Absolute path vs relative path in Linux/Unix

One of this blog follower asked us that what’s the difference between absolute and relative path?

To understand this we have to know what is a path in Linux.

What is a path?

A path is a unique location to a file or a folder in a file system of an OS. A path to a file is a combination of / and alpha-numeric characters.

What is an absolute path?

An absolute path is defined as the specifying the location of a file or directory from the root directory(/). In other words we can say absolute path is a complete path from start of actual filesystem from / directory.

Some examples of absolute path:


If you see all these paths started from / directory which is a root directory for every Linux/Unix machines.

What is the relative path?

Relative path is defined as path related to the present working directory(pwd). Suppose I am located in /var/log and I want to change directory to /var/log/kernel. I can use relative path concept to change directory to kernel

changing directory to /var/log/kernel by using relative path concept.

cd kernel

Note: If you observe there is no / before kernel which indicates it’s a relative directory to present working directory.

Changing directory to /var/log/kernel using absolute path concept.

cd /var/log/kernel

Note: We can use an absolute path from any location where as if you want to use relative path we should be present in a directory where we are going to specify relative to that present working directory.

Examples of relative path and absolute path for the same operation.

Example 1: Present location is /abc/xyz, I am want to remove /abc/xyz/read/hello.txt file.

Using relative path:

rm read/hello.txt

Using absolute path:

rm /abc/xyz/read/hello.txt

Example 2: My present location is /etc/samba and now I want to change directory to /etc.

Using relative path:

cd ..

Using absolute path:

cd /etc

Example 3: My present location is /var/ftp/ and I want to change the location to /var/log

Using relative path:

cd ../log

Using absolute path:

cd /var/log

Example 4: My present location is /etc/lvm and I want to change my location to /opt/oradba

Using relative path:

cd ../../opt/oradba

Using absolute path:

cd /opt/oradba

Example 5: My present location is /usr/local and I want to remove a abc.txt file located in this directory how can I do that?

Using relative path:

rm abc.txt

Using absolute path:

rm /usr/local/abc.txt

I hope this helps to understand the difference between Absolute and relative path.

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Mr Surendra Anne is from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India. He is a Linux/Open source supporter who believes in Hard work, A down to earth person, Likes to share knowledge with others, Loves dogs, Likes photography. He works as Devops Engineer with Taggle systems, an IOT automatic water metering company, Sydney . You can contact him at surendra (@) linuxnix dot com.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/preet.royal.chandigarh Royal Preet Chandigarh

    Nice explanation …. :)

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  • Badal

    it’s very nicely written 😛

  • http://www.facebook.com/zothans Sanga Zothan

    Really Good example. the most simple and easy to understand e.g i could find in the internet world.

  • http://none Shey

    nice example sir.

    • http://www.linuxnix.com Surendra Anne

      Thanks for complements Shey

  • james

    this was very helpful. Thank you!

  • Shane

    Makes so much more sense now. Thanks!

  • sarath

    perfect. basic linux commands 

  • Ashwin

    i created a directory dir1, and within dir1 I created a directory dir2, and in dir2 i created a file file. How to open the "file" from home(~)  ? 

  • Omkar

    This is very helpful and great explanation.