Learn Linux, 101
Find and place system files
Where things go in the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard
This content is part # of # in the series: Learn Linux, 101
This content is part of the series:Learn Linux, 101
Stay tuned for additional content in this series.
In this article, learn about the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS). Learn to:
- Recognize where to place files under the FHS
- Find files and commands on your Linux system
- Find other important files and directories defined in the FHS and understand their purposes
This article helps you prepare for Objective 104.7 in Topic 104 of the Linux Professional Institute's Junior Level Administration (LPIC-1) exam 101. The objective has a weight of 2.
To get the most from the articles in this series, you should have a basic knowledge of Linux and a working Linux system on which you can practice the commands covered in this article. Sometimes different versions of a program will format output differently, so your results may not always look exactly like the listings and figures shown here. In particular, much of the output we show is highly dependent on the packages that are already installed on our systems. Your own output may be quite different, although you should be able to recognize the important commonalities.
Filesystem Hierarchy Standard
The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard is a document that specifies a common layout of directories on a Linux or other UNIX®-like system. By placing files in the same general place across Linux distributions, the FHS simplifies distribution-independent software development. The FHS is also used in the Linux Standard Base (see Resources). The FHS allows both users and software to predict the location of installed files and directories. An FHS-compliant filesystem assumes that the operating system supports the basic security features found in most UNIX filesystems.
The two independent FHS categories
At the core of the FHS are two independent characteristics of files:
- Shareable vs. unshareable
- Shareable files can be located on one system and used on another, while unshareable files must reside on the system on which they are used.
- Static vs. variable
- Static files change only through system administrator intervention, such as installing or upgrading a package, and include documentation, libraries, and binaries. Variable files are all other files, such as logs, spool files, databases, and user data, which are subject to change by users and by system processes.
These distinctions allow files with different sets of characteristics to be stored on different filesystems. Table 1 is an example from the FHS document showing a layout that would be FHS compliant.
Where's that file?
Linux systems often contain hundreds of thousands of files. A 64-bit Fedora 13 system that I recently installed has over 75,000 files in the /usr hierarchy alone. Most of my other installations have over 100,000 files and often 200,000 files or more. The next four sections look at tools to help you find files, particularly programs, in this vast sea of data.
What's on your PATH
If you have used several Linux systems, you may have noticed that if you
log in as root, you are able to execute commands such as
fdisk, which you cannot execute if you are a
user. If you run a program at the command line, the bash (or other) shell
searches through a list of directories to find the program you requested.
The list of directories is specified in your PATH
environment variable, and root's path may include /sbin, while non-root
user paths do not. Listing 1 shows user path examples from two different
distributions, as well as a root path example.
Listing 1. Some PATH examples
ian@pinguino:~$ # An Ubuntu 9.10 system ian@pinguino:~$ echo $PATH /usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/games [ian@echidna ~]$ # An openSUSE 11.2 system ian@attic4:~> echo $PATH /usr/lib64/mpi/gcc/openmpi/bin:/home/ian/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/bin/X11:/u sr/X11R6/bin:/usr/games:/usr/lib64/jvm/jre/bin:/usr/lib/mit/bin:/usr/lib/mit/sbin [root@echidna ~]# # And as root attic4:~ # echo $PATH /usr/lib64/mpi/gcc/openmpi/bin:/sbin:/usr/sbin:/usr/local/sbin:/root/bin:/usr/local/bin:/ usr/bin:/bin:/usr/bin/X11:/usr/X11R6/bin:/usr/games:/usr/lib64/jvm/jre/bin:/usr/lib/mit/b in:/usr/lib/mit/sbin
As you can see, the PATH variable is just a list of
directory names, separated by colons. Since the
fdisk command is actually located in
/sbin/fdisk, only the first and last of these paths would allow the user
to run it by typing
fdisk without providing a
fully qualified name (/sbin/fdisk).
Usually, your path is set in an initialization file such as .bash_profile or .bashrc. You can change it for the current bash process by specifying a new path. Remember to export the PATH variable if you want the new value to be available to other processes that you start from this one. An example is shown in Listing 2.
