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Renaming Directories in Linux

written by: Michael Dougherty•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/27/2009

Most Linux distributions come with a graphic file manager resembling that in Microsoft Windows. But if it's ever necessary to navigate with the command-line Terminal window, then knowing a few Linux commands comes in handy!

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    Command-Line Renaming Directories

    Most Linux distributions now come with a GUI and a graphic file management system. On GNOME-based distributions this will usually be Nautilus, and on KDE systems, Konqueror. Both work in a similar way to the Windows File Manager, in that directories can be renamed by clicking on them and selecting ‘Rename’ from the local menu.

    The command-line Terminal Window can also be used to rename directories, but users will need to know about the Linux file structure. The Linux file system stems from a single root directory represented by a slash character (Windows uses a backslash). Immediately under this there are usually between fifteen and twenty system directories with names like bin, dev and etc. We are concerned with the directory called home, which contains the individual user folders. If Tom, Sue and I all have accounts on the same PC, there will be folders under the home folder called ‘tom’, ‘sue’ and ‘jon’.

    A command-line Terminal window will be accessible from one of the menus; in Ubuntu Linux it is found by default under Applications / Accessories. This will open up a text entry window with a prompt and a flashing cursor. The prompt includes a path string that tells the user whereabouts on the system they are: for instance:

    root@jon-ubuntu-laptop:/# – I am located in the root directory

    root@jon-ubuntu-laptop:/home# – I am located in the home directory

    A tilde character is used to indicate the user’s own subdirectory: e.g.

    root@jon-ubuntu-laptop:~# – I am located in my subdirectory under /home i.e. /home/jon

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    Using cd to navigate

    The ‘cd’ (change directory) command allows me to move through the system. To move one level upwards towards the root directory I use the command

    cd ..

    and to move downwards into a subdirectory I enter ‘cd’ followed by the directory name; e.g. if I am in the root directory then ‘cd home’ will take me into /home and ‘cd /home/jon’ will take me straight into the /home/jon directory.

    The ‘cd ~’ (tilde) command will always take me to my home directory, and ‘cd /’ will take me straight to the root directory. Because Linux is case-sensitive – ‘cd’ is not the same as ‘CD’ and ‘newstuff’ is not the same as ‘Newstuff’; you need to watch your use of upper and lower case.

    Suppose that I am in the /home/jon/ directory and there is a directory there called ‘Oldname’ which I want to change to ‘Newname’. The basic command for renaming a directory is the move command,‘mv’, followed by the old name, followed by the new name; so the command I need here would be:

    mv Oldname Newname

    An alternative would be

    mv /home/jon/Oldname /home/Jon/Newname

    where the complete path names are supplied.

    For further information about Linux terminal commands such as cd and mv, type the word 'man' at the terminal prompt followed by the name of the command:

    man cd

    man mv