Unix for Mac OS X Users
Illustration by John Hersey

Moving and renaming files and directories


Unix for Mac OS X Users

with Kevin Skoglund

Video: Moving and renaming files and directories

In this movie we'll talk about moving and renaming files and directories. I'll start out by just doing ls -la to see what's in our user directory. A couple files that I have added here that are in the exercise files. overwrite_tests1 and overwrite_test2, those are just real simple files. Just so you can see what's in them, just overwrite_test1. I just put a bit of text in there. We'll be using that a little later on to talk about overwriting. Everything else are things we have been working on before and should be available in exercise files. So we want to move files around. All we need is the mv command.
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  1. 3m 57s
    1. Introduction
      1m 14s
    2. Using the exercise files
      2m 43s
  2. 32m 2s
    1. What is Unix?
      7m 27s
    2. The terminal application
      4m 23s
    3. Logging in and using the command prompt
      5m 19s
    4. Command structure
      5m 22s
    5. Kernel and shells
      5m 25s
    6. Unix manual pages
      4m 6s
  3. 15m 58s
    1. The working directory
      2m 49s
    2. Listing files and directories
      3m 59s
    3. Moving around the filesystem
      4m 58s
    4. Filesystem organization
      4m 12s
  4. 1h 4m
    1. Naming files
      5m 41s
    2. Creating files
      2m 19s
    3. Unix text editors
      6m 39s
    4. Reading files
      5m 35s
    5. Reading portions of files
      3m 27s
    6. Creating directories
      2m 40s
    7. Moving and renaming files and directories
      8m 32s
    8. Copying files and directories
      3m 7s
    9. Deleting files and directories
      3m 38s
    10. Finder aliases in Unix
      4m 10s
    11. Hard links
      5m 30s
    12. Symbolic links
      6m 36s
    13. Searching for files and directories
      6m 32s
  5. 34m 58s
    1. Who am I?
      4m 3s
    2. Unix groups
      1m 52s
    3. File and directory ownership
      6m 41s
    4. File and directory permissions
      4m 27s
    5. Setting permissions using alpha notation
      6m 49s
    6. Setting permissions using octal notation
      3m 49s
    7. The root user
      1m 57s
    8. sudo and sudoers
      5m 20s
  6. 52m 34s
    1. Command basics
      4m 4s
    2. The PATH variable
      4m 13s
    3. System information commands
      3m 40s
    4. Disk information commands
      6m 8s
    5. Viewing processes
      5m 0s
    6. Monitoring processes
      3m 36s
    7. Stopping processes
      3m 19s
    8. Text file helpers
      6m 50s
    9. Utility programs
      7m 28s
    10. Using the command history
      8m 16s
  7. 20m 39s
    1. Standard input and standard output
      1m 24s
    2. Directing output to a file
      4m 13s
    3. Appending to a file
      2m 44s
    4. Directing input from a file
      5m 28s
    5. Piping output to input
      4m 40s
    6. Suppressing output
      2m 10s
  8. 41m 28s
    1. Profile, login, and resource files
      9m 11s
    2. Setting command aliases
      6m 59s
    3. Setting and exporting environment variables
      4m 54s
    4. Setting the PATH variable
      6m 10s
    5. Configuring history with variables
      6m 17s
    6. Customizing the command prompt
      6m 5s
    7. Logout file
      1m 52s
  9. 1h 25m
    1. grep: Searching for matching expressions
      5m 21s
    2. grep: Multiple files, other input
      4m 28s
    3. grep: Coloring matched text
      2m 57s
    4. Introduction to regular expressions
      3m 22s
    5. Regular expressions: Basic syntax
      3m 19s
    6. Using regular expressions with grep
      5m 20s
    7. tr: Translating characters
      8m 17s
    8. tr: Deleting and squeezing characters
      5m 30s
    9. sed: Stream editor
      7m 45s
    10. sed: Regular expressions and back-references
      7m 8s
    11. cut: Cutting select text portions
      7m 42s
    12. diff: Comparing files
      4m 35s
    13. diff: Alternative formats
      4m 30s
    14. xargs: Passing argument lists to commands
      7m 25s
    15. xargs: Usage examples
      7m 59s
  10. 42m 25s
    1. Finder integration
      4m 45s
    2. Clipboard integration
      5m 5s
    3. Screen capture
      3m 42s
    4. Shut down, reboot, and sleep
      3m 34s
    5. Text to speech
      2m 36s
    6. Spotlight integration: Searching metadata
      3m 41s
    7. Spotlight integration: Metadata attributes
      4m 24s
    8. Using AppleScript
      5m 23s
    9. System configurations: Viewing and setting
      5m 51s
    10. System configurations: Examples
      3m 24s
  11. 1m 26s
    1. Conclusion
      1m 26s

