Moving through the filesystem

Absolute Pathnames vs. Relative Pathnames

It is very important that you understand the way paths are referenced in Unix. If a given path starts with a slash, it can only point to one directory on the system. If not, it could be anywhere, because the pathname will then be relative to your current working directory.

In practice:


Desktop/    GNUstep/   Xrootenv.0     images/   nsmail/       web/
Documents/  Machines@  app-defaults/  imp/      office52/     www
Emacs@      Mail/      clo/           mail/     training/ 
Fvwm@       Nautilus/  cv/            ns_imap/  verlanglijst

tille:~>cd images/

tille:~/images>cd /images
bash: cd: /images: No such file or directory




tille:~>ls /usr/local/
Acrobat4/   bin/    etc/     info/    man/       sbin/      src/
bcast/      doc/    games/   lib/     netscape/  share/
tille:~>cd ..

bram@  diane@  jo@  tille@


Note: see man cd, man pwd and man ls for more information or try the --help option with every command to get a short syntax overview.

Finding files

The locate command

On most Linux systems, the locate command comes in very handy. The system indexes every file it contains once a day, usually at 1 o'clock in the morning, and serves the database containing this information to the locate command.

Use the command locate yourfile to find your lost file.


Pipe through grep and/or more if the listing is too long, see Chapter 7: Redirecting I/O.

Since the locate database only gets updated once a day, recently added files (added after the last update) won't show up immediately.

find and grep are your friends

find is the ancestor of locate. If locate is not available on your system, ask your system admin to install it and use find meanwhile. To perform a query for all JPEG images in your homedirectory, enter the command

find /home -name "*.jpeg" -print

grep comes in useful everywhere. It prints lines matching a given pattern.

A practical example below: to find out how to spell a word, grep it out of /usr/share/dict/words, the Unix dictionary:

tille:~>grep unnec /usr/share/dict/words 


The -v option to grep makes it display output lines NOT containing the searchstring.

The grep is often fed output from other commands, e.g. to search for a file or to make a long listing shorter. See Chapter 7.


See man find and man grep for more information.

The which command

which file (or file filename on some systems) searches the user's entire searchpath as defined in the PATH or path (csh) environment variable and displays the location of the file if found.