Check file status on Linux with the stat command

All the information you need about any file or file system is just one Linux command away.
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The stat command, included in the GNU coreutils package, provides a variety of metadata, including file size, inode location, access permissions and SELinux context, and creation and modification times, about files and filesystems. It's a convenient way to gather information that you usually need several different commands to acquire.

Installing stat on Linux

On Linux, you probably already have the stat command installed because it's part of a core utility package that's generally bundled with Linux distributions by default.

In the event that you don't have stat installed, you can install coreutils with your package manager.

Alternately, you can compile coreutils from source code.

Getting the status of a file

Running stat provides easy to read output about a specific file or directory.

$ stat planets.xml 
  File: planets.xml
  Size: 325      Blocks: 8     IO Block: 4096   regular file
Device: fd03h/64771d	Inode: 140217      Links: 1
Access: (0664/-rw-rw-r--)  Uid: (1000/tux)   Gid: (100/users)
Context: unconfined_u:object_r:user_home_t:s0
Access: 2021-08-17 18:26:57.281330711 +1200
Modify: 2021-08-17 18:26:58.738332799 +1200
Change: 2021-08-17 18:26:58.738332799 +1200
 Birth: 2021-08-17 18:26:57.281330711 +1200

It may be easy to read, but it's still a lot of information. Here's what stat is covering:

  • File: the file name
  • Size: the file size in bytes
  • Blocks: the number of blocks on the hard drive reserved for this file
  • IO Block: the size of a block of the filesystem
  • regular file: the type of file (regular file, directory, filesystem)
  • Device: the device where the file is located
  • Inode: the inode number where the file is located
  • Links: the number of links to the file
  • Access, UID, GID: file permissions, user, and group owner
  • Context: SELinux context
  • Access, Modify, Change, Birth: the timestamp of when the file was accessed, modified, changed status, and created

Terse output

For people who know the output well, or want to parse the output with other utilities like awk, there's the --terse (-t for short) option, which formats the output without headings or line breaks.

$ stat --terse planets.xml 
planets.xml 325 8 81b4 100977 100 fd03 140217 1 0 0 1629181617 1629181618 1629181618 1629181617 4096 unconfined_u:object_r:user_home_t:s0

Choosing your own format

You can define your own format for output using the --printf option and a syntax similar to printf. Each attribute reported by stat has a format sequence (%C for SELinux context, %n for file name, and so on), so you can choose what you want to see in a report.

$ stat --printf="%n\n%C\n" planets.xml 
$ $ stat --printf="Name: %n\nModified: %y\n" planets.xml 
Name: planets.xml
Modified: 2021-08-17 18:26:58.738332799 +1200

Here are some common format sequences:

  • %a access rights
  • %F file type
  • %n file name
  • %U user name
  • %u user ID
  • %g group ID
  • %w time of birth
  • %y modification time

A full listing of format sequences is available in the stat man page and the coreutils info pages.

File information

If you've ever tried to parse the output of ls -l, then you'll appreciate the flexibility of the stat command. You don't always need every bit of the default information that stat provides, but the command is invaluable when you do need some or all of it. Whether you read its output in its default format, or you create your own queries, the stat command gives you easy access to the data about your data.

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Seth Kenlon
Seth Kenlon is a UNIX geek, free culture advocate, independent multimedia artist, and D&D nerd. He has worked in the film and computing industry, often at the same time.


I find that ls -lh gives me what I need most often: permissions, owner/group, human-readable size, and date last saved.

It is good to see the context is shown, sometimes I think SELinux compatibility gets overlooked.

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