if you want the details of directory then you can use -d option as., For example, if you use ls -l /etc will display all the files under etc directory. But, if you want to display the information about the /etc/ directory, use -ld option as shown below.

$ ls -l /etc
total 3344
-rw-r--r--   1 root root   15276 Oct  5  2004 a2ps.cfg
-rw-r--r--   1 root root    2562 Oct  5  2004 a2ps-site.cfg
drwxr-xr-x   4 root root    4096 Feb  2  2007 acpi
-rw-r--r--   1 root root      48 Feb  8  2008 adjtime
drwxr-xr-x   4 root root    4096 Feb  2  2007 alchemist

$ ls -ld /etc
drwxr-xr-x 21 root root 4096 Jun 15 07:02 /etc

6. Order Files Based on Last Modified Time Using ls -lt

To sort the file names displayed in the order of last modification time use the -t option. You will be finding it handy to use it in combination with -l option.

$ ls -lt
total 76
drwxrwxrwt  14 root root  4096 Jun 22 07:36 tmp
drwxr-xr-x 121 root root  4096 Jun 22 07:05 etc
drwxr-xr-x  13 root root 13780 Jun 22 07:04 dev
drwxr-xr-x  13 root root  4096 Jun 20 23:12 root
drwxr-xr-x  12 root root  4096 Jun 18 08:31 home
drwxr-xr-x   2 root root  4096 May 17 21:21 sbin
lrwxrwxrwx   1 root root    11 May 17 20:29 cdrom -> media/cdrom
drwx------   2 root root 16384 May 17 20:29 lost+found
drwxr-xr-x  15 root root  4096 Jul  2  2008 var

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

To sort the file names in the last modification time in reverse order. This will be showing the last edited file in the last line which will be handy when the listing goes beyond a page. This is my default ls usage. Anytime I do ls, I always use ls -ltr as I find this very convenient.

$ ls -ltr

total 76
drwxr-xr-x  15 root root  4096 Jul  2  2008 var
drwx------   2 root root 16384 May 17 20:29 lost+found
lrwxrwxrwx   1 root root    11 May 17 20:29 cdrom -> media/cdrom
drwxr-xr-x   2 root root  4096 May 17 21:21 sbin
drwxr-xr-x  12 root root  4096 Jun 18 08:31 home
drwxr-xr-x  13 root root  4096 Jun 20 23:12 root
drwxr-xr-x  13 root root 13780 Jun 22 07:04 dev
drwxr-xr-x 121 root root  4096 Jun 22 07:05 etc
drwxrwxrwt  14 root root  4096 Jun 22 07:36 tmp

8. Display Hidden Files Using ls -a (or) ls -A

To show all the hidden files in the directory, use ‘-a option’. Hidden files in Unix starts with ‘.’ in its file name.

$ ls -a
[rnatarajan@asp-dev ~]$ ls -a
.                             Debian-Info.txt
..                            CentOS-Info.txt
.bash_history                 Fedora-Info.txt
.bash_logout                  .lftp
.bash_profile                 libiconv-1.11.tar.tar
.bashrc                       libssh2-0.12-1.2.el4.rf.i386.rpm

It will show all the files including the ‘.’ (current directory) and ‘..’ (parent directory). To show the hidden files, but not the ‘.’ (current directory) and ‘..’ (parent directory), use option -A.

$ ls -A
Debian-Info.txt               Fedora-Info.txt
CentOS-Info.txt               Red-Hat-Info.txt
.bash_history                 SUSE-Info.txt
.bash_logout                  .lftp
.bash_profile                 libiconv-1.11.tar.tar
.bashrc                       libssh2-0.12-1.2.el4.rf.i386.rpm
[Note: . and .. are not displayed here]

9. Display Files Recursively Using ls -R

$ ls  /etc/sysconfig/networking
devices  profiles

$ ls  -R /etc/sysconfig/networking
/etc/sysconfig/networking:
devices  profiles

/etc/sysconfig/networking/devices:

/etc/sysconfig/networking/profiles:
default

/etc/sysconfig/networking/profiles/default:

To show all the files recursively, use -R option. When you do this from /, it shows all the unhidden files in the whole file system recursively.

10. Display File Inode Number Using ls -i

Sometimes you may want to know the inone number of a file for internal maintenance. Use -i option as shown below to display inone number. Using inode number you can remove files that has special characters in it’s name as explained in the example#6 of the find command article.

