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Basic Unix/Linux/OS X commands

This document covers some very basic unix commands that will be useful working with QIIME. There are a lot of good resources on the web and in books. A few good ones are:

cd : change directory

Change to data:

cd data

Change to your home directory:


Change to one directory higher (e.g. if you’re in /home/greg/data/ change to /home/greg/):

cd ..

mv: move/rename file or directory

Rename old_filename to new_filename:

mv old_filename new_filename

curl: pull a file from a remote location

Pull the greengenes reference OTU file (4feb2011) and write it to a file with the same name:

curl > gg_otus_4feb2011.tgz

cp: copy a file

Copy my_file.txt to my_file.txt.backup:

cp my_file.txt my_file.txt.backup

Compress a directory to a tgz file

Compress the my_data/ directory into a single file:

tar -czf my_data.tgz my_data/

Uncompress a tgz file into the current directory

Expand the my_data.tgz file:

tar -xzf my_data.tgz

Uncompress a zip file

Uncompress the QIIME tutorial data:


Working with files

Print the first 10 lines of my_file.txt to screen:

head -n 10 my_file.txt

Print the last 10 lines of my_file.txt to screen:

tail -n 10 my_file.txt

Print all of the my_file.txt to screen:

cat my_file.txt

Open my_file.txt for editing with the pico text editor (go here for help with pico):

pico my_file.txt

View the file interactively in read-only mode. The stop viewing the file hit q:

less my_file.txt

Ensuring that long jobs keep running despite loss of network connection

When you start a job via ssh on AWS, that job will stay running only as long as your network connection is active. So, if you lose your network connection (e.g., if you need to close your laptop) you job will stop running. This can also happen accidentally, so it’s a good idea to follow these steps for all long jobs.

To get around these issues you can use the screen command. These steps illustrate basic usage of screen. To start a screen session to safely run commands:


You’ll need to hit enter. Then enter your commands, and you can safely close the terminal window, disconnect from the network, close your computer, etc. When you come back you’ll need to log into the instance again. You can then type:

screen -r

and you’ll see that the command is still running (or may have completed).

You can find additional details on screen here.