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Linux and Unix ls command tutorial with examples

Tutorial on using ls, a UNIX and Linux command for listing directory contents. Examples of listing a directory, showing hidden files, showing long listings, sorting on various items and showing recursive listings.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Table of contents

Terminal showing ls man page

What is the ls command?

The ls command is a command-line utility for listing the contents of a directory or directories given to it via standard input. It writes results to standard output. The ls command supports showing a variety of information about files, sorting on a range of options and recursive listing.

How to show the contents of a directory

To show the contents of a directory pass the directory name to the ls command. This will list the contents of the directory in alphabetical order. If your terminal supports colours you may see that file and directory listings are a different colour.

ls /home/george
bin  code  dotfiles  Downloads  go  irc  logs  src

How to show hidden files and folders

To show hidden files and folders pass the -a option to ls this will

ls -a /home/george
.                         .goobook            .tmux.conf
..                        .goobook_auth.json  .urlview
.asoundrc                 .inputrc            .vim
.asoundrc.asoundconf      .install.sh         .viminfo
.asoundrc.asoundconf.bak  .irbrc              .viminfo.tmp
...

How to append file types to listings

To append an indicator of the file type to a directory listing pass the -F option.

  ls -F
  bin@   dotfiles/   file.txt  irc/   src/
  code/  Downloads/  go/       logs/

The following characters are appended based on this option:

How to show a long listing

To show a long listing pass the -l option to the ls command. This will output detailed information on the directory listing.

ls -l
total 56
lrwxrwxrwx  1 george users    25 Sep 22 14:17 bin -> /home/george/dotfiles/bin
drwxr-xr-x  6 george users  4096 Oct  4 20:27 code
drwxr-xr-x 10 george users  4096 Oct  4 09:13 dotfiles
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Oct  4 11:31 Downloads
-rw-r--r--  1 george users     0 Oct  4 20:42 file.txt
drwxr-xr-x  5 george users  4096 Sep 25 08:30 go
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Sep 27 10:49 irc
drwxr-xr-x  2 george users 32768 Oct  4 09:15 logs
drwxr-xr-x  8 george users  4096 Oct  2 17:13 src

How to sort by size

To sort a directory listing by name pass the -S option. In the following example this is combined with the -l option to show a long listing.

ls -lS
total 56
drwxr-xr-x  2 george users 32768 Oct  4 09:15 logs
drwxr-xr-x  6 george users  4096 Oct  4 20:27 code
drwxr-xr-x 10 george users  4096 Oct  4 09:13 dotfiles
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Oct  4 11:31 Downloads
drwxr-xr-x  5 george users  4096 Sep 25 08:30 go
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Sep 27 10:49 irc
drwxr-xr-x  8 george users  4096 Oct  2 17:13 src
lrwxrwxrwx  1 george users    25 Sep 22 14:17 bin -> /home/george/dotfiles/bin
-rw-r--r--  1 george users     0 Oct  4 20:42 file.txt

How to sort by modification time

To sort by modification time pass the -t option. This causes the output to show the most recently modified files or folders at the top of the listing. In the following example this is combined with the -l option to show a long listing.

ls -lt
total 56
-rw-r--r--  1 george users     0 Oct  4 20:42 file.txt
drwxr-xr-x  6 george users  4096 Oct  4 20:27 code
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Oct  4 11:31 Downloads
drwxr-xr-x  2 george users 32768 Oct  4 09:15 logs
drwxr-xr-x 10 george users  4096 Oct  4 09:13 dotfiles
drwxr-xr-x  8 george users  4096 Oct  2 17:13 src
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Sep 27 10:49 irc
drwxr-xr-x  5 george users  4096 Sep 25 08:30 go
lrwxrwxrwx  1 george users    25 Sep 22 14:17 bin -> /home/george/dotfiles/bin

To show the last edited file in a directory the ls command can be combined with head

ls -t | head -n 1

How to sort by access time

To sort by access time pass the -u option. This causes the output to show the most recently accessed files of folders at the top of the listing. In the following example this is combined with the -l option to show a long listing.

ls -lu
total 56
lrwxrwxrwx  1 george users    25 Oct  4 09:01 bin -> /home/george/dotfiles/bin
drwxr-xr-x  6 george users  4096 Oct  4 20:23 code
drwxr-xr-x 10 george users  4096 Oct  4 11:21 dotfiles
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Oct  4 11:24 Downloads
-rw-r--r--  1 george users     0 Oct  4 20:42 file.txt
drwxr-xr-x  5 george users  4096 Sep 26 16:46 go
drwx------  3 george users  4096 Oct  4 09:38 irc
drwxr-xr-x  2 george users 32768 Oct  4 09:15 logs
drwxr-xr-x  8 george users  4096 Oct  2 17:12 src

How to show file size in human readable format

To show file size in human readable format pass the -h option. This causes the file size output to be shown in human readable format.

ls -lh
total 793M
-rw-r--r-- 1 george users 792M Oct  4 21:23 archlinux-2016.10.01-dual.iso

How to display one file or folder per line

To display one file or folder per line pass the -1 option.

ls -1
bin
code
dotfiles
Downloads
file.txt
go
irc
logs
src

How to show a recursive listing

To display a recursive listing pass the -R option. This causes folders and files within a folder to be listed.

ls -R tree
tree:
file.txt  folder1  folder2

tree/folder1:
file.txt

tree/folder2:

Further reading

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