$ ls -i /etc/xinetd.d/
279694 chargen      279724 cups-lpd  279697 daytime-udp
279695 chargen-udp  279696 daytime   279698 echo

11. Hide Control Characters Using ls -q

To print question mark instead of the non graphics control characters use the -q option.

ls -q

12. Display File UID and GID Using ls -n

Lists the output like -l, but shows the uid and gid in numeric format instead of names.

$ ls -l ~/.bash_profile
-rw-r--r--  1 ramesh ramesh 909 Feb  8 11:48 /home/ramesh/.bash_profile
$ ls -n ~/.bash_profile
-rw-r--r--  1 511 511 909 Feb  8 11:48 /home/ramesh/.bash_profile

[Note: This display 511 for uid and 511 for gid]

13. Visual Classification of Files With Special Characters Using ls -F

Instead of doing the ‘ls -l’ and then the checking for the first character to determine the type of file. You can use -F which classifies the file with different special character for different kind of files.

$ ls -F
Desktop/  Documents/  Ubuntu-App@  firstfile  Music/  Public/  Templates/

Thus in the above output,

  • / – directory.
  • nothing – normal file.
  • @ – link file.
  • * – Executable file

14. Visual Classification of Files With Colors Using ls -F

Recognizing the file type by the color in which it gets displayed is an another kind in classification of file. In the above output directories get displayed in blue, soft links get displayed in green, and ordinary files gets displayed in default color.

$ ls --color=auto
Desktop  Documents Examples firstfile Music  Pictures  Public  Templates  Videos

15. Useful ls Command Aliases

You can take some required ls options in the above, and make it as aliases. We suggest the following.

  • Long list the file with size in human understandable form.
    alias ll="ls -lh"
  • Classify the file type by appending special characters.
    alias lv="ls -F"
  • Classify the file type by both color and special character.
    alias ls="ls -F --color=auto"

Awesome Linux Articles

Following are few awesome 15 examples articles that you might find helpful.


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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

1 George July 13, 2009 at 2:14 am

I never imagined that I’d value an email subscription more than I do with The Geek Stuff. Honestly, I just did it for the book–but I’m finding that I’m learning enormous amounts from these entries.

2 Francesco Talamona July 13, 2009 at 5:00 am

I couldn’t understand the use of “-q” switch.

3 Gabriel Rodriguez July 13, 2009 at 7:05 am

Very useful!, thanks a lot

4 KaliSurf July 13, 2009 at 8:53 am

Wow!!!! great post…

5 Vince Stevenson July 13, 2009 at 10:31 am

Thanks for this blog post. I wasn’t familiar with ls -A. Rgds Vince

6 Binny V A July 13, 2009 at 12:08 pm

For the recursion command, I’ll recommend ls -R -1

7 José July 13, 2009 at 1:53 pm

yeah!!!….good post…..but, how we make to list files and directories en groups?

8 Gagan Brahmi July 13, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Hi,

There are other characters which can be seen when using the ls -l command. However, I am not sure what those mean.

Is there any chance that you can tell me what those character refere to?

The following are the three additional ones which I need to know:

crw-r–r–
brw-r–r–
prw-r–r–

So it is c, b & p that I need to know the meaning for.

9 billyduc July 13, 2009 at 9:31 pm

listing directory only : ls -d */

10 Gagan Brahmi July 14, 2009 at 1:08 pm

You can get the list of hidden directory only using the following command:

ls -d .*/

11 Ramesh Natarajan July 14, 2009 at 9:32 pm

@George, Thanks for those very kind words. I’m very happy to hear that the eBook and these articles are being helpful to you.

@Francesco, Thanks for reference to the article that explains -q option. To make it easy for others, I’m quoting that example here.

Another very important switch is –hide-control-chars (or -q). Linux filenames can contain any character, even control characters. It is possible to create a filename with hidden characters in the name. In these cases, you can’t rename or delete the file unless you know what the hidden characters are. Contrary to what the name implies, the –hide-control-chars switch displays any unprintable characters in the filename as question marks, making their locations visible.

$ rm orders.txt
rm: orders.txt non-existent
$ ls –color=never –classify –-hide-control-chars
archive/ check-orders.sh* orde?rs.txt

@Gabriel, @KaliSurf, @Vince, Thanks for the nice comment. I’m glad that you found this article helpful.