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Watch the Online Video Course Unix for Mac OS X Users
6h 35m Beginner Apr 29, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Unix for Mac OS X Users unlocks the powerful capabilities of Unix that underlie Mac OS X, teaching how to use command-line syntax to perform common tasks such as file management, data entry, and text manipulation. The course teaches Unix from the ground up, starting with the basics of the command line and graduating to powerful, advanced tools like grep, sed, and xargs. The course shows how to enter commands in Terminal to create, move, copy, and delete files and folders; change file ownership and permissions; view and stop command and application processes; find and edit data within files; and use command-line shortcuts to speed up workflow. Exercise files accompany the course.

Topics include:
  • Moving around the file system
  • Creating and reading files
  • Copying, moving, renaming, and deleting files and directories
  • Creating hard links and symbolic links
  • Understanding user identity, file ownership, and sudo
  • Setting file permissions with alpha and octal notation
  • Changing the PATH variable
  • Using the command history
  • Directing input and output
  • Configuring the Unix working environment
  • Searching and replacing using grep and regular expressions
  • Manipulating text with tr, sed, and cut
  • Integrating with the Finder, Spotlight, and AppleScript
Mac OS X Unix
Kevin Skoglund

Moving and renaming files and directories

In this movie we'll talk about moving and renaming files and directories. I'll start out by just doing ls -la to see what's in our user directory. A couple files that I have added here that are in the exercise files. overwrite_tests1 and overwrite_test2, those are just real simple files. Just so you can see what's in them, just overwrite_test1. I just put a bit of text in there. We'll be using that a little later on to talk about overwriting. Everything else are things we have been working on before and should be available in exercise files. So we want to move files around. All we need is the mv command.

mv, the file that we want to move, let's say we want to move newfile.txt, and then a space and then the path where we want to move it to. This can either be a relative or an absolute path. In this case, I'll just say a relative path. testdir/newfile.txt. There it is. It moved it into that directory. If we do ls -la testdir, you can see now that that's where the file exists and it's no longer in this directory. So it did move it.

It moved it into that deeper directory. We can move it back. I am going to actually change directories into the testdir to do it, just to show you that we can use newfile.txt with ../newfile.txt and that works. That's the parent directory. So its saying go back one directory, that this file and send it back one directory. That's what it did. We can take a look in this folder and see that it's not there anymore and if we go backwards one directory, let's do ls -la, and we can now see that its back here again.

Now the move command is also smart. If we say move newfile.txt testdir and nothing after it, we could put the slash or not, it will move the file into that directory with the same name. It assumes the rest of it for us because testdir is an existing directory. That's the key part. It says, "Oh! I see this existing directory. I am guessing that you want to move this file into that directory." So you can save yourself a little bit of typing. So move it into there, and same thing. Let's change directories into the test directory and you'll see that there it is.

Now, we can move it backwards the same way. mv newfile.txt .. We are saying parent directory and this is saying "Oh! the parent directory exists, so I am guessing you want to take this file and put it back there," and it throws it back into that folder. That's a nice shorthand. And directories move the exact same way as files. Let's say for example that from here, I am inside the test directory. Let me show you we have got inside test directory, we have got test1 and that has two folders in it. test2 and test3 that we created. Lets say we want to move test folder 3 into test folder 2.

We would do that with mv and we would say inside test folder 1 you'll find test folder 3. Where do we want to move it, the path? Well, that would be inside test1 inside test2, and again we can either specify it by putting test3 and being completely clear about it or we can let it assume, and because test2 exists, it'll say," I am guessing you want to put it inside that directory not replace that directory." That's key. Because that directory exists already, it's not going to replace it.

It will put it inside of that directory. Now, we can just check that out by doing ls test1/test2 and we can see that test3 is inside there. In addition to moving files, we can also rename files. If you use the man pages for man rename, you would be like "Oh, seems to be obvious. That's the way that you go about renaming files." No, it doesn't work. It doesn't work on the Mac and it doesn't work on a lot of systems. It's very unreliable. Most Unix people use mv for renaming. It's how you go about renaming.

