3.5. View Directory Contents with ls

Now that you know how to change directories, it is time to learn how to view the contents of these directories. Using the ls command, you can display the contents of your current directory.

Many options are available with the ls command. The ls command, by itself, does not show all the files in the directory. Some files are hidden files (also called dot files) and can only be seen with an additional option specified to the ls command.


To view all ls command options, read the man page by typing man ls at a shell prompt. To print the man page, at the prompt type man ls | col -b | lpr.

Type the command ls -a. Now you can view files that begin with dots.

Figure 3-3. ls with the -a Option

Hidden files are most often configuration files which set preferences in programs, window managers, shells, and more. The reason they are hidden is to help prevent any accidental tampering by the user. When you are searching for something in a directory, you are not usually looking for these configuration files. Keeping them hidden helps to avoid some screen clutter when viewing directories at the shell prompt.

Viewing all the files using the ls -a command can give you plenty of detail, but you can view still more information by using multiple options.

If you want to see the size of a file or directory, when it was created, and so on, add the long option (-l) to the ls -a command. This command shows the file creation date, its size, ownership, permissions, and more.

You do not have to be in the directory whose contents you want to view to use the ls command. For example, to see what is in the /etc/ directory from your home directory, type:

ls -al /etc

Figure 3-4. Sample ls Output for the /etc Directory

The following is a brief list of options commonly used with ls. Remember, you can view the full list by reading the ls man page (man ls).