How to Use Touch Command in Linux

Create new empty files or update timestamps of existing files/directories easily using the ‘touch’ command

The major application of the touch command is to create files without any content. Creating empty files may seem to be a wastage of the system’s memory but there is a catch here. touch command comes at your disposal when you wish to create time stamps or logs whilst working on a large project which requires log keeping and monitoring. You can simply create an empty file using touch command and the file will have the time and date stamp when it was created. (In the file information and not as the content of the file).

The second important usage of the touch command is to modify the access and modification time for a file. Every file/directory has a unique timestamp added to it. It shows the Access and Modification time of the file/directory. But this information can be changed easily using the touch command.

Let us see the use of touch command in more details with self-explanatory examples.

Options used with touch command

There are various options available to be used with the touch command.

OptionDescription
-achange access time of the file
-mchange the modified time of the file
-cchange access time of the file without creating a new one
-ruse a reference file for setting the timestamps of file or directory
-dsetting the same arbitrary timestamp for access and modification time using free format human readable date
-tcreate a file using a specified time

Using touch Command

The touch command can be used to create empty files without using any option. Follow the examples given below to create single as well as multiple empty files.

To Create An Empty File

You can use the touch command without any option to create a single empty file.

Syntax:

touch [file-name]

Example:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch iift.txt

Here I have created a file named iift.txt using touch command. Use the ls command to see if the file is created.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ ls
iift.txt  init1  init2  init3  init4

To see the file information you can use the stat command as follows.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat iift.txt
  File: iift.txt
  Size: 0         	Blocks: 0          IO Block: 4096   regular empty file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 1990385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 10:18:43.318160860 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-14 10:18:43.318160860 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 10:18:43.318160860 +0530
Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$

To Create Multiple Empty Files

If you wish to create multiple empty files at once you can use the touch command in the following way.

Syntax:

touch [filename-1] [filename-2] [filename-3]

Example:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch log1.txt ssh.txt filemove.c
[email protected]:~/workspace$ ls -l
total 36
-rw-r--r-- 1 gaurav gaurav     0 Sep 14 10:35 filemove.c
-rw-r--r-- 1 gaurav gaurav     0 Sep 14 10:18 iift.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 gaurav gaurav     0 Sep 14 10:35 log1.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 gaurav gaurav     0 Sep 14 10:35 ssh.txt

Here I have created three files ‘log1.txt’, ‘ssh.txt’ and ‘filemove.c’. These have different file extensions.

You can also create empty files in bulk using the following way.

Syntax:

touch [filename]-{1..n}.txt

Example:

We will create 10 files viz. sheldon_log-1.txt, sheldon_log-2.txt and so on up to sheldon_log-10.txt

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch sheldon_log-{1..0}.txt
[email protected]:~/workspace$
[email protected]:~/workspace$ ls
filemove.c  iift.txt    sheldon_log-10.txt  sheldon_log-2.txt  sheldon_log-4.txt  sheldon_log-6.txt  sheldon_log-8.txt
gsy.c       log1.txt  sheldon_log-1.txt   sheldon_log-3.txt  sheldon_log-5.txt  sheldon_log-7.txt  sheldon_log-9.txt
[email protected]:~/workspace$

Change or Modify Access Time of File or Directory

The access timestamp is the last time a file was read. Whenever a user reads a file, the access timestamp for that file gets updated. Access timestamp denotes the time when the file was last accessed. There is no modification taking place with this file or directory but it’s only being referenced or read.

Using touch command with option -a modifies the ‘Access Time’ of a particular file. The new ‘Access Time’ will be set to the current date and time. To check the current Access time and Modification time use the stat command.

Modifying File

Syntax:

touch -a [filename]

Example:

We will see the current access time of the file to be modified.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat log1.txt
  File: log1.txt
  Size: 0         	Blocks: 0          IO Block: 4096   regular empty file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2001385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-13 23:52:19.305416141 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-13 23:52:00.215090207 +0530
Change: 2020-09-13 23:52:19.305416141 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$

Using touch -a to change the access Time of the file log1.txt to the current date and time.

