Excellent Utilities: exa – replacement for ls

Last Updated on May 22, 2022


exa is a genuine alternative to ls. You don’t lose any speed, and gain a number of useful advantages that makes for a compelling usage case. I use exa at least 50 times a day.

The tool offers a good range of features which should meet your requirements. There’s support for Git which lets you view staged and unstaged status of every file. There’s also support for 24-bit colours, the ability to toggle colours on or off, effective file filtering, and the utility recognizes pipes, devices, and sockets.

There are plans to add hyperlink rendering support which will be a useful addition. Other features I’d like to see are the ability to show file sizes for parent directories, and an option to specify the order of columns in long view. The developer intends to make it possible to hide and reorder each column.

There’s a detailed man page, but on my system typing man exa at the shell brings up the man page for different software: 2D acceleration architecture for X.Org.

I’d also like configurable colors. On my default terminal, output is quite hard to read. Whether this is a problem for you depends on your terminal background settings. Of course, you can adjust your terminal colours, but that’s not an ideal solution.

exa is written as a binary that’s a thin wrapper around a library. The project has attracted over 8,000 GitHub stars, an indication it’s a popular project.

If you’re interested in contributing to the exa project, why not brush up your Rust knowledge? Here’s some great free Rust books to learn about the language.

Website: the.exa.website
Support: Documentation, GitHub Code Repository
Developer: Benjamin Sago and many contributors
License: MIT License

exa is written in Rust. Learn Rust with our recommended free books and free tutorials.

Pages in this article:
Page 1 – Introduction / Installation
Page 2 – In Operation
Page 3 – Summary

Complete list of articles in this series:

Excellent Utilities
AES CryptEncrypt files using the Advanced Encryption Standard
AnanicyShell daemon created to manage processes’ IO and CPU priorities
brootNext gen tree explorer and customizable launcher
CerebroFast application launcher
cheat.shCommunity driven unified cheat sheet
CopyQAdvanced clipboard manager
crocSecurely transfer files and folders from the command-line
DeskreenLive streaming your desktop to a web browser
dufDisk usage utility with more polished presentation than the classic df
ezaA turbo-charged alternative to the venerable ls command
Extension ManagerBrowse, install and manage GNOME Shell Extensions
fdWonderful alternative to the venerable find
fkillKill processes quick and easy
fontpreviewQuickly search and preview fonts
horcruxFile splitter with encryption and redundancy
KoohaSimple screen recorder
KOReaderDocument viewer for a wide variety of file formats
ImagineA simple yet effective image optimization tool
LanguageToolStyle and grammar checker for 30+ languages
Liquid PromptAdaptive prompt for Bash & Zsh
lnavAdvanced log file viewer for the small-scale; great for troubleshooting
lsdLike exa, lsd is a turbo-charged alternative to ls
Mark TextSimple and elegant Markdown editor
McFlyNavigate through your bash shell history
mdlessFormatted and highlighted view of Markdown files
notiMonitors a command or process and triggers a notification
NushellFlexible cross-platform shell with a modern feel
nvitopGPU process management for NVIDIA graphics cards
OCRmyPDFAdd OCR text layer to scanned PDFs
Oh My ZshFramework to manage your Zsh configuration
PaperworkDesigned to simplify the management of your paperwork
pastelGenerate, analyze, convert and manipulate colors
PDF Mix ToolPerform common editing operations on PDF files
pecoSimple interactive filtering tool that's remarkably useful
ripgrepRecursively search directories for a regex pattern
RnoteSketch and take handwritten notes
scrcpyDisplay and control Android devices
StickySimulates the traditional “sticky note” style stationery on your desktop
tldrSimplified and community-driven man pages
tmuxA terminal multiplexer that offers a massive boost to your workflow
TuskAn unofficial Evernote client with bags of potential
UlauncherSublime application launcher
WatsonTrack the time spent on projects
Whoogle SearchSelf-hosted and privacy-focused metasearch engine
ZellijTerminal workspace with batteries included
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4 years ago

I cringe when I read about CLI utilities written in Rust. That exa binary is over 800KB! (see the exa debian amd64 package)

Bill C
Bill C
4 years ago
Reply to  BarryK

You make it sound like you’ve made a discovery. Next you’ll be telling us Firefox is a memory hog.

Vernon Tillerson
Vernon Tillerson
4 years ago
Reply to  Bill C

And you should remember that “software bloat always expands to make use of all the memory available” ;+}

4 years ago
Reply to  Bill C

It is not a discovery for me, but will be for some, as there are deliberate attempts to cover up how bloated rust-created binaries are. For example, the description here packages.debian.org/sid/exa: “and it is small, fast, and one single binary”. of course, “small” is relative. ‘ls’ is about 145KB. Does some colour-coding, extra columns and git compatibility justify the extra 600KB? I am old-school, probably these days the younger generation of programmers don’t care about the bloat, just the coding conveniences — I have to have a bit of a grumble about it though.

Paul Zupan
Paul Zupan
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill C

You have to take into consideration that the average amount of disk space on any given computer is growing. In the grand scheme of things, on most computers that have a 200GB or so hard drive inside, a 600KB binary is incredibly small. It’s all relative. Of course, if you’re speaking in terms of an old laptop without much disk space, that’s probably not the best use case for exa anyway. Also, I don’t think anyone is denying that rust binaries are larger than normal. It’s a fact, considering that the entire rust standard library gets compiled in. One man’s bloat is another man’s minimalism.