Linux: Display File Properties via Terminal

Linux: Display File Properties via Terminal

Introduction

We commonly need and want to know more about the files and directories that we are working with.

Most people know one of the ways, which is simply to Right Click > Properties on the wanted folder or file to view their properties. Though, for the moore terminal-savvy, here's how you can get the same (and more) information via the Terminal in Linux.

The ls Command

One of the most commonly used commands is the ls command, which lists all of the files and directories you're located in, alongside their names.

Once you position yourself on a file path that you want, you can list all present files/folders via:

$ ls
Folder_one  large.jpg  os.zip

Alternatively, you can supply a directory name to list files from, without having to move to that directory:

$ ls Folder_one
cpfile.c  Direct  fileinfo.c

Though, these are just the names, and we can't infer much from them. The ls command has several non-mandatory options which, when turned on, give us much more about these files when listing them.

You can use them alone, or by combining a few of them, depending on what exactly are you looking for.

Getting Details With the -l Option

The -l option will modify the ls command to give you much more detailed info, such as whether an entry is a file or directory, the size (usually in bytes), modified date and time, permissions, and more:

$ ls -l

The result of this command should look something like:

total 15168
drwxrwxr-x 3 marija marija     4096 Jul 18 19:26 Folder_one
-rwxrwxrwx 1 marija marija   164461 Sep 12  2017 large.jpg
-rw-rw-r-- 1 marija marija 15354276 Oct 25  2018 os.zip

Here we can see that we have one directory (d in drwxrwxr-x), named Folder_one, and 2 files. We can also see their owner and group, marija, and their size in bytes, as well as their modification date/time.

The number following the permissions is the number of links to the file or directory.

If you'd like to read more about permmissions and how to change them via the terminal, read our Guide to Understanding chmod.

Note: You can get far with the -l flag, and by combining other flags with it, the ls command will get you far for this task.

Human-Readable -lh Option

If you want a more human-readable form, you can add the joined extension -lh or simply -h after the -l option:

$ ls -lh
total 15M
drwxrwxr-x 3 marija marija 4,0K Jul 18 19:26 Folder_one
-rwxrwxrwx 1 marija marija 161K Sep 12  2017 large.jpg
-rw-rw-r-- 1 marija marija  15M Oct 25  2018 os.zip

Now, we can see the size of files showed in KB, MB, GB, etc. instead of showing only in bytes, which can be very helpful. Though, that's mostly the benefit you get from this flag.

Showing Hidden Files With the -la Option

Hidden files start with a dot symbol (.) and aren't meant to be picked up by most GUI software, or the ls command. These are typically files that you don't want to see, so this makes perfect sense.

On the other hand, if you'd specifically like to also include hidden files while listing the files of a directory - you can add the -a flag. Combining the -l flag and -a flag, you can print the hidden files alongside regular files - with their information:

$ ls -la
total 15212
drwxr-xr-x  3 marija marija     4096 Jul 18 20:03 .
drwxr-xr-x 29 marija marija     4096 Jul 18 20:13 ..
drwxrwxr-x  3 marija marija     4096 Jul 18 19:26 Folder_one
-rwxrwxrwx  1 marija marija   164461 Sep 12  2017 large.jpg
-rw-rw-r--  1 marija marija 15354276 Oct 25  2018 os.zip
-rw-r--r--  1 marija marija    12288 Jan 29  2018 .tekst.txt.swn
-rw-r--r--  1 marija marija    12288 Jan 29  2018 .tekst.txt.swo
-rw-r--r--  1 marija marija    12288 Jan 29  2018 .tekst.txt.swp
Displaying Block Size With the -s Option

The -s option displays the file's size in blocks, rather than regular bytes:

$ ls -s
total 15168
    4 Folder_one    164 large.jpg  15000 os.zip

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Note: Blocks are the smallest writable unit for your system and hardware.

