all. I'm looking for a quick and dirty way to generate some diagrams of some directories that have almost, but not exactly, the same hierarchy, so I can show them around at a meeting and we can decide which flavor we like best. I'm not interested in the "leaf" nodes, just the directories.

The catch: I don't want to mess with X. This is a server system I deal with entirely through SSH. So I'm looking for something that will do ASCII layout, maybe with simple pipes-and-hyphens for lines or something.

Does anyone know of such a utility? I'm sure I could write something myself, but it's such a fiddly little sort of project, with handling spacing and layout and such; I'd really like to discover that someone's done it for me. Alas, Google doesn't seem to know of such a thing...or if it does, it's hidden beneath heaps of excellent visual explications of the standard general Unix file hierarchy. Thanks!

2 Answers 2


I would use tree.

$ tree -d /usr|head -n 12
|-- X11R6
|   `-- lib
|       `-- X11
|           `-- wily
|-- bin
|   `-- X11 -> .
|-- games
|-- i586-mingw32msvc
|   |-- bin
|   |-- include
|   |   |-- GL
  • Perfect! Exactly what I was looking for. It's amazing how hard it is (at least for me) to find the simple little stuff in Unix sometimes. man -k directory didn't do it -- but man -k directories would have. Thanks again!
    – Jenn D.
    May 22, 2010 at 18:18
  • @Jenn: That's why I use a common root portion of a word for that kind of query apropos director (or man -k director) will find both. It works to include various prefixes as well: apropos known finds "known", "unknown" and "well-known". May 22, 2010 at 18:43
  • And tree also works on Windows. Jun 4, 2012 at 17:48
  • Using tree (version 1.5.3) I get some unicode characters to make the diagram look prettier. To get only ascii characters, I had to use tree --charset ascii
    – jcollado
    Aug 20, 2012 at 12:30
  • Not directly related, but there's also pstree. Tree is one of those programs like top; there are a number of fun variants. Aug 5, 2014 at 20:18

If you don't have tree you could use this linux/unix command:

ls -R | grep ":$" | sed -e 's/:$//' -e 's/[^-][^\/]*\//--/g' -e 's/^/   /' -e 's/-/|/'

You can also make a shell script see details here.

Explanation for the above command:

ls -R list all directories, sub-directories,

Explanation ls -R list all the file and directories recursively


addr_assign_type  device            iflink            speed


grep ":$" filters only the files that have : before line end, thus remains, something like.


Then a series of multiple command are passed using -e switch to sed

's/:$//' strips all the trailin :

's/[^-][^\/]*\//--/g' leaves only what is between / - and replace each with --

the rest two command add a few spaces and a |

The result is something like:

  • +1 for effort, -1 because you didn't explain the regex. I can be swayed to upvote if an explanation is forthcoming... (I know regexes, and you know regexes, but a lot of people find them frightening) Aug 5, 2014 at 20:20
  • 1
    @ParthianShot I tried and I added explanation Aug 5, 2014 at 21:11

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