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Unix Dweeb

Creating a directory tree with a single command

Jul 10, 20233 mins

The mkdir command can create not just a directory but also a complex directory structure if you ask in the right way.

tree forest perspective

The mkdir command can do more than create a single directory. It can create multiple directories at once and can even create an entire directory structure with a single command. The required command will be a tad complex, but not particularly challenging.

NOTE: If you try to set up a multi-level directory structure with a command like the one shown below, it won’t work if the initial directories (“this” and “that”) don’t already exist.

$ mkdir this/that/the_other
mkdir: cannot create directory ‘this/that/the_other’: No such file or directory

Add a -p (for “parents”) and the missing directories will be created and your this/that/the_other directory structure will be set up in your current directory as intended.

$ mkdir -p this/that/the_other
$ ls -l this/that
total 4
drwxrwxr-x 2 shs shs 4096 Jul 7 10:01 the_other 

Creating a more complex directory structure

You can also set up a directory structure that has multiple subdirectories at some level. In the following example, four separate directories will be set up within the Documents/personal directory. And, again, given the use of -p, the Documents and Documents/personal directories will first be set up if they don’t already exist.

$ mkdir -p ~/Documents/personal/{home,family,finances,stories}
$ ls -l Documents/personal
total 16
drwxrwxr-x 2 shs shs 4096 Jul 7 09:52 family
drwxrwxr-x 2 shs shs 4096 Jul 7 09:52 finances
drwxrwxr-x 2 shs shs 4096 Jul 7 09:52 home
drwxrwxr-x 2 shs shs 4096 Jul 7 09:52 stories

In addition, you can specify a series of subdirectories at multiple levels in the directory tree that you’re setting up. Here’s a very simple example:

$ mkdir -p testing/{1,2,3}/{a,b,c}

This will set up three subdirectories within a “testing” directory and three subdirectories within each of those subdirectories. If you have the tree command installed, you can view the new structure with a command like this one:

$ tree testing
├── 1
│   ├── a
│   ├── b
│   └── c
├── 2
│   ├── a
│   ├── b
│   └── c
└── 3
    ├── a
    ├── b
    └── c

In addition, you can add additional subdirectory levels if you need to.

Another option is to use syntax like that shown below to create subdirectories in only one of the new directories. You can do that by adding curly brackets around a portion of the command as shown below so that only the articles directory will be set up with subdirectories.

$ mkdir -p tech/{articles/{new,old},images,notes,comments}

Again, the tree command will give you a useful view of the directory structure you have just created.

$ tree tech
├── articles
│   ├── new
│   └── old
├── comments
├── images
└── notes


The mkdir command can create complex directory structures and the tree command is perfect for confirming the directory structure you’ve just set up. Keep in mind that you can remove a directory structure with a command like “rm -rf this” if your command didn’t do just what you needed it to do and try again.

Unix Dweeb

Sandra Henry-Stocker has been administering Unix systems for more than 30 years. She describes herself as "USL" (Unix as a second language) but remembers enough English to write books and buy groceries. She lives in the mountains in Virginia where, when not working with or writing about Unix, she's chasing the bears away from her bird feeders.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Sandra Henry-Stocker and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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