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Linux Newbie Administrator Guide


4.1.1 Filenames

Linux is case-sensitive. For example: myfile, Myfile, and myFILE are three different files. Your password and login name are also case-sensitive. (This follows tradition since both UNIX and the "c" programming language are case-sensitive.) Naming conventions for files and directories are identical. All the files and directories which I create (for myself, as a user) are lower-case, unless there is a very special reason to make it different. Most of Linux commands are also all lower case.

Filenames under Linux can be up to 256 characters long and they normally contain letters, numbers, "." (dots), "_" (underscores) and "-" (dashes). Other characters are possible but not recommended. In particular, it is not recommended to use special metacharacters: "*" (asterisk), "?" (question mark), " " (space), "$" (dollar sign), "&" (ampersand), any brackets, etc. This is because metacharacters have special meaning to the Linux shell (shell is something like COMMAND.COM, the command processor under DOS). It is possible to have a space in the filename, but we don't recommend it either--we use underscore "_" instead.

It is not possible at all to have '/' (slash) as a part of the filename because '/' is used to represent the top of the directory tree, and as a separator in the pathnames (the same as '\' is in DOS).

Like in DOS, I cannot have a file called . or a file called.. (dot or two dots)--they mean "current" and "parent to the current" directory respectively, exactly like in DOS.

Here is the meaning of some metacharacters:

* = Matches any sequence of zero or more characters, except for "." (a dot) at the beginning of a filename.

? = Matches any single character.

[abC1] = Matches a single character in the enumerated set. In this example the set contains: 'a', 'b', 'C', and '1'.

[a-z] = Matches any lower-case letter.

[A-F] = Matches any upper-case letter from A to F.

[0-9] = Matches any single digit.

[a-zA-Z0-9] = Matches any letter (lower or upper case) or any digit.

The character \ (backslash) is also special. It makes the subsequent special character aquire literal meaning (read on).


This command will list any filename in the current directory, with the exception of filenames starting with "." (dot):

ls *

An equivalent to this command is to type just ls or dir (without the "*"). Files with names starting with "." are not shown because "." as the first character of a filename is not matched by "*". Think of files with names starting with "." as an equivalent of DOS hidden files. Use ls -a (list with the option "all") or ls .* to see these "dot" files. The "dot-files" are common in the user home directories and they typically contain user-level configurations.

This command will list any file (in the current directory) that contains a dot (except files starting with a dot):

ls *.*

This command will list any filename that contains two dots (except those starting with a dot):

ls *.*.*

Please note that Linux does not have "filename extensions" the way DOS does, but you can still use them. For example, I can have a file my_text.txt.zip. Some other DOS-kind file-naming features are completely absent ("Micros~1.doc" comes to mind).

This command will find (on the whole filesystem) any file with the extension "htm" optionally followed by any one more character:

locate *.htm?

This command will show all filenames in the current directory that start with "a" or "b", or any capital letter:

ls [abA-Z]*

This command will list any file starting with "a" and ending with "n"

ls a*n Command line autocompletion

This is a great command line feature--I use the [Tab] key a lot to save on typing. It makes it brisk to deal with long and complicated filenames. For example using such a filename on the command line is really not a problems, if I use autocompletion:

dir Eurosong\ 2000\ Olson\ Brothers\ -\ Fly\ on\ the\ wings\ of\ love\ \(denmark\).mp3

I just

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