Output:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -a log1.txt
[email protected]:~/workspace$
[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat log1.txt
  File: log1.txt
  Size: 0         	Blocks: 0          IO Block: 4096   regular empty file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2001385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 10:59:24.972855176 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-13 23:52:00.215090207 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 10:59:24.972855176 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$

You can observe that the access time of the file log1.txt is now modified.

Modifying Directory

touch -a can also be used to modify the access time of a directory in the same way as done for a file.

Syntax:

touch -a [directory_path]

Example:

[email protected]:~$ stat ./workspace/tomcat
  File: ./workspace/tomcat
  Size: 4096      	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   directory
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2039942     Links: 3
Access: (0775/drwxrwxr-x)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2018-03-30 11:18:28.912666800 +0530
Modify: 2018-03-30 00:13:02.452194000 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 11:18:28.912666800 +0530
 Birth: -

Using touch -a to modify the access time for the directory tomcat.

[email protected]:~$ touch -a ./workspace/tomcat
[email protected]:~$ stat ./workspace/tomcat
  File: ./workspace/tomcat
  Size: 4096      	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   directory
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2039942     Links: 3
Access: (0775/drwxrwxr-x)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 11:21:10.638538949 +0530
Modify: 2018-03-30 00:13:02.452194000 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 11:21:10.638538949 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~$

Here, the access time of the directory ‘tomcat’ is now changed to the current date and time.


Change Modification Time Of File/Directory

Modification time signifies the last time the contents of a file were modified. A program or process either edited or modified the file. “Modified” means something inside the file was amended, deleted or new data was added.

Using touch command along with the option -m modifies the ‘Modification Time’ of a file or a directory. Following methods can be deployed for file and directory.

For File

touch -m [filename]

Example:

Firstly, using stat command to display the Modification time for the file.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat iift.txt
  File: iift.txt
  Size: 66        	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   regular file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 1990385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 11:33:36.927262587 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-12 08:33:28.339190370 +0530
Change: 2020-09-12 08:33:28.339190370 +0530

Now use the touch -m command to modify the Modification time.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -m iift.txt
[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat iift.txt
  File: iift.txt
  Size: 66        	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   regular file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 1990385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 11:33:36.927262587 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-14 11:34:34.719723531 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 11:34:34.719723531 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$

The ‘Modification time’ of the file iift.txt is now changed to the current date and time.

For Directory

touch -m [directory_path] OR [directory_name]

Example:

We will change the Modification Time of the directory named ‘tomcat’ using the touch -m command. Let us find out its current ‘Modification Time’ using the stat command.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat tomcat
  File: tomcat
  Size: 4096      	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   directory
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2039942     Links: 3
Access: (0775/drwxrwxr-x)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 11:21:10.638538949 +0530
Modify: 2019-07-12 11:43:22.482485281 +0530
Change: 2019-07-12 11:43:22.482485281 +0530
 Birth: -

Output:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -m tomcat
[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat tomcat
  File: tomcat
  Size: 4096      	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   directory
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2039942     Links: 3
Access: (0775/drwxrwxr-x)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 11:21:10.638538949 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-14 11:43:22.482485281 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 11:43:22.482485281 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$

Here, I have changed the Modification timestamp for the directory ‘tomcat’.

Changing Access Time Without Creating New File

touch command when run, creates a new empty file. But there may occur some instances where the file is already created and you just want to modify the Access Time of that file without creating a new one.

In this situation, you can use touch command with the -c option which avoids creating a new file and still allows you to modify the Access timestamp.

Syntax:

touch -c [filename]

Example:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -c iift.txt
[email protected]:~/workspace$ ls
demo        gsy.c   log1.txt            sheldon_log-1.txt  sheldon_log-3.txt  sheldon_log-5.txt  sheldon_log-7.txt  sheldon_log-9.txt
filemove.c  iift.txt  sheldon_log-10.txt  sheldon_log-2.txt  sheldon_log-4.txt  sheldon_log-6.txt  sheldon_log-8.txt  tomcat
[email protected]:~/workspace$

Similarly, you can change the access time of the already existing directory. You can use the following method to do so.

