Less Command in Linux with Examples

Less Command in Linux

When working with text files in Linux, you’ll often encounter situations where you need to view the contents of a file without modifying it. While you could open the file in a text editor, this can be inefficient, especially for large files. This is where the less command comes in handy.

The less command is a powerful pager that allows you to view the contents of a file one screen at a time. It’s fast, efficient, and packed with features that make navigating through text files a breeze. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the less command, exploring its syntax, options, and practical examples to help you master this essential Linux tool.

Basic Usage and Syntax

To use the less command, open your terminal, and navigate to the directory containing the file you want to view. Then, simply type less followed by the filename:

less filename.txt

This will open the specified file in the less pager. If the file is larger than your terminal window, you can scroll through it using various navigation commands, which we’ll cover in the next section.

The basic syntax for the less command is as follows:

less [options] filename

You can pass various options to modify the behavior of less. We’ll explore some of the most useful options later in this guide.

Scrolling and Navigation

One of the key advantages of using less is its powerful scrolling and navigation capabilities. Here are some essential navigation commands:

  • Up/Down Arrow Keys: Scroll up or down one line at a time.
  • PgUp/PgDn or Spacebar/b: Scroll up or down one page at a time.
  • g: Go to the beginning of the file.
  • G: Go to the end of the file.
  • d/u: Scroll down or up half a page.
  • j/k: Scroll down or up one line (similar to arrow keys).

These navigation commands allow you to quickly move through the file and locate the information you need.

Searching Text

Another powerful feature of less is its ability to search for specific text within a file. To search for a word or phrase, press / followed by the search term and press Enter. less will highlight all occurrences of the search term and jump to the first match.

For example, to search for the word “error” in a log file, you would type:


To navigate between search matches, use the following commands:

  • n: Jump to the next occurrence of the search term.
  • N: Jump to the previous occurrence of the search term.

By default, less performs a case-sensitive search. To perform a case-insensitive search, use the -I option when launching less:

less -I filename.txt

Opening Multiple Files

You can open multiple files with less by specifying them as arguments:

less file1.txt file2.txt

Once inside less, you can navigate between the files using the following commands:

  • :n: Go to the next file.
  • :p: Go to the previous file.

You can also open multiple files using wildcards. For example, to open all text files in the current directory:

less *.txt

Advanced Options and Usage

less offers a wide range of options to customize its behavior. Here are some commonly used options:

  • -N: Display line numbers.
  • -S: Disable line wrapping (chop long lines).
  • -F: Keep reading data like tail -f (useful for log files).
  • +F: Start at the end of the file (similar to tail).

To use these options, simply include them when launching less:

less -N -S filename.txt

Marking Positions

less allows you to mark positions within a file for easy reference. To set a mark, press m followed by any lowercase letter. For example, to set a mark named “a”:


To jump back to a marked position, press ' (single quote) followed by the mark letter. For example, to jump to mark “a”:


Editing Files

While less is primarily used for viewing files, you can also quickly edit the current file using the v command. Pressing v will open the file in your default text editor. After making changes and saving the file, you’ll be returned to less with the updated content.

Filtering Lines

less allows you to filter the displayed lines based on a pattern. To enable filtering, press & followed by the pattern you want to match. Only lines containing the pattern will be displayed.

For example, to display only lines containing the word “error”:


To disable filtering and return to the normal view, press & again without specifying a pattern.

Comparing less to Other Pagers

While less is a powerful and feature-rich pager, but it’s not the only one available in Linux. Other common pagers include more and most. Here’s a brief comparison:

  • more: A basic pager with limited features. It allows forward navigation but lacks advanced features like backward scrolling and searching.
  • most: An enhanced version of more with additional features like color highlighting and support for multiple windows.

Despite the existence of these alternatives, less remains the most widely used pager due to its extensive feature set, flexibility, and performance. It’s the default pager on most Linux systems.

Troubleshooting Tips

If you encounter issues while using less, here are a few troubleshooting tips:

  • If less doesn’t display the file contents and immediately exits, ensure that the file exists and you have the necessary permissions to read it.
  • If you see strange characters or formatting issues, try using the -r or -R option to display raw control characters.
  • If you’re having trouble exiting less, make sure you’re pressing the correct key (q) and that your terminal is not in a stuck state. In rare cases, you may need to force quit the terminal.


The less command is a versatile and powerful pager that every Linux user should have in their toolkit. With its ability to efficiently view large files, navigate through text, search for patterns, and customize behavior, less streamlines the process of working with text files in the terminal.

By mastering the less command and its various options, you’ll be able to quickly access and analyze log files, configuration files, and other text-based data. Whether you’re a system administrator, developer, or casual Linux user, investing time in learning less will undoubtedly boost your productivity and efficiency on the command line.

So, the next time you need to view a text file in Linux, remember to reach for less. With its extensive features and flexibility, it’s a command you’ll find yourself using time and time again. Happy reading!


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
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