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When I log into a server running Ubuntu 18.04.3 (LTS) x64 and run ls nothing shows and there is a ~$ at the end of the command prompt. When I type cd / the prompt changes to /$ and I can see many more directories listed. When I login am I initially in the home directory of the user and then by using cd / am I changing to the root directory of the system?

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    Yes 100% correct, and ~ is short-hand for your home directory. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 21:09

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Correct. You are in the user's home directory when you see ~$ and the "top level" or "root" directory when you see /$. Use pwd to "print working directory". This will show you the results of the two different paths. A trick to get back to your default home directory ~$ is to simply type cd and press enter.

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    Consider a touch myfile in your home directory if it helps orient you.
    – Jeff Schaller
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 20:29
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    And that $ is part of your shell's prompt.
    – Jeff Schaller
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 20:30
  • The user I'm logged in as has root privileges. If I was logged in as a user without these privileges would I be able to get to the "root" directory? Or is this just the users root directory.(Not sure if this is even a thing) Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 20:32
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    Yes you can go to the root directory as anyone, but you will not be able to write/change/create any files there. There are many files that you need to be able to read e.g. ls is in /usr/bin/ls. Also if you operate as root user (even if you know what you are doing) you will mess up, and break something. Add a new user, and use that. Then use sudo to gain privileges when you need them. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 21:13
  • Thank you @ctrl-alt-delor that makes sense. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 22:00

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