Listing 2. Changing your PATH
ian@attic4:~> fdisk Absolute path to 'fdisk' is '/sbin/fdisk', so running it may require superuser privileges (e.g. root). ian@attic4:~> export PATH=/sbin:$PATH ian@attic4:~> fdisk Usage: fdisk [-l] [-b SSZ] [-u] device E.g.: fdisk /dev/hda (for the first IDE disk) or: fdisk /dev/sdc (for the third SCSI disk) or: fdisk /dev/eda (for the first PS/2 ESDI drive) or: fdisk /dev/rd/c0d0 or: fdisk /dev/ida/c0d0 (for RAID devices)
The which, type, and whereis commands
In the previous section, you saw why the
command might not be available if you attempted to run it. However, there
are several other useful commands that can help you find which command
would in fact run if you typed a command name.
The which command
You can use the
which command to search your
path and find out which command will be executed (if any) when you type a
command. Listing 3 shows an example of finding the
Listing 3. Using which
ian@attic4:~> which fdisk which: no fdisk in (/usr/lib64/mpi/gcc/openmpi/bin:/home/ian/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin: /bin:/usr/bin/X11:/usr/X11R6/bin:/usr/games:/usr/lib64/jvm/jre/bin:/usr/lib/mit/bin:/usr/ lib/mit/sbin) ian@attic4:~> export PATH=/sbin:$PATH ian@attic4:~> which fdisk /sbin/fdisk
which command shows you the first occurrence
of a command in your path. If you want to know if there are multiple
occurrences, then add the
-a option as shown in
Listing 4. Using which to find multiple occurrences
ian@attic4:~> which awk /usr/bin/awk ian@attic4:~> which -a awk /usr/bin/awk /bin/awk /usr/bin/X11/awk
Here we find the
awk command in three places: in
/usr/bin (which is the main directory for commands on the system), in /bin
(which contains commands that may be used both by the system administrator
and by users, but which are required when no other filesystems are
mounted), and also in /usr/bin/X11 (which contains the binaries for the X
Another article in this series, "Learn Linux 101: Create and change hard and symbolic links,"
shows you how to check that these three different files all eventually
represent the same underlying
gawk command as
shown in Listing 5.
Listing 5. Awk commands lead to gawk
ian@attic4:~> ls -l $(which -a awk) lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 4 2010-02-09 00:46 /bin/awk -> gawk lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 8 2010-02-09 00:46 /usr/bin/awk -> /bin/awk lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 8 2010-02-09 00:46 /usr/bin/X11/awk -> /bin/awk
The type command
are some commands that the
which command will
not find, such as shell builtins. The
command is a builtin that will tell you how a given command string will be
evaluated for execution. Listing 6 uses
type to show that the
type command is not an executable found on your
path, but is a shell builtin.
Listing 6. Using type
ian@attic4:~> which type which: no type in (/usr/lib64/mpi/gcc/openmpi/bin:/home/ian/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/ bin:/usr/bin/X11:/usr/X11R6/bin:/usr/games:/usr/lib64/jvm/jre/bin:/usr/lib/mit/bin:/usr/l ib/mit/sbin) ian@attic4:~> type type type is a shell builtin
The whereis command
If you want more information than just the location of a program, then you
can use the
whereis command. For example, you
can find the man pages or other information, as shown in Listing 7.
Listing 7. Using whereis to find man pages
ian@attic4:~> whereis awk awk: /bin/awk /usr/bin/awk /usr/lib64/awk /usr/bin/X11/awk /usr/share/awk /usr/share/man/man1/awk.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1p/awk.1p.gz
Note that the copy of
awk in /sbin was not found
whereis. The directories used by
whereis are fixed, so the command may not
always find what you are looking for. The
whereis command can also search for source
files, specify alternate search paths, and search for unusual entries.
Consult the man pages to see how to override this behavior or change the
fixed paths used by
The find command
In an earlier article in this series, "Learn Linux 101: File and directory management," you learned how to find files based on name (including wildcards), path, size, or timestamp. In another earlier article in this series, "Learn Linux 101: Create and change hard and symbolic links," you learned how to find the links to a particular file or inode.
find command is the Swiss Army knife of
file searching tools on Linux systems. Two other capabilities that you may
find useful are its ability to find files based on user or group name and
its ability to find files based on permissions.
Suppose you want to see what files a user has in the /tmp hierarchy. Listing 8 shows how the root user could find all the files for user ian in in /tmp.
