Core utilities

Core utilities are the basic, fundamental tools of a GNU/Linux system. This article provides an incomplete overview of them, links their documentation and describes useful alternatives. The scope of this article includes, but is not limited to, the GNU coreutils. Most core utilities are traditional Unix tools and many were standardized by POSIX but have been developed further to provide more features.

Most command-line interfaces are documented in man pages, utilities by the GNU Project are documented primarily in Info manuals, some shells provide a help command for shell builtin commands. Additionally most utilities print their usage when run with the --help flag.


The following table lists some important utilities which Arch Linux users should be familiar with. See also intro(1).

shell built-inscdchange directorycd(1p)#cd alternatives
GNU lslist directory, info, #ls alternatives
catconcatenate files to stdoutcat(1), infotac(1), #cat alternatives
mkdirmake directory, info
rmdirremove empty directory, info
rmremove files or directories, infoshred
cpcopy files or directories, info#cp alternatives
mvmove files or directories, info
lnmake hard or symbolic links, info (soname recovery)
chownchange file owner and groupchown(1), info
chmodchange file permissionschmod(1), info
ddconvert and copy a file, info#dd alternatives
dfreport file system disk space usage, info#df alternatives
duestimate disk space used by files and directories, info#du alternatives
GNU tartar archiver, infoarchivers
GNU lessterminal pagerterminal pagers
GNU findutilsfindsearch files or directories, info, GregsWiki#find alternatives
GNU diffcompare files line by linediff(1), info#diff alternatives
GNU grepprint lines matching a pattern, info#grep alternatives
GNU sedstream editor, info, one-liners
GNU awkpattern scanning and processing language, info, mawkAUR,
dmesgprint or control the kernel ring buffersystemd journal
lsblklist block devices
mountmount a filesystemmount(8)
umountunmount a filesystem
susubstitute usersudo, doas
killterminate a process, killall(1)
pgreplook up processes by name or attributes
psshow information about processes, task managers
freedisplay amount of free and used memory

Preventing data loss

rm, , and shell redirections happily delete or overwrite files without asking. rm, , and all support the -i flag to prompt the user before every removal / overwrite. Some users like to enable the -i flag by default using aliases. Relying upon these shell options can be dangerous, because you get used to them, resulting in potential data loss when you use another system or user that does not have them. The best way to prevent data loss is to create backups.


This table lists core utilities that often come in handy.

shell built-ins aliasdefine or display aliases
typeprint the type of a command, ,
timetime a command
GNU teeread stdin and write to stdout and filestee(1), info
mktempmake a temporary file or directory, info
mknodcreate named pipe or device nodemknod(1), , info
truncateshrink or extend the size of a file, info
basencencoding input and output it, , info
cutprint selected parts of lines, info, hck,
trtranslate or delete characters, info
oddump files in octal and other formats, info, vim's
sortsort linessort(1), info
uniqreport or omit repeated lines, info, , huniq-gitAUR
commcompare two sorted files line by line, info
headoutput the first part of files, info
joinjoin lines of two inputs on a common field, info
md5sumcalculate cryptography hash functions of inputs and output, , infoshasum(1), ,
tailoutput the last part of files, or follow filestail(1), info
wcprint newline, word and byte count, info
GNU stringsprint printable characters in binary files, info
columncolumnate file, optionally pretty-printing in table with grid, csviewAUR
GNU findutilsxargscombine or template arguments from stdin to invoke external commandparallel(1) ()
GNU iconvconvert character encodings,
GNU uudecodeencode file into email friendly text, , infouudeview(1)
fileguess file type

The package provides useful tools like that are missing from the GNU coreutils.


Alternative core utilities are provided by the following packages:

  • BusyBox Utilities for rescue and embedded systems. || busybox
  • ubase An extension of the sbase utilities. || ubase-gitAUR

cat alternatives

    cd alternatives

    See also Bash#Auto "cd" when entering just a path and Zsh#Remembering recent directories.

    cp alternatives

    Using rsync#As cp/mv alternative allows you to resume a failed transfer, to show the transfer status, to skip already existing files and to make sure of the destination files integrity using checksums.

    ls alternatives

    • clifm A file manager that can list files like ls(1) would (plus icons and RGB colors support). || clifmAUR

    find alternatives

    • plocate A much faster locate. || plocate

    For graphical file searchers, see List of applications/Utilities#File searching.

    diff alternatives

    While does not provide a word-wise diff, several other programs do:

    • git diff can do a word diff with , using it can also be used for files outside of Git working trees.

    See also List of applications/Utilities#Comparison, diff, merge.

    grep alternatives

    • pdfgrep A tool to search text in PDF files. || pdfgrep
    • ripgrep-all Search in plain text and also in PDFs, E-Books, Office documents, zip, tar.gz. || ripgrep-all

    Code searchers

    These tools aim to replace grep for code search. They do recursive search by default, skip binary files and respect .

    See also: .

    Interactive filters

    • peco Simplistic interactive filtering tool. || peco
    • skim Fuzzy finder written in Rust, similar to fzf. || skim

    dd alternatives

    See also: dd and ddrescue

    Alternative dd implementations

    This subsection lists dd implementations whose interface and default behaviour is mostly compliant with the POSIX specification of .

    Spin-offs of GNU dd

    The GNU implementation of dd found in also conforms to POSIX. This subsection lists its forks.

    Modernised dd analogues

    This subsection lists dd alternatives that do not conform to POSIX (in terms of the JCL-resembling command-line syntax and default behaviour).

    • dd_rescue A feature-packed, modernised dd analogue that is suitable for daily scripting, disk cloning, and data recovery. || dd_rescue

      buffer spin-offs

      This subsection lists forks of , a general-purpose I/O buffering utility similar to dd but has a dynamic-sized buffer. It supports blockwise I/O and can be used when dumping from/to an LTO-tape to avoid shoe shining.

        df alternatives

          du alternatives

          • dust A more intuitive version of du, in rust.
 || dust

          See also List of applications/Utilities#Disk usage display.

          See also

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