Example:

Displaying the current access timestamp of the directory tomcat.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat tomcat
  File: tomcat
  Size: 4096      	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   directory
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2039942     Links: 3
Access: (0775/drwxrwxr-x)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 11:21:10.638538949 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-14 11:43:22.482485281 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 11:43:22.482485281 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$ 
[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -c tomcat

Here, I have changed the access time of the already existing directory ‘tomcat’.

Output:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat tomcat
  File: tomcat
  Size: 4096      	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   directory
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2039942     Links: 3
Access: (0775/drwxrwxr-x)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 20:18:52.625031128 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-14 20:18:52.625031128 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 20:18:52.625031128 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$ 

Cross checking the output:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -c temp.cpp
[email protected]:~/workspace$ ls temp.cpp
ls: cannot access 'temp.cpp': No such file or directory
[email protected]:~/workspace$ 

Here, I tried to use touch -c with temp.cpp. This file doesn’t exist. Hence, we can say that using touch with option -c avoids creating new empty files and modifies the timestamp for the existing file only.


Modifying Access and Modification Timestamp To a Specific Date And Time

In the previous blocks, you must have observed that whenever we use the touch command to change the timestamps, it is changed to the current time and date.

But, there may be some occurrences where you may need to use a customized time and date. Using touch command with -c and -t options can serve the purpose.

Example:

I’ll change the Access and Modify timestamp in the file iift.txt to a customized time and date.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat iift.txt
  File: iift.txt
  Size: 66        	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   regular file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 1990385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 12:04:07.091786565 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-14 12:04:07.091786565 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 12:04:07.091786565 +0530
 Birth: -

Date and Time can be specified in the format: {CCYY}MMDDhhmm.ss

ParameterDescription
CCFirst two digits of a year
YYSecond two digits of a year
MMMonth of the Year (01-12)
DDDay of the Month (01-31)
hhHour of the day (00-23)
mmMinutes of the hour (00-59)

I am using the date stamp as 203011051820 (i.e. 5-November-2030, 18:20 hours).

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -c -t 203011051820 iift.txt

This command will change the Access and Modify timestamp for the file iift.txt as follows.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat iift.txt
  File: iift.txt
  Size: 66        	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   regular file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 1990385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2030-11-05 18:20:00.000000000 +0530
Modify: 2030-11-05 18:20:00.000000000 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 20:39:55.641781140 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$ 

Using a Reference File To Set Timestamp

touch command can also be used with the option -r to use the timestamp of a reference file of your choice on your current file.

Syntax:

touch -r [reference_file] [actual_file]

Example:

We will use gsy.c file as a reference file. So the timestamps of gsy.c will be used for the file iift.txt. Let us check the current timestamps of both these files first with stat command.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat gsy.c
  File: gsy.c
  Size: 0         	Blocks: 0          IO Block: 4096   regular empty file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 2001385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 10:59:24.972855176 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-13 23:52:00.215090207 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 10:59:24.972855176 +0530
 Birth: -


[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat iift.txt
  File: iift.txt
  Size: 66        	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   regular file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 1990385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2025-10-19 18:20:00.000000000 +0530
Modify: 2025-10-19 18:20:00.000000000 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 20:39:55.641781140 +0530

Using the command touch -r now.

[email protected]:~/workspace$ touch -r gsy.c iift.txt

Output:

[email protected]:~/workspace$ stat iift.txt
  File: iift.txt
  Size: 66        	Blocks: 8          IO Block: 4096   regular file
Device: 808h/2056d	Inode: 1990385     Links: 1
Access: (0644/-rw-r--r--)  Uid: ( 1000/ gaurav)   Gid: ( 1000/ gaurav)
Access: 2020-09-14 10:59:24.972855176 +0530
Modify: 2020-09-13 23:52:00.215090207 +0530
Change: 2020-09-14 21:04:27.640026328 +0530
 Birth: -
[email protected]:~/workspace$

From the output, we can see that the timestamps for the file iift.txt has changed. The new timestamps are now similar to those of the reference file gsy.c


Conclusion

In this tutorial, we learned about the touch command and various options available with it to create new empty files and amend the timestamps of existing files in various ways.