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Navigating the file system with Terminal

Today, we’re looking at how to move around the file system in the command line.

Note: I’m wrapping up production on a new series of courses on developer tooling. The first course on Terminal should be ready in the next week or two, but you can pre-order it today. This is an excerpt from the guide.

Changing directories

The cd command stands for change directory, and is used to change the current working directory in the Terminal.

Type the cd command, followed by the path of the directory you want to navigate to.

cd path/to/directory

Paths are relative to the directory you’re currently in. When you first open Terminal, the root directory that you start in is the home directory for the currently logged in user.

For example, to navigate to the /Sites directory, you would type…

# Navigate to the /Sites directory
cd Sites

In Terminal, the tilde symbol (~) is a shortcut to the home directory.

# Go home
cd ~

# Go to the /Sites directory from anywhere
cd ~/Sites

You can also jump to the home directory by typing cd without any path.

# Go home

To move up to the parent directory of the one you’re current in, use two dots (..) for the path.

# Move to the parent of the current directory
cd ..

You can also combine .. with a path. For example, to navigate to a sibling directory called /Downloads, you would type…

# Move to a sibling directory
cd ../Downloads

Typing complex paths into the Terminal can be difficult and annoying. You can also drag-and-drop the directory you want to navigate to into Terminal to auto-complete the path.

Opening directories and files

The open command opens files and directories. Type open, followed by the directory or file that you want to open.

Directories will open in Finder, and files will open in their default app.

# Open the /Sites directory
open ~/Sites

# Open in your default text editor

# Open jellyfish.jpg in Preview
open jellyfish.jpg

Use . to open the current working directory.

# Open the current directory
open .

List directories and files

Use the ls command to list the directories and files inside a directory.

Typing ls without a path lists files and directories in the current working directory.

# List all files and directories in the current directory

If you include a path, it will list the files and directories under that path instead.

# List all files and directories in the ~/Sites directory
ls ~/Sites

By default, only visible files and directory are show. To also view hidden files and directories, use the -a option.

# show all files and directories
ls -a

Tab to autocomplete

When typing, you can use the tab key to autocomplete the current path or filename that you’re typing.

If more than one file or path match, they’ll both be displayed, and you can use the tab key again to navigate to the one you’d like to use. Then, press enter or return to autocomplete it.