Useful Linux Programs

Having been using Linux exclusively as my operating system for development for quite some time now I thought it was time to catalog some of the useful commands and programs I use in the terminal on an almost daily basis.

I am not an expert user by any stretch of the imagination so some of my examples might not be the most efficient or even appropriate but they work well for me, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment where you see this article linked with more suggestions.

Everyone who uses some flavour of Linux (or Unix) knows the standard cd, ls and cat programs. I use these a lot but it is worth mentioning some tips around them.


cd changes the directory you are in. You can give it a relative or absolute path e.g.

cd /tmp/foo
cd foo/bar
cd ../foo
cd ../../foo
cd ...

. Stands for this directory, .. stands for up a directory, and ... stands for up 2 directories. Very useful when you know where you are and need to navigate around.

You can also use just cd on it’s own to return to your home directory.

For something a bit more advanced you can use environment variables with cd like so:

# This is the equivalent to just cd on it's own
cd $HOME
# But this saves a little typing
cd $HOME/.config/


ls lists the current directory you are in.

Common variations of it are:

# To list things in a list format
ls -l
# To list all files even hidden ones
ls -a
# To list all files in a list format with human readable text
ls -alh

That last one I use a lot.

But I don’t actually use the built in ls command anymore generally. Instead I have symlinked it to the exa program, a self described “modern replacement for ls” written in Rust.

exa works the same as ls, recognizing the same options (and more) but has built in colour support off the bat. It also understands git, has a nice tree view that you can use (and augment with file attributes) and it understands and points out symlinks with their destinations.


I really don’t have much to say about cat it simply outputs the contents of a file to the standard output stream of your terminal.

I will say that I tend to use less or vim when I am reading files so I can page through them easily.


less is like the more command only better (less is more!). It lets you page through a file or output stream at your leisure.

One of the ways I tend to use less is similar to the tail program. If you run less like so:

# This is the same as tail -f /var/log/my.log but better
less +F /var/log/my.log

You will end up following the output of a file as it is updated (it stands for forward forever). You can stop following by press CTRL+C and even resume following again in less by pressing F again.

less also respects the vim key combinations to scroll through it’s output meaning you can type G to scroll to the bottom of the buffer and gg to go to the top which is nice!

A common command I run is history | less which pipes the output of history into less allowing me to search it and view it more easily.


Now onto a really decent tool that everyone using a Unix terminal should at least be aware of grep.

grep prints lines that match a pattern within a file or files.

If you want to recursively search with grep you can use the option -r for example:

# This will search all the files under the current directory for the pattern
# "stock" and print out matching lines 
grep -r stock .

grep patterns can be more complicated than just simple words but this tends to be the most common way I use the command.

Using grep with the output of other programs is where the magic is though. For example checking for details on if a port is being used and by what process with the netstat program:

# This will show any lines in the output of the netstat command that contain
# 8080 a common port used by web apps
netstat -tulpn | grep 8080

You can even customise the files grep will search through. When combined with a more sophisticated pattern this can really help you find what you’re looking for.

# This is a case insensitive search through files ending in .dm for the given
# pattern and include their line number in the result
grep -inr --include \*.dm "?\[" .

Did I mention that grep’s patterns are Regular Expressions? Well they are and that makes the search functionality very powerful.

There are alternatives to grep including rg (ripgrep) that can run faster than grep in recursive mode that are also worth a mention (it is also written in Rust). However I still tend to use grep a lot more than any of it’s replacements.


which is a simple command that will tell you where a command or program comes from. For example running

which which

Will tell you:

which: shell built-in command

And running:

which exa

Will output the path of the exa program: /usr/bin/exa.

which is very useful when dealing with shell scripts on your path and can be used in combination with other programs and environment variables like so:

# Open up the passmenu bash script in an editor
vim $(which passmenu)
# Will output the path to the $BROWSER program
which $BROWSER


sed stands for “stream editor” and is a very useful program, especially when writing bash scripts.

sed allows you to perform operations on the output of other commands with ease. Unfortunately I am nowhere near familiar enough to give it justice and tend to have to resort to the man file and internet when I use sed but there are some great videos and tutorials around the command online including DistoTube’s and Luke Smith’s YouTube videos.

Generally speaking I use sed to perform find and replace on files on the command line without having to open up any kind of editor. I do this using the in-place option -i and form a simple pattern. For example:

# I ran this command to remove all mention of a Third-Party font from my blogs
# CSS files
sed -i 's/"PT Sans",//g' public/css/*

# I ran this command to replace some paths in a source file during some
# refactoring
sed -i 's|/Item|/obj/item|g' code/

The above example use 2 different delimiters for the find and replace parts of my pattern. The first uses the / symbol to separate the sections and second uses the | character. The symbol used depends on what comes after the s command which tells sed to treat the text as a Regular Expression. You can get sed to support an extended version of Regular expressions with the -r option. This video by Linode gives a simple example:

# Use a regex to replace billy and tom's email addresses with
# addresses
sed -i -r 's/^(billy|tom)@.*example\.org/\[email protected]/' ~/roster.txt

You don’t need to use the -i option with sed. Without it the result of the sed command will be output to the standard output stream. One example use of sed without -i I used recently was to extract the SHA256 hash of a certificate without the separating : characters:

openssl x509 -noout -fingerprint -sha256 -inform pem -in cert.pem | sed 's/SHA256 Fingerprint=//' | sed 's/://g'


file determines the kind of a file a given file is. It’s pretty simple and works most of the time regardless of the extension of a file although takes into into account. For instance:


Outputs: Bourne-Again shell script, ASCII text executable

file Makefile


Makefile: makefile script, ASCII text

file $(which exa)


/usr/bin/exa: ELF 64-bit LSB pie executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib64/, BuildID[sha1]=93a7b337d26e63f8d0d723c42da8cdcea68397d8, for GNU/Linux 4.4.0, stripped

This can be really useful when dealing with files you have destroyed the extension for and in scripts.


These are just a few of the many commands I use often. I wrote this post mostly as a reminder for myself and to help others with examples.


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