We at Ucartz have already covered the Vim editor in detail. But Vim isn't the only command-line editor that Linux offers. There are several that are popular among one section of Linux users or other. So, with that in mind, here, in this tutorial, we will discuss the basic usage of the Nano editor, as well as some of the features it provides.


Please note that all the examples and instructions mentioned in this article have been tested on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, and the Nano version we've used is 2.9.3.


About Nano


The Nano editor is designed to emulate the features and user-friendliness of the UW Pico text editor. The following screenshot shows the editor in action:


Here's how the official documentation explains the various sections of the editor:


There are four main sections of the editor. The top line shows the program version, the current filename being edited, and whether or not the file has been modified. Next is the main editor window showing the file being edited. The status line is the third line from the bottom and shows important messages. The bottom two lines show the most commonly used shortcuts in the editor.


The following sections explain the basic usage as well as some of the features of Nano.


1. How to create and open a new file using Nano editor


If you want to create a new file and open it using nano, then you can do this by running the following command:

$ nano


$ nano [file-name]


The second way can also be used to open an existing file. Needless to say, if you want to open a file which is not located in your current directory, then you have to provide the absolute or relative path to that file.


As you can see, at the bottom of the editor window, there's useful information related to keyboard shortcuts that let users perform some basic operations such as cut and paste text. Shortcuts that let you exit the editor and launch help are also there.


2. How to save a file in Nano


To save a file, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+o. When you will hit this key combination, the editor it will ask you to provide a filename (or confirm the name if it was already provided when the editor was launched). Just do the needful, and press Enter to save the file.


Nano also allows you to save files in different OS formats. For example, you can save in DOS format by pressing Alt+d . Similarly, to save in the Mac format, press Alt+m . Note that to change the format, first you have to initiate the usually save process by pressing Ctrl+o , and then use format-specific shortcuts like Alt+d or Alt+m .


3. How to cut and paste text in Nano


To cut and paste a particular line, first, bring the cursor to that line. Now, press Ctrl+k to cut, then head to the place where you want to paste it and finally use Ctrl+u to paste.


For example, in the screenshot below, if the requirement is to cut the first line and paste it to the bottom. Then, go to the line and press Ctrl+k. Now, navigate your cursor to the bottom and press Ctrl+u.


You can also copy a particular string instead of the full line. For this, first, you will have to select that word/string by pressing Ctrl+6 (or Alt+A) with the cursor at the beginning of the string. Now you can press Ctrl+k to cut and Ctrl+u to paste the word.


4. How to search and replace a word using nano


The tool also allows you to search for a particular word, as well as replace it with another word.


To search for a word in Nano, press Ctrl+w. Then, you will be asked to enter the word which you want to search. After entering the word, just hit Enter and the tool will take you to the matched entry.


You can also replace a keyword with another by pressing Ctrl+\ . When you press this key combination, Nano asks you for the word which you want to be replaced. After entering the word, press enters and now it will ask for the replacement word. After this, it will ask you to confirm the changes. Once confirmed, changes are made.


5. How to insert another file into the current one


If you want, you can also insert data from another file into the one which you are currently editing in Nano. For this, press Ctrl+R and then give the path of the file which you want to open. 


6. How to display the cursor position


If you want, you can also check the position of your cursor in the file. This can be done by pressing the Ctrl+c keyboard shortcut.


After Ctrl+c was pressed, the cursor position got highlighted in the editor area, and detailed information about it showed up in the status line.


If you want, you can also have the cursor placed on a specific line and column of a file when the editor is launched. This can be done by providing required details when launching the editor. The command -line switch used for this feature is +line ,column (line determines the line number, whereas column determines the column number).

$ nano +line,column [filename]


For example:

$ nano +2,5 abc.txt


8. How to backup the previous version of a file


The tool allows you to back up the previous version of the file being edited. This is done after you make changes and save the file. This feature can be accessed using the -B command line option. 

$ nano -B [filename]


For example:

$ nano -B abc.txt


The backup will be saved in the current directory with the same filename but suffixed with a tilde (~). 


Note that files created for the first time cannot be backed up.


9. How to backup files in a specific directory


The tool allows you to save all of your backup files in a specific directory. This feature can be accessed using the -C or –backupdir command line option, which requires the path to the directory where you want to save backup files.

$ nano -B –backupdir=[directory-path]


10. How to convert tabs into spaces


The tool also allows you to convert tabs into spaces. This feature can be accessed using the -E command line option.

$ nano -E [filename]


Now, since the editor was launched with the -E option, when the changes were saved, the tabs were converted into spaces.



Given that the tutorial is targeted at beginners, we've just scratched the surface here. Use the Ctrl+G shortcut to learn more about Nano. Oh, and yes, don't forget to try out the basics we've discussed here. 


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