LS(P) POSIX Programmer's Manual LS(P)
ls - list directory contents
ls [-CFRacdilqrtu1][-H | -L ][-fgmnopsx][file...]
For each operand that names a file of a type other than directory or symbolic link to a
directory, ls shall write the name of the file as well as any requested, associated infor-
mation. For each operand that names a file of type directory, ls shall write the names of
files contained within the directory as well as any requested, associated information. If
one of the -d, -F, or -l options are specified, and one of the -H or -L options are not
specified, for each operand that names a file of type symbolic link to a directory, ls
shall write the name of the file as well as any requested, associated information. If none
of the -d, -F, or -l options are specified, or the -H or -L options are specified, for
each operand that names a file of type symbolic link to a directory, ls shall write the
names of files contained within the directory as well as any requested, associated infor-
If no operands are specified, ls shall write the contents of the current directory. If
more than one operand is specified, ls shall write non-directory operands first; it shall
sort directory and non-directory operands separately according to the collating sequence
in the current locale.
The ls utility shall detect infinite loops; that is, entering a previously visited direc-
tory that is an ancestor of the last file encountered. When it detects an infinite loop,
ls shall write a diagnostic message to standard error and shall either recover its posi-
tion in the hierarchy or terminate.
The ls utility shall conform to the Base Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Sec-
tion 12.2, Utility Syntax Guidelines.
The following options shall be supported:
-C Write multi-text-column output with entries sorted down the columns, according to
the collating sequence. The number of text columns and the column separator charac-
ters are unspecified, but should be adapted to the nature of the output device.
-F Do not follow symbolic links named as operands unless the -H or -L options are
specified. Write a slash ( '/' ) immediately after each pathname that is a direc-
tory, an asterisk ( '*' ) after each that is executable, a vertical bar ( '|' )
after each that is a FIFO, and an at sign ( '@' ) after each that is a symbolic
link. For other file types, other symbols may be written.
-H If a symbolic link referencing a file of type directory is specified on the command
line, ls shall evaluate the file information and file type to be those of the file
referenced by the link, and not the link itself; however, ls shall write the name
of the link itself and not the file referenced by the link.
-L Evaluate the file information and file type for all symbolic links (whether named
on the command line or encountered in a file hierarchy) to be those of the file
referenced by the link, and not the link itself; however, ls shall write the name
of the link itself and not the file referenced by the link. When -L is used with
-l, write the contents of symbolic links in the long format (see the STDOUT sec-
-R Recursively list subdirectories encountered.
-a Write out all directory entries, including those whose names begin with a period (
'.' ). Entries beginning with a period shall not be written out unless explicitly
referenced, the -a option is supplied, or an implementation-defined condition shall
cause them to be written.
-c Use time of last modification of the file status information (see <sys/stat.h> in
the System Interfaces volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001) instead of last modification
of the file itself for sorting ( -t) or writing ( -l).
-d Do not follow symbolic links named as operands unless the -H or -L options are
specified. Do not treat directories differently than other types of files. The use
of -d with -R produces unspecified results.
-f Force each argument to be interpreted as a directory and list the name found in
each slot. This option shall turn off -l, -t, -s, and -r, and shall turn on -a; the
order is the order in which entries appear in the directory.
-g The same as -l, except that the owner shall not be written.
-i For each file, write the file's file serial number (see stat() in the System Inter-
faces volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001).
-l (The letter ell.) Do not follow symbolic links named as operands unless the -H or
-L options are specified. Write out in long format (see the STDOUT section). When
-l (ell) is specified, -1 (one) shall be assumed.
-m Stream output format; list files across the page, separated by commas.
-n The same as -l, except that the owner's UID and GID numbers shall be written,
rather than the associated character strings.
-o The same as -l, except that the group shall not be written.
-p Write a slash ( '/' ) after each filename if that file is a directory.
-q Force each instance of non-printable filename characters and <tab>s to be written
as the question-mark ( '?' ) character. Implementations may provide this option by
default if the output is to a terminal device.
-r Reverse the order of the sort to get reverse collating sequence or oldest first.
-s Indicate the total number of file system blocks consumed by each file displayed.
The block size is implementation-defined.