So let's back up a directory here. I am back in my user directory again and let's try renaming that new file and we can rename it while we move it. Rename newfile.txt. I could rename it in place. I could just call it new_file.txt and look at what that would do. It would move this file and there's not something existing, there's not a directory called new_file.txt, so it says, "Oh, you must want to rename it to that." I can do it at the same time. I can say all right, let's move it into the test directory and rename it all at the same time.

Take a newfile, move it in test directory and give it this new name. Let's just take a look at that and you can see there it is. So it gave you that new name. You can see I added the underscore is the difference. We can do the same thing with directories. So lets change the name of that testdir that we have been working with and let's start calling it unix_files. So now, I am saying move this test directory and move it to the same place I am now but with this new file name. Again, notice that the important difference here is that this directory doesn't already exist.

So it's not going to move it into a folder. If the name that I gave it is the second argument was a folder that exists, then it wouldn't rename it. It would just move it into it. So notice that difference. So there we are. So now, let's rename it. Let's do ls -la one more time. And you'll see that now it's been renamed to unix_files. Now, let's take a look at some of the options that we can use with mv, because they are pretty important. There are four main options and these are important options because they are used for a lot of things having to do with files and directories.

The -n option says no overwriting. Don't accidentally overwrite a file. When I move this file, don't replace it, okay. -f says force that overwriting to happen. It says all right, when I move this file, if something is already in it's way, blow it out of the way and put yourself in it's place. It's destructive. Interactive gives us a choice. It just pops up it says, oh, wait a minute. You want to move this file into that directory with this file name? But there's actually already something in there. What do you want to do? And then verbose is very similar with what we were working with directories.

It just kind of gives you some reporting information as it's going about doing the move so that you know that it succeeded. -n, -f, -i and -v. Now, here is the super important thing to know. By default move will overwrite files. The -f option is turned on by default. So you would want to use -n or -i to make sure that you don't accidentally overwrite files. Let's see this in action. As I said at the beginning, we have these files overwrite_test1 and overwrite_test2. That's so that we can play around with these and have some files that we can safely overwrite.

So if I do mv -n, that's the no overwrite option, and I tell it to overwrite_test1 on top of overwrite_test2, I am telling it essentially rename this file. The thing is that there's already a file with that name. The -n option, it doesn't do it. Do ls -la, you see that they're both still there. It did not actually do it. If we do it with the v option, see if we get any more information back from it. Not overwritten, so verbose comes up and tells us.

Now let's try the same thing, but this time let's do it with interactive. I am going to use Ctrl+A to shoot to the front of the line and then from there I can just put in the i. So that will try and rename it, but then when it pops up it says, oh, wait, do you want to overwrite that? Yes or no? You may hit n for no, hit Return, and then it will not overwrite it. So that's the best one I think. I really like the i option. And then the f option is the default, so I will just do it without any options. Let me just remove that so you can see what happens.

This would be the default behavior. We just think we are innocently renaming the file, but in fact we overwrote it. So now if we cat overwrite_test2, you see that it actually has the content that was in test1. Something to be very careful about. And in the movie about aliases later on, we are going to talk about how to change that default behavior so that you can set it so that it'll always does either no overwriting or interactive overwriting. Now as an exercise on your own, go ahead and make sure that you have this directory called unix_files.

Create a new directory if you need to and move all these files that we have been working in, like lorem-ipsum for example, move those into unix_files. Let's go ahead and put all of the files that we have worked with in there and start to have one place for those where we can work with them in that directory. And take a little time. Try moving around, try creating new directories, try creating new files, we know now how to do that, and get use to moving around and see what happens.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Unix for Mac OS X Users .

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Q: The exercise files for the following movies appear to be broken:

Is there something wrong with them?
These exercises include one or more "dot files", whose file names start with a period. These files are normally hidden from view by the Finder.  So that they would show up in the Finder, the period has been removed from the file names. Additionally, "_example" has been added at the end of the file name to make it clear that the file will not work as-is. To make the dot files usable, either:

1) Open the file in a text editor to view its contents. Note that it may not be possible to double-click the file to open it because there is no file extension (such as .txt).
2) Resave the file under a new name (usually by choosing File > Save As), adding a "." to the beginning of the file name and removing "_example" from the end.


1) Copy and rename the file from the Unix command line using the techniques discussed in this course. Rename the file by adding a "." to the start and removing "_example" from the end. Include the "-i" option to prevent overwriting an existing file unexpectedly.
Example:  cp -i ~/Desktop/Exercise\ Files/Chapter_07/07_02_files/bashrc_example ~/.bashrc
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