To put it bluntly I'm looking for a sort of "help" option that will show me what I can possibly do with a command, right from the terminal window, kind of like Python's help().

A couple of questions:

1) Is there a way to see all the ls command options (or whatever they're called (see #3)) in the terminal window, that will show both the options and their descriptions? If so, how?

i.e. ls -la : list long format including hidden files

2) Is there an common option across every command to invoke that command's options and descriptions (i.e. ls -?)?

3) What are the letters or information followed by a dash called? -a, -b, -c etc. Are they options, commands, switches or something else? From my understanding ls is the command and "dash something" are options, but I've also seen the word switch thrown around and the entire string ls -a referred to as the command.

  • list --help (double dash). Those are options or switches. Switches is preferred for options without parameters.
    – Jean-François Fabre
    Nov 6, 2016 at 21:00
  • 4
    Read the man page for the command: man ls. Arguments beginning with a dash are called options.
    – Barmar
    Nov 6, 2016 at 21:03
  • 1
    They are called "options", "switches", "flags", and probably other terms. There is a surprising scarcity of uniformity. Nov 7, 2016 at 5:25
  • All GNU programs, and some others, support --help. Linux distros normally use GNU versions of ls and other common utilities like sed find etc.; other Unix systems usually do not but the GNU versions often can be added and sometimes are accessed with g names like gfind gsed etc. man works on most Unix systems, but some minimal configurations omit the man data. Nov 25, 2016 at 11:45

1 Answer 1


man ls will give you everything you need to know about the command ls

This works with every commands obviously

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