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How to rename files in UNIX / Linux

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As a UNIX user, one of the basic tasks that you will often find yourself performing is renaming files and folders. Renaming a file is quite elementary and really shouldn’t be an uphill task. You can rename a file or directory in UNIX from a terminal (CLI) or using third-party tools (GUI tools).
In this guide, we will discuss two command-line tools that you can use to rename files in UNIX.

Rename files in UNIX using the mv command

Short for ‘move’ the mv command is a command that is used primarily to move files and folder from one location to another. However, it can also be used to rename a file.

The syntax for renaming a file using the mv command is shown below:

 $ mv (option) filename1 filename2 

In the command above, filename1 is the original file while filename2 is the new name that the file will take. If the file to be renamed is not located in the current directory, be sure to specify the full path of the file.

Let’s take an example as shown in the command below:

$ mv  /home/sales.txt /home/marketing.txt

The command renames the file sales.txt located in the home directory to marketing.txt

NOTE:

When the file is not located in the current folder, the complete file path to the file and the new file name should be specified. If the path of the file differs from the path of the new filename, the file will be moved to the new file path and later on renamed.

For example:

$ mv  /home/sales.txt /home/data/marketing.txt

In the above example, the sales.txt file is moved entirely from the home directory to the /home/data path and renamed marketing.txt.This is a cool way of killing two birds at the same time – moving and renaming files. However, if your sole goal is to rename the file, ensure the file paths in both instances match without any variations.

The mv command can be used with a variety of options. For example to print the verbose output of the command, use the -v option as shown.

$ mv -v  sales.txt marketing.txt
how to rename file in Unix

Renaming a directory

Renaming a directory also follows the same syntax as renaming a file, i.e.

$ mv directory_name1 directory_name2

For example, to rename a directory called python_docs to django_docs in the current working space run the command:

$ mv python_docs django_docs
rename a directory in Linux

Rename files in UNIX using the rename command

So far we have looked at how to rename files and directories using the mv command. Quite a straightforward task right? However, a challenge presents itself when renaming multiple files and folders at a go. Things get a little tricky and in that case, you may be required to use some bash scripts or loops to achieve your goal. In that scenario, the mv command will not be of much help.

This is where the rename command comes in. The command comes in handy when renaming bulk. The command replaces the search expression contained in the file with another expression provided for by the user.

Installing rename

Modern Linux distributions ship with rename command by default. However, if you are running an older Linux distribution, here is how you to install it:

For Debian and Ubuntu systems, run the command:

$ sudo apt update
 $ sudo apt-get install rename 

For CentOS, Fedora and RHEL, execute:

 $ sudo dnf install prename 

Notice the ‘p’ that precedes the rename command. The ‘p’ stands for Perl.

For Arch / Manjaro systems run:

 $ sudo pacman -Syu perl-rename 

Using rename command

As earlier stated, the rename command is used for renaming a batch of files, more specifically changing the file extension of multiple files simultaneously.

To better demonstrate how the command works, we have 5 text files all with a ‘.txt’ file extension as shown.

show text files to be renamed

The following command is going to convert all the .txt files to .pdf files

$ rename 's/.txt/.pdf/' *.txt

You can confirm that the files have been renamed using the good-old lscommand as shown. And true to your expectations, the file extensions will have been renamed.

rename a file in UNIX using rename command

Let’s break down the command:

‘s/…/…/’ – This is the substitution operator. The first argument is the search term and the second argument is the replacement.

.txt – This represents the search term. The rename command will scour for this pattern in all files in the directory and thereafter replace it with the second argument

.pdf – This is the replacement option that will replace the pattern in the first argument.

*.txt – The use of the wildcard symbol instructs the rename command to search for all instances with the pattern .txt

If you are not sure which files will be affected, you might need to perform a dry run before proceeding with the operation.

To achieve this, use the -n option as shown

 $ rename -n 's/.txt/.pdf/' *.txt 
perform a dry run before you rename a file in Unix

To view the verbose output as files are being renamed, use the -v option as shown.

$ rename -v 's/.txt/.pdf/' *.txt
rename command with verbose output

And this brings us to the end of this topic on how to rename files in UNIX. Renaming files is part of the basic commands that every Linux user should have at their fingertips. We hope that you can comfortably rename your files and directories without much of an issue. Give us a shout and let us know if you are having any difficulties.

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