-t Sort with the primary key being time modified (most recently modified first) and
the secondary key being filename in the collating sequence.
-u Use time of last access (see <sys/stat.h>) instead of last modification of the file
for sorting ( -t) or writing ( -l).
-x The same as -C, except that the multi-text-column output is produced with entries
sorted across, rather than down, the columns.
-1 (The numeric digit one.) Force output to be one entry per line.
Specifying more than one of the options in the following mutually-exclusive pairs shall
not be considered an error: -C and -l (ell), -m and -l (ell), -x and -l (ell), -C and
-1 (one), -H and -L, -c and -u. The last option specified in each pair shall determine the
The following operand shall be supported:
file A pathname of a file to be written. If the file specified is not found, a diagnos-
tic message shall be output on standard error.
The following environment variables shall affect the execution of ls:
Determine the user's preferred column position width for writing multiple text-col-
umn output. If this variable contains a string representing a decimal integer, the
ls utility shall calculate how many pathname text columns to write (see -C) based
on the width provided. If COLUMNS is not set or invalid, an implementation-defined
number of column positions shall be assumed, based on the implementation's knowl-
edge of the output device. The column width chosen to write the names of files in
any given directory shall be constant. Filenames shall not be truncated to fit into
the multiple text-column output.
LANG Provide a default value for the internationalization variables that are unset or
null. (See the Base Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Section 8.2, Inter-
nationalization Variables for the precedence of internationalization variables used
to determine the values of locale categories.)
LC_ALL If set to a non-empty string value, override the values of all the other interna-
Determine the locale for character collation information in determining the path-
name collation sequence.
Determine the locale for the interpretation of sequences of bytes of text data as
characters (for example, single-byte as opposed to multi-byte characters in argu-
ments) and which characters are defined as printable (character class print).
Determine the locale that should be used to affect the format and contents of diag-
nostic messages written to standard error.
Determine the format and contents for date and time strings written by ls.
Determine the location of message catalogs for the processing of LC_MESSAGES .
TZ Determine the timezone for date and time strings written by ls. If TZ is unset or
null, an unspecified default timezone shall be used.
The default format shall be to list one entry per line to standard output; the exceptions
are to terminals or when one of the -C, -m, or -x options is specified. If the output
is to a terminal, the format is implementation-defined.
When -m is specified, the format used shall be:
"%s, %s, ...\n", <filename1>, <filename2>
where the largest number of filenames shall be written without exceeding the length of the
If the -i option is specified, the file's file serial number (see <sys/stat.h>) shall be
written in the following format before any other output for the corresponding entry:
%u ", <file serial number>
If the -l option is specified without -L, the following information shall be written:
"%s %u %s %s %u %s %s\n", <file mode>, <number of links>,
<owner name>, <group name>, <number of bytes in the file>,
<date and time>, <pathname>
If the file is a symbolic link, this information shall be about the link itself and the
<pathname> field shall be of the form:
"%s -> %s", <pathname of link>, <contents of link>
If both -l and -L are specified, the following information shall be written:
"%s %u %s %s %u %s %s\n", <file mode>, <number of links>,
<owner name>, <group name>, <number of bytes in the file>,
<date and time>, <pathname of link>
where all fields except <pathname of link> shall be for the file resolved from the sym-
The -g, -n, and -o options use the same format as -l, but with omitted items and their
associated <blank>s. See the OPTIONS section.
In both the preceding -l forms, if <owner name> or <group name> cannot be determined,
or if -n is given, they shall be replaced with their associated numeric values using the
format %u .
The <date and time> field shall contain the appropriate date and timestamp of when the
file was last modified. In the POSIX locale, the field shall be the equivalent of the out-
put of the following date command:
date "+%b %e %H:%M"
if the file has been modified in the last six months, or:
date "+%b %e %Y"
(where two <space>s are used between %e and %Y ) if the file has not been modified in the
last six months or if the modification date is in the future, except that, in both cases,
the final <newline> produced by date shall not be included and the output shall be as if
the date command were executed at the time of the last modification date of the file
rather than the current time. When the LC_TIME locale category is not set to the POSIX
locale, a different format and order of presentation of this field may be used.
