Aug 23, 2021 3 min read

How to Tackle Filenames With Spaces in Linux

Spaces in the file names could be tricky, specially for new Linux users. Learn how to deal with them.
Table of Contents

The one thing you'll notice that files in Linux usually do not contain names. Your teacher or colleague use underscore instead of spaces in file and directory names.

It's not that you cannot use spaces in file names in Linux terminal. It's just that it creates additional pain and that's why you should avoid it wherever possible.

Why? Let me show that with examples. You know the generic syntax for Linux commands:

command [options] argument1 argument2

In here, the arguments are separated by spaces. If you try to use filenames with spaces directly, it will be treated as separate arguments rather than just one argument.

Spaces in file name create problem in Linux

In the above screenshot, when I try to use cat agatha books command, it doesn't understand that agatha books is a single argument. It treats agatha and books as different filenames.

How do you deal with spaces in filename, then? There are two ways:

Wrap the entire filename between quotes:

"file name withn spaces"

Escape every space using backslash key:

file\ name\ with\ spaces

I'll show it in detail.

Tab completion often works with spaces as well. Your terminal may show the file name with space escaped with backslash if you press tab key for the filename.

Read a file with spaces in filename

To use a filename with spaces in it, you can wrap it in quotes like this:

cat "file name with spaces"

You may also escape every space with backslash but it is more work and more confusing than the previous method:

cat file\ name\ with\ spaces

Basically, you put a \ before every space in the filename.

You could also use single quotes instead of double quotes.

cat 'file name with spaces'
Read files with spaces in their names
Single quotes ignore any special characters. Double quotes ignores all except $, back quotes and baclslashes. More on it in some other tutorial.

Create a file with space in filename

Now, you need to type space in terminal to create the filename here. Use backslash or quotes again.

Similar to the previous section, you can create new files with spaces in the filename using quotes:

touch "file name with spaces"

Or the backslash as well:

touch file\ name\ with\ spaces
Creating new files with space in their names in Linux
Difference Between Single and Double Quote in Bash Shell
Quotes are an integral part of shell scripting and Linux command but they could often be confusing for new users. This article will demystify quotes for you.

Dealing with space in folder name

You can create a directory with space in its name the same way you create a file.

mkdir "new dir"

Now, if you want to switch to this directory, you'll have a path with spaces.

But that should not be a problem for you anymore. To cd into a directory with space, use quotes or backslash again.

cd "new dir"
cd new\ dir

Basically, whenever you have to deal with spaces in names, you use quotes or backslash keys.

Suppose you have to copy a file my file from this new dir. Here's what you can do:

cp new\ dir/my\ file
Dealing with folders with spaces in their name in Linux

Now it starts to get confusing a bit, right? There are backslashes and forward slashes. It could intimidate a new user or even a seasoned one if there are way too many of those slashes.

It gets even messier when there are backslashes in the filename. Then you'll be seeing double backsplashes.

This is the reason why you should try and avoid using spaces or other special characters in file names. To separate the words in a file name, use underscore.

touch a_very_long_file_name_with_too_many_words

This makes the filenames easier to read and you won't have to make the extra effort to deal with those spaces in the filenames.

Abhishek Prakash
Creator of Linux Handbook and It's FOSS. An ardent Linux user & open source promoter. Huge fan of classic detective mysteries from Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes to Columbo & Ellery Queen.

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