@Binny, Combining the item#2 (ls -1) and item#9 (ls -R) mentioned in the article and using it as (ls -R -1) is definitely a good idea that makes the output readable. Thanks for pointing that out.

@Jose, As Billyduct pointed out, Use ls -d */ to display only the directories and not the files.

@Gagan,

c indicates Character devices. For example, do “ls -l /dev/tty*” — you’ll see c in front of all terminal devices as shown below.

$ ls -l tty*
crw-rw-rw-  1 root root 5,  0 Jul  4 00:38 tty
crw-rw----  1 root root 4,  0 Feb  8  2008 tty0
crw-------  1 root root 4,  1 Feb  8  2008 tty1

b indicates Block Devices. For example, do “ls -l /dev/sda*” (or) hda and you’ll see b in front of all hard disk partitions indicating it is a block device as shown below.

$ ls -l /dev/sda*
brw-rw----  1 root disk 8, 0 Feb  8  2008 /dev/sda
brw-rw----  1 root disk 8, 1 Feb  8  2008 /dev/sda1

p indicates it is a named pipe (FIFO) as shown below.

$ ls -l | grep ^p
prw-------  1 root root        0 Feb  8  2008 initctl

@Billyduc, Excellent example to show only directories in the ls output using ls -d */ . Thanks for the suggestion.

12 NARDI July 24, 2009 at 7:20 am

part of my .bashrc file:
alias la=’ls -lA’
alias l.=’ls -ld .*’
alias ld=’ls -ld .’
alias ll=’ls -lFh’
alias lt=’ls -lFhtr’
but i’ll now replace ld wit ls -ld */ for it’s much more usefull. the only new one for me =)

JFYI notice the numbers that appears instead of ‘file size’ column in ls -l /dev
These are major and minor numbers of device. You can examine their meanings in
/usr/src/linux/Documentation/devices.txt
documentation file (or where you have your kernel documentation located). If you’re really interested this can entertain you for quite a while =))

13 Ramesh Natarajan July 25, 2009 at 12:18 am

@Nardi,

Thanks for sharing your .bashrc aliases. You got very practical and useful ls aliases setup. Also, thanks for pointing the devices.txt documentation file location that talks about major and minor numbers.

For those who are interested, we already wrote an article about Linux Major and Minor Device Numbers.

14 Anand babu September 24, 2009 at 1:40 am

changing mode is very critical tochange to root

15 jsonx October 7, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Thanks. Your tutorials are very clear and helpful.

16 Suhrid December 7, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Thanks for this very useful summary of the ls command.

17 Arun January 4, 2010 at 4:19 am

Good Post

But what is the ls command to list the files by Size wise(Ascending / Descending)

18 nardi January 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

@Arun
read manual (type: man ls)
$ ls -S … biggest files first
$ ls -Sr … smallest files first
or if you like it long and understandable (I thing this is handy only for aliases in config files):
$ ls –sort=size –reverse

19 Yasodha January 5, 2010 at 1:45 am

Great !!! Really helpful post…. Thanks a lot……

20 rajesh February 9, 2010 at 1:56 am

List files based on their size.

ls -l|sort -n

21 santanu February 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm

nice post

22 metrit March 6, 2010 at 5:58 am

when i want to print only the ones starting with t for example wich is the right command ??

23 nardi March 8, 2010 at 3:07 am

@metrit
use regular expressions
see man regexp or google “bash regular expressions”

list files starting with ‘t’:
$ ls t*

24 Avin March 19, 2010 at 7:44 am

Frankly speaking. I use LS command lots of time but never thought It is as strong command that much.
Thanks for the cool LS options.

25 Uma Suresh May 6, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I was just looking for a command like ls -1 which prints single file entry per line to be passed into a script and I found this great post. Thanks much for all your tips.

26 Rituraj June 3, 2010 at 5:41 am

Sir I am new user of this site ,and i want to learn linux so plz provide me some notes and tips

Thanks & Regards
Rituraj

27 Raj June 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

nice article. I read the grep one – awsome tips. Is there any way to that these settings can be populated to hundreds of servers without modifying bashrc or profile? so i want to hav one .profile/bashrc and want that to be effective whenever i login to any host i manage.