Listing 8. Finding files by user and group
attic4:~ # find /tmp -user ian /tmp/kde-ian /tmp/kde-ian/closeditems /tmp/kde-ian/closeditems/_1.66 /tmp/kde-ian/systemsettingsR27913.tmp /tmp/.ICE-unix/2288 /tmp/orbit-ian /tmp/orbit-ian/linc-12f7-0-33cb4ce9b1fbf /tmp/orbit-ian/linc-7d00-0-70e5ebaa4ddac /tmp/orbit-ian/linc-12ea-0-68260abbd2051 /tmp/orbit-ian/linc-12ea-0-3377ca55c0bd2 /tmp/ksocket-ian /tmp/ksocket-ian/klauncherMT2183.slave-socket ...
You can also find files by group using the
-group test. And you can find files that do not
belong to any user or group on the system using the
As with other tests, you can negate the test using
!. I usually set my user number to 1000, as
that is the default on some systems. I also create a group called ian with
1000 as the group number. Other systems still start at 500, or put new
users in the group 'users' by default. Some of my older research material
that was archived from a Red Hat 6.2 system still has user 500. Listing 9
shows how to find some directories that are not owned by my current user
group. The research/rh62/involution is owned by user 500 and group 4,
neither of which exist on my current system. To find files or directories
by numeric user id or group id, use the
Listing 9. Finding directories not owned by ian
ian@attic4:~> find -L research -maxdepth 2 -type d ! -group ian research/rh62/involution research/rh62/programs research/lost+found find: `research/lost+found': Permission denied ian@attic4:~> ls -ld research/rh62/involution drwxr-xr-x. 2 500 4 4096 1999-11-10 08:09 research/rh62/involution
To find files by permission, you can use the
-perm test along with symbolic expressions
similar to those used with the
umask commands. You can search for exact
permissions, but it is often more useful to prefix the permission
expression with a hyphen to indicate that you want files with those
permissions set, but that you don't care about other permissions. Listing
10 illustrates how to find files that are executable by user, group, and
everyone, and two different ways of finding files that are not readable by
Listing 10. Finding files by permission
ian@attic4:~> find . -maxdepth 1 -type f -perm -uga=x ./.xinitrc.template ian@attic4:~> ls -l ./.xinitrc.template -rwxr-xr-x 1 ian users 1446 2010-02-09 08:55 ./.xinitrc.template ian@attic4:~> find . -maxdepth 1 ! -perm -o=r ./.Xauthority ./.pulse ... ian@attic4:~> find . -maxdepth 1 ! -perm -0004 ./.Xauthority ./.pulse ...
We have covered several major types of search that you can do with the
find command. To further narrow your output,
you can combine multiple expressions, and you can add regular expressions
to the mix. To learn more about this versatile command, use the man page,
or better, use
info find if you have the
info system installed.
Listing 11 shows a final example of searching with
find. This example does a
cd to /usr/include to keep the listing length
manageable, then finds all files containing
packet in their path name without regard to
case. The second example further restricts this output to files that are
not directories and that are at least 1500 bytes in size. Actual output on
your system may differ depending on which packages you have installed.
Listing 11. A final example of find
ian@attic4:/usr/include> find . -iregex ".*packet.*" ./c++/4.4/java/net/DatagramPacket.h ./c++/4.4/gnu/classpath/jdwp/processor/PacketProcessor.h ./c++/4.4/gnu/classpath/jdwp/transport/JdwpPacket.h ./c++/4.4/gnu/classpath/jdwp/transport/JdwpReplyPacket.h ./c++/4.4/gnu/classpath/jdwp/transport/JdwpCommandPacket.h ./netpacket ./netpacket/packet.h ./net/if_packet.h ./linux/if_packet.h ian@attic4:/usr/include> find . -iregex ".*packet.*" ! -type d -size +1500c ./c++/4.4/java/net/DatagramPacket.h ./c++/4.4/gnu/classpath/jdwp/transport/JdwpPacket.h ./netpacket/packet.h ./linux/if_packet.h
Note that the regular expression must match the full path returned by
find, and remember the difference between
regular expressions and wildcards.
