ls / is command in Linux explained easiest way with Examples

Many people starting with Unix/Linux refer ‘ls’ as is command in Linux. I observed this question asked multiple times in one of the Ubuntu forums.

Since ls command is one of the most widely used Linux commands a UNIX developer would encounter. Therefore it becomes of utmost importance to understand the command in and out.

If you are interested in more such guides, I have created a few more on understanding RSyslog and Syslog and the best download managers for Linux.

So I thought of explaining the basics of the command in the easiest way possible.

What is the ls command?

“ls” is a shell command in Linux that lists the content of a directory such as files and folders.

ls command Syntax

$ ls [options] [file|dir]

Flags and options

Here is a list of few options that are most widely used. To see all the flags with very descriptive details, run below command.

$ man ls

Here is a list of most widely used options with a short description :

Basic ‘ls’ command examples

  • ls -a: List all the files and directories including hidden files or directories.

Output :

.            ..           .git         .github      .gitignore   .idea        CHANGELOG.md LICENSE      Procfile     README.md    cljbin.iml   doc          pom.xml      project.clj  resources    runner       src          target       test
  • ls -color: Display a colored list of contents. Mostly differentiate between files and directories with different colors.

Output :

total 96
drwxr-xr-x  3 kshitij     96 Jan 25 22:43

test

drwxr-xr-x  3 kshitij     96 Feb 16 16:47

target

drwxr-xr-x  5 kshitij    160 Feb 16 15:36

src

-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij     69 Feb 16 16:53

runner

drwxr-xr-x  3 kshitij     96 Feb 16 17:30

resources

-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij    730 Feb 16 16:37 project.clj
-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij   3346 Feb 16 13:22 pom.xml
drwxr-xr-x  3 kshitij     96 Jan 25 22:43 doc
-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij   6004 Jan 27 16:40 cljbin.iml
-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij    975 Jan 25 22:43 README.md
-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij     83 Jan 27 16:43 Procfile
-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij  14199 Jan 25 22:43 LICENSE
-rw-r--r--  1 kshitij    766 Jan 25 22:43 CHANGELOG.md
  • ls -d */: Lists all the directories within the current directory.
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Output :

doc/       resources/ src/       target/    test/
  • ls -i: List all files and folders with inode index numbers.

Output :

5983099 CHANGELOG.md 6059115 Procfile     5983719 cljbin.iml   6739981 pom.xml      6772530 resources    5983105 src          5983108 test
5983100 LICENSE      5983101 README.md    5983102 doc          5983104 project.clj  6772943 runner       6796218 target
  • ls -la: List all files and folder with more details such as date of update, user permissions, file owner, and size of the file in bytes.

Output :

total 104
drwxr-xr-x  19 kshitij  staff    608 Feb 16 16:53 .
drwxr-xr-x  16 kshitij  staff    512 Jun 20 15:20 ..
drwxr-xr-x  15 kshitij  staff    480 Jun 25 08:22 .git
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff     96 Jan 25 23:32 .github
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff    112 Jan 25 22:43 .gitignore
drwxr-xr-x  10 kshitij  staff    320 Feb 16 17:49 .idea
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff    766 Jan 25 22:43 CHANGELOG.md
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff  14199 Jan 25 22:43 LICENSE
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff     83 Jan 27 16:43 Procfile
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff    975 Jan 25 22:43 README.md
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   6004 Jan 27 16:40 cljbin.iml
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff     96 Jan 25 22:43 doc
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   3346 Feb 16 13:22 pom.xml
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff    730 Feb 16 16:37 project.clj
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff     96 Feb 16 17:30 resources
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff     69 Feb 16 16:53 runner
drwxr-xr-x   5 kshitij  staff    160 Feb 16 15:36 src
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff     96 Feb 16 16:47 target
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff     96 Jan 25 22:43 test
  • ls -lah: It gives almost the same output as the previous command but changes file size to be more readable. (in MB and GB).

Output :

total 104
drwxr-xr-x  19 kshitij  staff   608B Feb 16 16:53 .
drwxr-xr-x  16 kshitij  staff   512B Jun 20 15:20 ..
drwxr-xr-x  15 kshitij  staff   480B Jun 25 08:22 .git
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff    96B Jan 25 23:32 .github
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   112B Jan 25 22:43 .gitignore
drwxr-xr-x  10 kshitij  staff   320B Feb 16 17:49 .idea
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   766B Jan 25 22:43 CHANGELOG.md
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff    14K Jan 25 22:43 LICENSE
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff    83B Jan 27 16:43 Procfile
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   975B Jan 25 22:43 README.md
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   5.9K Jan 27 16:40 cljbin.iml
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff    96B Jan 25 22:43 doc
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   3.3K Feb 16 13:22 pom.xml
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff   730B Feb 16 16:37 project.clj
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff    96B Feb 16 17:30 resources
-rw-r--r--   1 kshitij  staff    69B Feb 16 16:53 runner
drwxr-xr-x   5 kshitij  staff   160B Feb 16 15:36 src
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff    96B Feb 16 16:47 target
drwxr-xr-x   3 kshitij  staff    96B Jan 25 22:43 test
  • ls -r: Prints the output of command but in reverse order.
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Output:

test         target       src          runner       resources    project.clj  pom.xml      doc          cljbin.iml   README.md    Procfile     LICENSE      CHANGELOG.md
  • ls -R: List the directory tree in recursive order. What it means that shows the directory tree for current as well as child directories.

Output:

Not printing as command is output is too large.
  • ls -s: List file size for all of them but without any other additional details.

Output:

 8 CHANGELOG.md 32 LICENSE       8 Procfile      8 README.md    16 cljbin.iml    0 doc           8 pom.xml       8 project.clj   0 resources     8 runner        0 src           0 target        0 test
  • ls -S: Sort files by file sizes of ascending order

Output:

LICENSE      cljbin.iml   pom.xml      README.md    CHANGELOG.md project.clj  src          doc          resources    target       test         Procfile     runner
  • ls -t: Sort files by time and date modified.

Output:

resources    runner       target       project.clj  src          pom.xml      Procfile     cljbin.iml   test         doc          README.md    LICENSE      CHANGELOG.md
  • ls -x: Sort files by file extension type.

Output:

CHANGELOG.md LICENSE      Procfile     README.md    cljbin.iml   doc          pom.xml      project.clj  resources    runner       src          target       test

ls command examples :

You can always use the tab button to autocomplete directory names with ls / is command in linux
  • List with relative paths.
$ ls Documents/Books
  • ls redirection to the output file.
$ ls > out.txt
  • List root directory.
$ ls /
  • List parent directory.
$ ls ..
  • Show all files and directories with full path.
$ ls -d $PWD/*
  • List user’s home directory (e.g: /home/user).
$ ls ~

or

$ ls /home/user
  • List all subdirectories.
$ ls *
  • List only png files with a wildcard.
$ ls *.png

Pro tip :

If you use ls command a lot, which I would assume any Linux developer would, here is a lifesaver trick. You can make alias out of the most used command and use the shortcuts instead of full commands.

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Let’s understand with an example :

Suppose you always want to see file details instead of just name when you run ls command in Linux. You can create an alias out of it and use it in the future.

Here’s what I personally do:

$ alias ls="ls -lah"

Now whenever I use just ls, it displays file details also.

You can see all alias created with the command :

$ alias

To remove previously create alias you can use command.

$ unalias ls

Do let us know if you liked the tutorial on how to use ls / is command in Linux.  We would love to see any commands if we have missed it. Let us know in the comments.

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