28 Ram July 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I just wonder what exactly the size for a directory in the “ls -l” output. Even empty directory show this as 4096! what does that mean?
Can anyone shed some light?
Thanks

29 NARDI August 1, 2010 at 1:37 am

@Ram
the size of “directory” itself depends only on the number of files in it. it’s because directory, as written on hard drive, is just an list of files and adresses of that files on hard drive.

to see the total size of directory, you should use other utils such as ncdu (which you’d probably need to install, but it’s worth it!) or the ‘du’ command in this form:
du -hs *
this counts and prints “total_size filename” pair for all files and directoriess in working directory.

30 Anonymous August 16, 2010 at 5:17 am

Very Very userful for techies

31 pydiramu September 29, 2010 at 12:39 am

Hi, Its very helpful

32 c3rr4t0 October 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hi Ramesh!
A very handy site.
I have a question:
What about |, =, and > in ls -F ?

Thanks for read me.

33 mnrao December 26, 2010 at 11:03 am

I know that files in current dir starting with “txt” can be listed by
ls txt*
but can I use ls to list files starting with txt in all lower level directories as well.

34 NARDI December 26, 2010 at 4:45 pm

@mnrao not ls itself. you can use command like
ls -R ./* | grep ‘/txt’

35 shahid January 13, 2011 at 4:09 am

Dears!

pls help to find time command which shows only time .

T&R
shahid

36 bhupendra lohnai February 24, 2011 at 4:22 am

What are the advantages of unix OS?
How can it better to the window operatin system?

37 Adhika March 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Hi Ramesh,

May be you should also give the example to display a year in the ‘ls -ltr’ command.
I’ve always used this command:
ls -trh –time-style=’+%d-%b-%Y %H:%M:%S’

for reference, I looked from: here, here, and here

38 Spoorthi N Gowda March 15, 2011 at 12:12 am

please help me in finding the answer for function of ls -l command in unix

39 Manju Arasaiah April 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm

is there a quick command to get the owner of the file? like ls -o (like this)? thx

40 karthikai April 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm

what is the use of ls -s(small s) command? i was confusing this…

41 jitu May 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm

i could’nt alias lv=”ls -f” please sir clear this topic

42 bala June 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

really usefull for beginners

43 robinatw June 23, 2011 at 4:52 am

Awsome, i like this article..
thank Ramesh and everybody…

Robin

44 jitendra kumar dwivedi June 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm

thanks for deeply suggest for ls command. i want to learn.awk coomand

45 sam1985 July 9, 2011 at 6:38 am

Hi Ramesh, long time follower. Is there a way for ls to display alphabets in language other than English like Russian. I am on Windows and use Cygwin 1.7.10 & Mintty 0.9.9. Files that are in Russian are displayed using question marks ????.mp3. The font is Consolas and echo *.* shows
file name perfectly making ls the culprit. Any ideas ?? Thanks!

46 gambit August 18, 2011 at 7:09 am

Hi Ramesh,

ls -lh doesn’t seem to work on AIX 5, any idea how can i view my files in GB format?

Thanks.

47 Sonika September 8, 2011 at 12:28 am

really good collection of commands

48 Aparna September 16, 2011 at 4:34 am

This website is very good. I am newbee to Unix and was trying to find out how the size of a file/folder is measured, finally i found ls -lh to my rescue in this website.

49 YM September 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Does anybody know how to list “one file” that is in each of the sub directories of root?

50 Haoza October 18, 2011 at 7:38 am

Didn’t understand point 14. Visual Classification of Files With Colors Using ls -F

51 kiran varma November 16, 2011 at 4:51 am

thanks for the information provided it is very usefull

52 Prescilla February 7, 2012 at 7:27 am

thanks for this very useful post. but can anyone tell me what the “total” means? that is the first line of every ls -l command and i haven’t figured out what it refers to.

53 Dave February 7, 2012 at 9:13 am

Wow, really you can’t do the equivalent of “dir *.txt /s” without typing something like ls -R | grep “.txt”..??
Either I’ve missed something or I must have missed out on the decision to make it so the normal user can’t use the operating system without immersing themselves in decades of dedicated training…

54 Kalarani February 10, 2012 at 11:11 pm

pls anyone tell me the difference between regular expression and wildcard expression in unix?

