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Commands

Using Install Command in Linux

The install command lets you copy file with advanced parameters. See some examples in this article.

Sagar Sharma

Nope, it does not install anything. Surprised?

Yes, despite the name "install", the install command does not install any package. It is an advanced way of copying files where you can set attributes such as file ownership.

For installing packages, you should use the package manager of your Linux distribution, like apt, dpkg, dnf, yum, zypper etc.

Most Linux users don't even know about the existence of this install command, let alone use it.

Take a look at some of the examples of install command usage and perhaps you may include it in your command arsenal.

How to use the install command

In this section, I will start with the basic examples and will gradually move to some advanced ones where the install command truly shines.

I will start with copying files with the install command.

1. Copy files using the install command

If you want to copy files like you do using the cp command, then all you have to do is specify the target file and location where the file needs to be copied:

install Filename Directory

For example, here, I copied the Test.txt file to the Demo directory:

install Test.txt ~/Demo
Copy files using the install command in Linux

2. Prevent timestamps while copying files

By default, the install command will keep the original file permissions and ownership but update the timestamps with the time when the file was copied.

To prevent this, use the -p flag as shown here:

install -p Filename Directory_name

For example, here I copied the same file Haruki.txt with and without -p flag to show the original and modified timestamps:

Prevent the timestamps when copying files using the install command in Linux

3. Create a directory using the install command

To create a new directory like you do with the mkdir command, you will have to use the -d flag as shown here:

install -d Directory_name

Here's what I did to create a new directory named hello inside my home directory:

install -d ~/hello
Create a new directory using the install command

4. Create a new directory and copy files to it (altogether)

If you want to copy files to the new directory, then you can skip the directory creation (cough "productivity" cough) as you can do both of them in a single command.

For this purpose, you'd need to use two flags: -D and -t (will explain them in a moment):

install -D -t Directory_name Filename

For example, here, I copied the Test.txt file to the My_dir directory:

Copy files inside new directory using the install command in Linux

Saw that? Initially, there was no directory named My_dir but when I used the install command, it created the directory and then copied the specified file.

Here,

  • -D: This flag is used to create all leading components of the target destination. In simple terms, it will create the path if the specified path does not exist.
  • -t: Short for --target-directory which is used to specify the target directory.

In addition to the above command chain, I would recommend adding the -v flag to get the verbose output which will print what the command is doing:

instal -v -D -t Directory_name Filename
Create new directory to copy files using the install command in Linux

5. Set permissions using the install command

Linux users typically use the chmod command to change the file permissions but the install command lets you do this while you copy the file to a different location or while creating a new directory.

For this purpose, you'd have to use the -m flag with the install command so here, I will show you how you can use it while copying files and creating directories.

Set file permissions while copying it

Personally, this is my favorite use of the install command where you can change/set file permission while copying the file.

To do so, you can use the -m flag in the following manner:

install -m <permission_numbers> Filename Directory
Change file permissions while copying it using the install command

Set permissions while creating a directory

To set permissions while creating directories, use the -m flag in the following manner:

install -m <permission_numbers> -d Directory_name

For example, here, I created a directory named LHB with 777 permission:

install -m 777 -d LHB
Change file permissions while creating a directory using the install command

6. Changing ownership using the install command

📋
Changing or assigning ownership will require sudo privileges.

The install command lets you change the ownership while you are copying a file or creating a new directory. That's crazy. Right?

For this, you have to append the username to the -o flag.

So let's take a how you can use the -o flag with files and directories.

Change ownership while copying a file

To change file ownership while copying a file, use the -o flag in the following manner:

sudo install -o <owner_user> Filename Directory
Change ownership while copying a file using the install command

Assign directory owner while creating

To assign a directory owner while creating the directory, use the -o flag in the following manner:

sudo install -d -o <owner_user> Directory_name

For example, here, I assigned a user milan to the directory Bash_hash:

sudo install -d -o milan Bash_hash
Assign owner to directory while creating the directory itself

7. Change group ownership using the install command

You can use the install command to change the group ownership while copying a file or creating a directory.

For this purpose, you have to utilize the -g flag and here's how you use it.

Change the group ownership of a file while copying it

To change the group ownership of a file while copying it, use the -g flag with the install command in the following manner:

sudo install Filename -g <group_name> Directory
Change group ownership of a file while copying it using the install command

Create a new directory with specific group ownership

Using the install command, you can assign the group ownership to the directory while performing directory creation. For that, use the install command with the -g flag as shown here:

sudo install -d -g <group_name> <directory_name>
Create a new directory with specific group ownership using the install command in linux

8. Create backup files using the install command

This is not your traditional way of taking backup in Linux. When you use the install command to override the by copying it again to the same location with the -b flag, it will add a tilde (~) at the end of the file pointing to the backup file.

To create a backup you'll have to follow 2 simple steps:

  • Make sure you already have the same file at the target location and if not, first, make a copy of a file to the target location.
  • Use the install command with the -b flag to create a backup file.

Sounds confusing? Let me help.

Step 1: Create a copy of a file (avoid if already done)

This is simple, just use the install command and specify the target file and target directory. Discussed in detail in the 1st example.

So here, I copied the Test.txt file in the My_dir directory:

install Test.txt My_dir/
Steps to create a backup using the install command

Step 2: Use the -b flag to create a backup of the file

Once you have a copy of a file at the target location, use the install command to copy the same file at the same location but with the -b flag:

install -b Filename Directory_name

Previously, I copied the Test.txt file and now I will use the same but with the -b flag as shown here to create a backup:

install -b Test.txt My_dir/
Create a backup using the install command in Linux

It creates a file ending with a tilde (~) which is our backup file.

But you can change the suffix using the -S flag and choose what your heart desires:

install -b -S <suffix> Filename Directory

For example. here, I used the .bkp suffix:

install -b -S .bkp Test.txt My_dir/
Create a backup using the install command with custom suffix

Conclusion

If you are an advanced user and want to be more productive, then the install command is developed for users like you.

But if that looks too complex and confusing, then you can skip this command and use different tools instead such as using the cp command to copy files:

Using cp Command in Linux
get familiar with the cp command for copying files and directories in the Linux command line.

Or using the mkdir command to get more control over the creation of directories:

mkdir command: Create New Directories in Linux
mkdir is one of the essential Linux commands that every Linux user should know. You can create new directories using mkdir.

Once done, you can learn how you can change ownership and permissions in Linux:

Linux File Permissions and Ownership Explained with Examples
Linux file permissions explained in simpler terms. Also learn how to change the file permissions and ownership in Linux in this detailed beginner’s guide.

I hope you will find this guide helpful.

Sagar Sharma