‘Linux for Beginners: Peeking Inside Files Using ‘cat’’


When it comes to navigating the Linux command line, understanding essential commands is crucial. One such command that you’ll encounter frequently is cat. Short for “concatenate,” the cat command allows you to view and manipulate file contents without the need to open files for editing. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to use the cat command effectively, catering specifically to beginners. Whether you’re a Linux enthusiast or just starting your journey, mastering cat will enhance your command line prowess.

What Is the cat Command?

At its core, the cat command serves as a versatile tool for reading and displaying the contents of one or more files. It’s like having a magnifying glass for your text files, allowing you to peek inside without any fuss. Let’s dive into the specifics.

Basic Syntax

To use the cat command, follow this format:

cat [options] filename(s)
  • [options]: Additional instructions you can provide to the cat command.
  • filename(s): Specify the name of the file (or files) you want to display.

Key Features and Examples

1. Creating New Files

You can use cat to create new files and add content to them. Let’s say you want to create two sample files, test1.txt and test2.txt:

  1. Open a terminal window and create the first file:

    cat > test1.txt

    Type a simple sentence (e.g., “This is test file #1”) and press Ctrl + D to save and exit.

  2. Repeat the process to create test2.txt:

    cat > test2.txt

    Enter another sentence (e.g., “This is test file #2”) and press Ctrl + D.

2. Displaying File Contents

To view the contents of a single file (test1.txt), run:

cat test1.txt

To display the contents of both files (test1.txt and test2.txt), use:

cat test1.txt test2.txt

3. Redirecting Contents

Instead of displaying content on the screen, you can redirect it to a new file. For instance:

cat test1.txt > test3.txt

This creates test3.txt with the contents from test1.txt.

4. Displaying in Reverse Order

Want to see the content in reverse? Use tac (reverse cat):

tac test3.txt

5. Appending to Another File

Add the contents of one file to the end of another:

cat test2.txt >> test3.txt

Now test3.txt contains both files’ content.


In this guide, we’ve demystified the cat command, empowering you to explore files, create new ones, and manipulate content. Remember these basics, experiment with examples, and soon you’ll be a cat command pro! Happy Linux-ing!

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