55 Tushar March 5, 2012 at 4:03 am

I want to implement all ls command , How can i do it in inux
rply please

56 ls March 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Hi try using the ‘man’ command.
type –> man ls

57 nidhi March 6, 2012 at 4:52 am

Same here, this subscription is one which does not hurt after subscribing …its helping a lot in keeping linux fundamentals fresh. Thanks a lot for such a wonderful website and content

58 Shivani March 22, 2012 at 3:06 am

Hi,
I want to count total number of files(files and directories) in a directory and create a file having this count.

59 Shivani March 22, 2012 at 9:17 am

I want to develop this functionality from a batch file.

60 wannabe March 25, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Thanks!
I have a question.
ls -l
Field 5 – Size: Fifth field specifies the size of file. In this example, ’9275204′ indicates the file size.
In case of directory, what means of “Field5″?
If it is file, “Field 5″ is file size. and If it is directory?

61 sam March 29, 2012 at 8:27 am

@ Shivani

this should help set u in right direction -> find . -type f | wc -l
also you can try ls -R1 but hard to distinguish between files & dirs.

62 Moum April 12, 2012 at 6:38 am

Hello,

I know to retrieve the last file in a directory I can use this command:
FIC=`ls -rt ${DIRLOG} | tail -n 1`
Is it possible to recover all the files except the last one réepertoire with command ls ?

Thx for your help

63 Root Lee May 24, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Very useful, I shared it over Google+

64 kk May 31, 2012 at 9:29 am

Can I get some some help,

I need a ls -lrt kind of thing that displayes the year too. its May2012 and I have a file that shows Dec…..I would like to see the year please

65 mukilan June 18, 2012 at 6:33 am

how to seen the links using ls commands????

66 Rajesh July 18, 2012 at 2:26 am

Really it is useful

67 Gnanaprakasam August 24, 2012 at 12:21 am

Hi,
I need a small help here in using ls with the output of date command. Here is my requirement.
I need to list all the files that were created the previous day( sysdate -1) .
I have used the following
prevdate=`date +”%b %d” –date=”yesterday”`
ls -lt | grep ‘$prevdate’
It is not listing any files.
Could you please help me here.

Thanks
Gnanaprakasam R

68 Marzieh August 30, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Hello, I just installed Fedora 17 and when I type ls -l I get:

-rw-r–r– . 1 marzi marzi 4096 Aug 14 19:05 stuff

Do you know what is the “.” after the File Permission field? I am confused……
can you help please?

69 Prashant Tarudkar September 10, 2012 at 1:31 am

Hi ,
I want to return those file whose third charcter should be a or e or i by ls command.
Could someone pls help me in that.

Thank You
Prashant

70 biswajit December 4, 2012 at 8:51 am

thanks

71 Allan February 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

@Prashant Tarudkar

ls | grep -E ‘^..[ie].*’

ls piped to grep. -E means regex search, see ‘man grep’ for the details.

72 Sss March 19, 2013 at 2:47 am

when we list the content of directory
using ls -l or ls -ltr
it displays total 76 as first line
Can you please explain the meaning of total
what does it reflects..?

73 Rayudu March 27, 2013 at 11:35 am

Thanks … Great post… Its very help full :)

74 cellar.dweller May 12, 2013 at 7:36 am

Great article, as always! I wonder: Where did you find the ls -1 documented?

75 Zahir Hussain October 24, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Very nice explanation with examples ….
Looking forward more unix command with examples… :-)

76 Dharmesh November 19, 2013 at 7:40 am

excellent sir…

77 Vamshi Krishna December 16, 2013 at 4:27 am

Very helpful..as a beginner in Linux this site is helping me alot..Thank You

78 Geolin January 16, 2014 at 10:45 pm

really helpful post !

79 Siddhartha May 15, 2014 at 3:21 pm

How can i list 5 files

80 Deepak July 3, 2014 at 6:10 am

Simple. Elegant. Comprehensive.
Thank you Ramesh.

81 Philippe Petrinko July 16, 2014 at 1:30 am

Hello,

Nice topic.

Please note there are two typos:

“Sometimes you may want to know the _inone_ number of a file for internal maintenance. Use -i option as shown below to display _inone_ number.”

inone => inode

–P

82 Ramesh July 18, 2014 at 2:03 am

Is there a way to list files only after a certain date. Eg: want to list all the files only after Jan 1st 2010

Thanks

83 Rakesh September 9, 2014 at 12:04 am

Very useful, thanks!

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