CSC128: Introduction to Linux

The Linux File System

The Directory Tree

Every normal file is data stored somewhere on a device (e.g. hard drive, floppy drive, cd-rom, etc.).

A filename may contain:

  • uppercase letters (A-Z)
  • lowercase letters (a-z)
  • numbers (0-9)
  • underscore ( _ )
  • period (. ) (usually called a "dot")
  • comma ( , )
  • (sometimes, a space or other symbols may be included if they are preceded by a backslash ( \ )

Note that filenames that start with a dot will usually only show up in the directory listing if you use the -a option with ls. (ls -a)

A directory is a special file that keeps a list of filenames and the location of their data.

Since a directory is also a file, a directory can keep track of the location of other directories as well as any other kind of file.

The base of the Linux directory tree is called the root directory. The root directory is specified with a single forward slash: / (this is below the question mark on most keyboards)

Other directories branch off of the root, usually:

  • bin
  • usr
  • sbin
  • dev
  • mnt
  • home
  • etc
  • tmp
  • and others

Other directories branch from these directories, and still more directories branch from those, and so on, creating a directory tree.

Since devices are treated by Linux as files, they can be mounted (using the mount command) into a directory. All devices used by Linux (hard drives, cd-roms, keyboards, monitors, etc.) usually have entries in the directory tree.

Each directory is called by its pathname. For example:


root directory --> usr --> share --> emacs --> 20.7 --> etc The current directory is etc. You can find the pathname of the current working directory by using the command pwd.

Home Directories

Every user generally has a home directory. If your username is abear, then your home directory (here at Parkland) is:


This is an example of an absolute pathname. An absolute pathname starts from the root directory (the preceding /) and lists all the directories in the tree to the desired directory, separated by forward slashes.

There are many shortcuts. One is the tilde ( ~, above the backquote, near the upper-left corner of the keyboard). The home directory of abear can be quickly referred to like this:


A file in abear's home directory called verse could be referred to like this:


These are examples of relative pathnames. When we specify the filename relative to something other than the root-- in this case, a user's home directory-- it is considered a relative pathname.

An absolute pathname always starts from the root.

(Hint: if you use the command cd by itself, it will change the current working directory to your home directory.)

Moving Around

To change directories, use the cd command. Examples:

cd public_html

cd's (changes directory) to public_html, a directory located in the current working directory. (found with pwd).

cd ~aboar

cd's to the user aboar's home directory using the relative pathname ~aboar.

cd /home/students/a/aboar

this does the same as the last example, but uses an absolute pathname instead.

Each directory has two special directories in it. They are . (dot) and .. (dot dot). (You can only see these special directories if you use the -a option when using ls, since their filenames both start with a dot.)
. (dot) is another name for the current working directory.
.. (dot dot) is another name for the parent directory, one directory earlier in the tree. An example:

cd public_html

cd's (changes the current working directory) to public_html

cd .

cd's to the current working directory. (it does nothing)

cd ..

cd's to the current directory's parent directory, and we're back where we started

Changing the Directory Tree

You too can feel the joy of your very own branches of the Linux directory tree. You can make new directories with the mkdir command, and remove them with the rmdir command.

mkdir new_directory

creates a new directory called new_directory in the current working directory.

rmdir new_directory

permanently removes the directory called new_directory. Note that the directory must be empty to be removed by rmdir. (The rm -r command will recursively delete a directory with all the files and other directories in it. Be careful with rm -r )