Sorting Files by Size With the -lS Option

The -S flag, not to be confused with the lowercase -s from earlier, is a sorting flag. It sorts the files by size, in descending order:

$ ls -lS
total 15168
-rw-rw-r-- 1 marija marija 15354276 Oct 25  2018 os.zip
-rwxrwxrwx 1 marija marija   164461 Sep 12  2017 large.jpg
drwxrwxr-x 3 marija marija     4096 Jul 18 19:26 Folder_one
Recursive Listing With the -R Option

If you want to list sub-directories, you'll have to make a recursive ls call. The -R option makes this a really simple endeavor.

It will give you a tree representation of all of the files or directories that happen to be in a particular place:

$ ls -R directory

Screenshot 2021-07-26 at 18.53.05.png file.txt
Screenshot 2021-07-26 at 21.15.20.png mpl

directory/dvp-articles:
axis-off

directory/dvp-articles/axis-off:
app.py     get-pip.py

directory/mpl:
mpl-chapter-2-1.png

Here, we've recursively called ls on the directory. Within it, there's another directory - dvp-articles, and within it, yet another - axis-off. Within axis-off, there's an app.py and get-pip.py.

Of course, you can chain the -l flag here as well, but the output might get a bit messy:

$ ls -lR directory
ls -lR directory

[email protected] 1 david  staff  369705 Jul 26 23:57 Screenshot 2021-07-26 at 23.57.34.png
[email protected] 1 david  staff  103861 Jul 27 00:05 Screenshot 2021-07-27 at 00.05.16.png
drwxr-xr-x  3 david  staff      96 Jun 17 18:00 dvp-articles
-rw-r--r--  1 david  staff       0 Jun 25 17:11 file.txt
drwxr-xr-x  3 david  staff      96 Jul 16 20:19 mpl

directory/dvp-articles:
total 0
[email protected] 4 david  staff  128 Jun 17 18:03 axis-off

directory/dvp-articles/axis-off:
total 3800
-rw-r--r--  1 david  staff      463 Jun 17 18:08 app.py
-rw-r--r--  1 david  staff  1937800 Jun 17 18:03 get-pip.py

directory/mpl:
total 376
[email protected] 1 david  staff  192506 Jul 16 20:18 mpl-chapter-2-1.png
Option -i

To use inode, we can add the -i flag:

$ ls -i

688193 Folder_one  
680393 large.jpg  
680392 os.zip

Of course, you can chain it with other flags such as:

$ ls -li
 49323 [email protected]  3 david  staff    96 Jun 16 20:39 Applications
 34615 drwx------+ 15 david  staff   480 Jul 27 00:05 Desktop
 ...

The stat Command

The stat commmand is much more like the good old Right Click > Properties approach, because it formats all of the data and properties in a very readable format. It requires a filepath and isn't as customizable as ls:

$ stat Folder_one

This results in:

File: 'Folder_one' 
  Size: 4096      	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096 directory
Device: 805h/2053d	Inode: 688193      Links: 3
Access: (0775/drwxrwxr-x)  Uid: ( 1000/  marija)   Gid: ( 1000/  marija)
Access: 2021-07-18 20:04:03.205402891 +0200
Modify: 2021-07-18 19:26:00.681976407 +0200
Change: 2021-07-18 20:03:51.617219116 +0200
 Birth: -

For some, this is be a much better solution than the ls command.

With stat, you can also format the printed info via --printf. You can filter out data such as the user name of the owner, group name of owner, or time of last status change, in even more human-readable form:

$ stat --printf='%U\n%G\n%z\n' Folder_one/

Which will in this case results in:

marija
marija
2021-07-18 20:03:51.617219116 +0200

Notice that we are putting ''\n'' after each wanted property, so that each is printed in a new line.

Conclusion

Using the terminal, it's easy to find file properties, using ls with any of its accepted flags or via stat.

In this short guide, we've taken a look at how to display file properties using Linux.

Last Updated: July 26th, 2021
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