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The file command determines what type of data a file contains. It returns a brief explanation of what type of data it believes is in each file. The file command is useful for knowing what type of data a file contains. It can help prevent you from locking up your terminal by informing you that a file contains executable program text. If you cat an executable file, your terminal may act strange and, in fact, the keyboard often becomes disabled. The only way out of the situation is to turn your terminal off and back on, then log back in to the system. If you perform file before you cat a file, you will know what type of data it contains and whether or not you can display it.

The file command makes calculated assumptions as to what type of data is in a file. The following list describes the types file may return. Keep in mind file is trying to guess what type of data is in a file. The known system types of data, such as executable or linkable object code, are known but some shell scripts and English text files may confuse file and thus an incorrect response is returned.

Following are the general formats of the file command.

     file [ -h ] [ -m magic_file ] file_list
     file [ -h ] [ -m magic_file ] -f list_file
     file -c     [ -m magic_file ]

Options

The following list describes the options and their arguments that may be used to control how file functions.

-c Check the magic file for format errors. Usually not used unless you are writing a new magic file. No file type determination is performed if -c is specified.
-f list_file The next argument after the -f is read and the contents are used as the pathnames for files to be examined by file.
-h Do not follow symbolic links.
-m magic_file The next argument after the -m is used as the magic file instead of the default /etc/magic file.

The following list describes the arguments passed to the file command.

The description given by the file command you are using may vary but it should inform you of the same type of data stored in the file. You can display the /etc/magic file to see the definitions used by your system's file command.


CAUTION:  The file command is not always correct in its assumption of the type of data stored in a file. The most common mistakes of file are the ASCII text, English text, and commands text.

The /etc/magic file is used as a cross reference to determine what type of data is stored in a file. The magic number is based on numeric or string constants stored within the file itself. The format of the /etc/magic file is described in the first lines of the file (/etc/magic).

Examples

The file command writes to the standard output. Its output may be piped to another command or redirected to a file.

foreach F (/etc/*)

file $F

end

To see what your types of files the current directory contains 

file *
     bin:      directory
     calendar:       ascii text
     db:  directory
     file1: English text
     letters:    directory
     myfile: empty


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