How to Rename A File Using Mac Terminal: A Step-by-Step Guide

rename file mac terminal

Renaming files on a Mac using the Terminal is a powerful technique that offers unparalleled flexibility and efficiency, especially for batch operations or handling files not easily accessible through the Finder. This article delves into the essential commands and advanced techniques for file renaming, ensuring users of all levels can confidently manage their files directly from the Terminal.

What is the MacOS Terminal Application?

Navigating the Terminal Interface

The Terminal on a Mac serves as a gateway to the underlying Unix system, allowing users to perform tasks and manage files through text commands. Accessing the Terminal is straightforward: you can find it in the Utilities folder within Applications, or quickly search for it using Spotlight. Familiarizing yourself with the Terminal’s interface and basic commands is the first step towards mastering file management on your Mac.

Basic Terminal Commands for File Management

To effectively rename files via the Terminal, understanding a few basic commands is essential:

  • cd: Changes the current directory.
  • ls: Lists all files and directories in the current directory.
  • Renaming Syntax: To rename a file, the syntax involves using specific commands designed for file manipulation. Here, we focus on the foundational commands that enable file renaming.

Renaming a Single File in Terminal

The mv Command

The mv command is the cornerstone of file renaming in the Terminal. Its basic syntax for renaming a file is as follows:

mv oldfilename newfilename

For example, to rename a file from oldname.txt to newname.txt, you would use:

mv oldname.txt newname.txt

This command moves the file from one name to another, effectively renaming it.

See also  Using 'brew install composer': A Quick Start Guide

Batch Renaming Files Using Terminal

Leveraging Loops and mv

For renaming multiple files at once, loops can be utilized in conjunction with the mv command. This approach is particularly useful for applying a consistent naming convention across several files. An example of this would be:

for file in *.txt; do mv "$file" "${file%.txt}-new.txt"; done

This loop goes through all .txt files in the current directory, renaming each by adding -new to the end of the original file name before the .txt extension.

Advanced Batch Renaming with rename

For more complex renaming tasks, the rename command offers advanced capabilities, including the use of regular expressions. The basic syntax is:

rename 's/old/new/' *.txt

This command would replace the first occurrence of old with new in the names of all .txt files. The rename command is powerful for pattern-based renaming, allowing for significant flexibility in how files are renamed in batches.

By mastering these commands and techniques, users can efficiently manage and organize their files on a Mac using the Terminal, from simple renames to complex batch operations.

Renaming Files with Patterns

Using Regular Expressions

Regular expressions (regex) are a powerful tool in the rename command for pattern-based renaming of files. They allow you to match complex patterns within filenames and replace them as needed. For instance, to rename files by replacing spaces with underscores, you could use:

rename 's/ /_/g' *

This command replaces all spaces in filenames with underscores for all files in the current directory.

Practical Examples
  • Adding Prefixes/Suffixes: To add a prefix new_ to all .txt files, use:
  rename 's/^/new_/' *.txt
  • Changing File Extensions: To change all .txt files to .md files, use:
  rename 's/\.txt$/.md/' *.txt

Here’s a table summarizing the basic commands mentioned in the article for renaming files on Mac using the Terminal:

See also  Mac: How to Open a Folder in a New Window
cdChange directorycd Documents
lsList files/directoriesls
mvRename (move) a single filemv oldname.txt newname.txt
for loop with mvRename multiple files using a loopfor file in *.txt; do mv "$file" "${file%.txt}-new.txt"; done
renameAdvanced batch renaming with patternsrename 's/old/new/' *.txt

Tips and Tricks for Efficient File Renaming

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

When renaming files in Terminal, it’s crucial to avoid common mistakes such as:

  • Renaming system or application files that could affect your Mac’s operation.
  • Using characters in filenames that are not supported or could cause issues, such as slashes or colons.
Maximizing Productivity

To streamline the file renaming process:

  • Utilize shell scripts for repetitive renaming tasks.
  • Master Terminal shortcuts, like tab completion, to speed up your workflow.


How do I undo a rename operation in Terminal?

To undo a rename, you would need to manually rename the file back to its original name using the mv command.

Can I rename directories using the same commands?

Yes, the same mv and rename commands can be used to rename directories.

What should I do if I receive a ‘permission denied’ error?

This error occurs when you don’t have the necessary permissions. Use sudo before the command or adjust the file’s permissions.

Is it possible to rename files without using Terminal?

Yes, files can be renamed using the Finder by selecting the file and pressing Enter, then typing the new name.


The Terminal offers a robust and versatile platform for renaming files on a Mac, catering to a wide range of needs from simple changes to complex batch operations. By leveraging the commands and tips outlined in this article, users can significantly enhance their file management efficiency. Practice and exploration are key to mastering these skills for any Mac user.

Support us & keep this site free of annoying ads.
Shop or Donate with Paypal

Leave a Comment