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Top 5 Linux Shell Commands You Must Know

Updated on April 30, 2013

The 5 Most Useful Terminal Commands

The Linux/Unix command line is an amazing text-based shell that gives a user freedom and power. Whether you're using it from a terminal emulator, or from single-user mode, there are 5 commands that anyone from a Linux newbie to a computer geek should know.

5. wifi-menu

An example of wifi-menu  being used with the interface wlp7s9, on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.
An example of wifi-menu being used with the interface wlp7s9, on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.

This command enables you to connect to the internet. While there are many other ways to do it, wifi-menu is one of the simplest. You simply type...

wifi-menu [interface]


The interface for your computer is usually either wlan0 or eth0. For my arch linux box, the interface is wlan7s9. You can see what interfaces you have by either typing...

iwconfig or ifconfig

"iwconfig" is for wireless PCI cards/USB adapters, and "ifconfig" is for ethernet PCI cards/USB adapters.

4. mv/cp/rm

An example of file operations on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.
An example of file operations on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.

While these are multiple commands, they are all very similar, yet very different. Oddly enough, it is actually hard to get these two-letter commands mixed up. The command "mv" is for moving or renaming files, "cp" is for copying files or folders, and "rm" is for removing files.

To copy a file from one place to another...

cp file /path/to/desired/directory/file


Now, to copy a folder to another place...

cp -r folder /path/to/desired/directory


The -r option means recrusive... See, if you try to copy a directory without the -r option, it will say "omitting directory: directory"... I'm telling you this now, because it took me a while to figure this one out.

To use the command "mv" for moving files, type...

mv file /path/to/desired/directory/file

To use the command "mv" for renaming files, type...

mv file newNameForFile

And last but not least, the unpredictable rm. Now, this command is one to be careful with. When logged in as a regular user, you don't really have to worry about much, as the shell will not let you delete important system files. As a safety precaution, NEVER run this command as root unless you know what you're doing. Now, anyway.

To remove a file, just type...

rm file

Simple, right?

3. cd

An example of changing directories using the command cd, on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.
An example of changing directories using the command cd, on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.

cd is a command that enables you to change directories.

To use cd, simply type...

cd directoryName

For example, let's say you were in the home directory, and you wanted to change into the directory called folder. You would type...

cd folder

You can also use full paths..

cd /home/folder

The command cd is pretty basic, but important.

2. man

An example of using the command "man" on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.
An example of using the command "man" on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.

Now where would we be without manual pages to almost every shell command out there? The command man gives you a how-to and list of options for a command. To use this command, simply type...

man command

As you can see on my example image above, I typed in man man, which gave me a manual page on the command man. Awesome, right? If you need help with any command, all you have to do is act like a "man", and get a page up for it.

But the most important command of all is...

#1: Sudo

Example of the command "sudo" being used on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.
Example of the command "sudo" being used on Arch Linux (x86) 64 bit.

The command sudo enables you to run a command as root. This command temporarily logs you into root to run the command, and then logs you out. To use it...

sudo command

You shouldn't use sudo for every command, unless they require them to be ran as root. An example of a program that should be run as root is fdisk. It doesn't tell you it needs to be run as root, but just trust me; it does. If you are having trouble with a command, just run it as root and see what happens. If you run into a permission denied error, just run whatever command you just ran as root. Simple as that.

This article is just the start of great linux commands. The Linux shell, really is, one of the most adored benefits of using Linux. Good luck Linux-shell-operating!

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