The locate and updatedb commands
find command searches all the directories
you specify, every time you run it. To speed things up, you can use
locate, which uses a database
of stored path information rather than searching the filesystem every
The locate command
locate command searches for matching files
in a database that is usually updated daily by a cron job.
locate command matches against any part of a
path name, not just the file name.
Put the file name in single quotes and include at least one
globbing character to match more precisely. Listing 12 shows how to find
paths containing the string
bin/ls, and shows
two examples of using globbing characters to restrict the output.
Listing 12. Using locate to find paths and restrict output
ian@attic4:~> locate /bin/ls /bin/ls /bin/lsmod /usr/bin/lsattr /usr/bin/lsb_release /usr/bin/lscpu /usr/bin/lsdev /usr/bin/lshal /usr/bin/lsof /usr/bin/lsscsi /usr/bin/lsusb ian@attic4:~> locate '\/bin/ls' /bin/ls ian@attic4:~> locate '/bin/ls*' /bin/ls /bin/lsmod
The updatedb command
The default database used by
locate is stored in
the /var filesystem, in a location such as /var/lib/locatedb. This may be
different on systems that use slocate or mlocate packages
to provide additional security or speed. You can find statistics on your
locate -S as shown in
Listing 13. Locatedb statistics
ian@attic4:~> locate -S Database /var/lib/locatedb is in the GNU LOCATE02 format. Locate database size: 3011297 bytes All Filenames: 259149 File names have a cumulative length of 15751703 bytes. Of those file names, 11421 contain whitespace, 0 contain newline characters, and 0 contain characters with the high bit set. Compression ratio 80.88% (higher is better)
The database is created or updated using the
updatedb command. This is usually run daily as
a cron job. The file /etc/updatedb.conf, or sometimes
/etc/sysconfig/locate, is the configuration file for
updatedb. To enable daily updates, the root
user needs to edit /etc/updatedb.conf and set
DAILY_UPDATE=yes. To create the database immediately, run the
updatedb command as root.
Other considerations for using
security considerations and network file I/O considerations for daily
builds of the
updatedb database. Check the man
updatedb configuration files for more
FHS directories in the root filesystem
The FHS goal is to keep the root filesystem as small as possible. However, it must contain all the files necessary to boot, restore, recover, or repair the system, including the utilities that an experienced administrator would need for these tasks. Note that booting a system requires that enough files be on the root filesystem to permit mounting of other filesystems.
Table 2 shows the purpose of the directories that the FHS requires in the root (or /) filesystem. Either the directory or a symbolic link to it must be present, except for those marked as optional, which are required only if the corresponding subsystem is present.
|bin||Essential command binaries|
|boot||Static files of the boot loader|
|etc||Host-specific system configuration|
|lib||Essential shared libraries and kernel modules|
|media||Mount point for removable media|
|mnt||Mount point for mounting a filesystem temporarily|
|opt||Add-on application software packages|
|sbin||Essential system binaries|
|srv||Data for services provided by this system|
|home||User home directories (optional)|
|lib<qual>||Alternate format essential shared libraries (optional)|
|root||Home directory for the root user (optional)|
/usr and /var hierarchies
The /usr and /var hierarchies are complex enough to have complete sections of the FHS devoted to them. The /usr filesystem is the second major section of the filesystem, containing shareable, read-only data. It can be shared between systems, although present practice does not often do this.
The /var filesystem contains variable data files, including spool directories and files, administrative and logging data, and transient and temporary files. Some portions of /var are not shareable between different systems, but others, such as /var/mail, /var/cache/man, /var/cache/fonts, and /var/spool/news, may be shared.
To fully understand the standard, read the FHS document (see Related topics).
- Use the developerWorks roadmap for LPIC-1 to find the developerWorks articles to help you study for LPIC-1 certification based on the April 2009 objectives.
- At the LPIC Program site, find detailed objectives, task lists, and sample questions for the three levels of the Linux Professional Institute's Linux system administration certification. In particular, see their April 2009 objectives for LPI exam 101 and LPI exam 102. Always refer to the LPIC Program site for the latest objectives.
- Review the entire LPI exam prep series on developerWorks to learn Linux fundamentals and prepare for system administrator certification based on earlier LPI exam objectives prior to April 2009.
- Visit the home of the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS).
- Learn about the Linux Standard Base (LSB), a Free Standards Group (FSG) project to develop a standard binary operating environment.
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