If the file is a character special or block special file, the size of the file may be
replaced with implementation-defined information associated with the device in question.
If the pathname was specified as a file operand, it shall be written as specified.
The file mode written under the -l, -g, -n, and -o options shall consist of the follow-
"%c%s%s%s%c", <entry type>, <owner permissions>,
<group permissions>, <other permissions>,
<optional alternate access method flag>
The <optional alternate access method flag> shall be a single <space> if there is no
alternate or additional access control method associated with the file; otherwise, a
printable character shall be used.
The <entry type> character shall describe the type of file, as follows:
b Block special file.
c Character special file.
- Regular file.
Implementations may add other characters to this list to represent other implementation-
defined file types.
The next three fields shall be three characters each:
Permissions for the file owner class (see the Base Definitions volume of
IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Section 4.4, File Access Permissions).
Permissions for the file group class.
Permissions for the file other class.
Each field shall have three character positions:
1. If 'r' , the file is readable; if '-' , the file is not readable.
2. If 'w' , the file is writable; if '-' , the file is not writable.
3. The first of the following that applies:
If in <owner permissions>, the file is not executable and set-user-ID mode is set.
If in <group permissions>, the file is not executable and set-group-ID mode is set.
If in <owner permissions>, the file is executable and set-user-ID mode is set. If
in <group permissions>, the file is executable and set-group-ID mode is set.
If in <other permissions> and the file is a directory, search permission is not
granted to others, and the restricted deletion flag is set.
If in <other permissions> and the file is a directory, search permission is granted
to others, and the restricted deletion flag is set.
The file is executable or the directory is searchable.
None of the attributes of 'S' , 's' , 'T' , 't' , or 'x' applies.
Implementations may add other characters to this list for the third character position.
Such additions shall, however, be written in lowercase if the file is executable or
searchable, and in uppercase if it is not.
If any of the -l, -g, -n, -o, or -s options is specified, each list of files within the
directory shall be preceded by a status line indicating the number of file system blocks
occupied by files in the directory in 512-byte units, rounded up to the next integral num-
ber of units, if necessary. In the POSIX locale, the format shall be:
"total %u\n", <number of units in the directory>
If more than one directory, or a combination of non-directory files and directories are
written, either as a result of specifying multiple operands, or the -R option, each list
of files within a directory shall be preceded by:
"\n%s:\n", <directory name>
If this string is the first thing to be written, the first <newline> shall not be written.
This output shall precede the number of units in the directory.
If the -s option is given, each file shall be written with the number of blocks used by
the file. Along with -C, -1, -m, or -x, the number and a <space> shall precede the file-
name; with -g, -l, -n, or -o, they shall precede each line describing a file.
The standard error shall be used only for diagnostic messages.
The following exit values shall be returned:
0 Successful completion.
>0 An error occurred.
CONSEQUENCES OF ERRORS
The following sections are informative.
Many implementations use the equal sign ( '=' ) to denote sockets bound to the file system
for the -F option. Similarly, many historical implementations use the 's' character to
denote sockets as the entry type characters for the -l option.
It is difficult for an application to use every part of the file modes field of ls -l in a
portable manner. Certain file types and executable bits are not guaranteed to be exactly
as shown, as implementations may have extensions. Applications can use this field to pass
directly to a user printout or prompt, but actions based on its contents should generally
be deferred, instead, to the test utility.
The output of ls (with the -l and related options) contains information that logically
could be used by utilities such as chmod and touch to restore files to a known state. How-
ever, this information is presented in a format that cannot be used directly by those
utilities or be easily translated into a format that can be used. A character has been
added to the end of the permissions string so that applications at least have an indica-
tion that they may be working in an area they do not understand instead of assuming that
they can translate the permissions string into something that can be used. Future issues
or related documents may define one or more specific characters to be used based on dif-
ferent standard additional or alternative access control mechanisms.
As with many of the utilities that deal with filenames, the output of ls for multiple
files or in one of the long listing formats must be used carefully on systems where file-
names can contain embedded white space. Systems and system administrators should institute
policies and user training to limit the use of such filenames.
The number of disk blocks occupied by the file that it reports varies depending on under-
lying file system type, block size units reported, and the method of calculating the num-
ber of blocks. On some file system types, the number is the actual number of blocks occu-
pied by the file (counting indirect blocks and ignoring holes in the file); on others it
is calculated based on the file size (usually making an allowance for indirect blocks, but
An example of a small directory tree being fully listed with ls -laRF a in the POSIX
drwxr-xr-x 3 hlj prog 64 Jul 4 12:07 ./
drwxrwxrwx 4 hlj prog 3264 Jul 4 12:09 ../
drwxr-xr-x 2 hlj prog 48 Jul 4 12:07 b/
-rwxr--r-- 1 hlj prog 572 Jul 4 12:07 foo*
drwxr-xr-x 2 hlj prog 48 Jul 4 12:07 ./
drwxr-xr-x 3 hlj prog 64 Jul 4 12:07 ../
-rw-r--r-- 1 hlj prog 700 Jul 4 12:07 bar
Some historical implementations of the ls utility show all entries in a directory except
dot and dot-dot when a superuser invokes ls without specifying the -a option. When "nor-
mal" users invoke ls without specifying -a, they should not see information about any
files with names beginning with a period unless they were named as file operands.
Implementations are expected to traverse arbitrary depths when processing the -R option.
The only limitation on depth should be based on running out of physical storage for keep-
ing track of untraversed directories.
The -1 (one) option was historically found in BSD and BSD-derived implementations only. It
is required in this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 so that conforming applications might
ensure that output is one entry per line, even if the output is to a terminal.
Generally, this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 is silent about what happens when options
are given multiple times. In the cases of -C, -l, and -1, however, it does specify the
results of these overlapping options. Since ls is one of the most aliased commands, it is
important that the implementation perform intuitively. For example, if the alias were:
alias ls="ls -C"
and the user typed ls -1, single-text-column output should result, not an error.
The BSD ls provides a -A option (like -a, but dot and dot-dot are not written out). The
small difference from -a did not seem important enough to require both.
Implementations may make -q the default for terminals to prevent trojan horse attacks on
terminals with special escape sequences. This is not required because:
* Some control characters may be useful on some terminals; for example, a system might
write them as "\001" or "^A" .
* Special behavior for terminals is not relevant to applications portability.
An early proposal specified that the optional alternate access method flag had to be '+'
if there was an alternate access method used on the file or <space> if there was not. This
was changed to be <space> if there is not and a single printable character if there is.
This was done for three reasons:
1. There are historical implementations using characters other than '+' .
2. There are implementations that vary this character used in that position to distin-
guish between various alternate access methods in use.
3. The standard developers did not want to preclude future specifications that might need
a way to specify more than one alternate access method.
Nonetheless, implementations providing a single alternate access method are encouraged to
use '+' .
In an early proposal, the units used to specify the number of blocks occupied by files in
a directory in an ls -l listing were implementation-defined. This was because BSD systems
have historically used 1024-byte units and System V systems have historically used
512-byte units. It was pointed out by BSD developers that their system has used 512-byte
units in some places and 1024-byte units in other places. (System V has consistently used
512.) Therefore, this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 usually specifies 512. Future
releases of BSD are expected to consistently provide 512 bytes as a default with a way of
specifying 1024-byte units where appropriate.
The <date and time> field in the -l format is specified only for the POSIX locale. As
noted, the format can be different in other locales. No mechanism for defining this is
present in this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, as the appropriate vehicle is a messaging
system; that is, the format should be specified as a "message".
The -s uses implementation-defined units and cannot be used portably; it may be withdrawn
in a future version.
chmod() , find , the System Interfaces volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, stat(), the Base
Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, <sys/stat.h>
Portions of this text are reprinted and reproduced in electronic form from IEEE Std
1003.1, 2003 Edition, Standard for Information Technology -- Portable Operating System
Interface (POSIX), The Open Group Base Specifications Issue 6, Copyright (C) 2001-2003 by
the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc and The Open Group. In the
event of any discrepancy between this version and the original IEEE and The Open Group
Standard, the original IEEE and The Open Group Standard is the referee document. The orig-
inal Standard can be obtained online at http://www.opengroup.org/unix/online.html .
IEEE/The Open Group 2003 LS(P)