Skip to main content

Determining Device Names in Linux: A Comprehensive Guide

In Linux, everything is a file, including hardware devices. When you connect a device to a Linux system, it gets a name in the filesystem. Understanding these device names is crucial for many tasks, such as system configuration, disk partitioning, and troubleshooting. In this article, we will dive deep into the world of Linux device names.

What are Device Names?

Device names are file-like paths that represent hardware devices on a Linux system. These names are found in the /dev directory, which is populated by the system at boot time or when devices are plugged in or removed.

Determining Device Names

Several commands can be used to list and determine device names. Some of the most commonly used ones include:


Short for "list block devices", this command provides a list of all block devices (hard drives, USB drives, etc.) connected to the system.


2.2. fdisk

What is fdisk?

fdisk is a command-line utility used in UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, including Linux, for disk partitioning. With fdisk, administrators can view, create, resize, delete, and modify partitions on hard drives, SSDs, and other storage devices. It supports various partition table formats, with DOS and GPT being the most commonly used.

The utility provides an interactive interface, enabling users to perform tasks by following on-screen prompts. Although it's powerful and widely utilized, it does not understand filesystems; its primary focus is on partition tables.

Availability Across Linux Distributions:

fdisk is part of the util-linux package, which is a standard collection of essential utilities for Linux systems. Given its critical role in disk management, fdisk is available by default in the majority of Linux distributions, including:

  • Debian and its derivatives like Ubuntu
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), Fedora, and CentOS
  • openSUSE and SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server)
  • Arch Linux
  • Slackware
  • Gentoo

In the rare cases where fdisk is not pre-installed, it can be easily added using the package management tools specific to the distribution ( e.g., apt, yum, zypper, or pacman).

In conclusion, fdisk stands as a cornerstone tool for disk partitioning in the Linux ecosystem, with broad availability across virtually all distributions.

fdisk Command To List Available Drives

The fdisk command, typically used for disk partitioning, can also list all available drives.

sudo fdisk -l

2.3. lshw

Short for "list hardware", this command provides a detailed hierarchical view of the hardware components of the system, including storage devices.

sudo lshw -class disk -class storage

3. Device Name Patterns

Device names in Linux follow specific patterns, allowing users to identify the type and sometimes the purpose of a device merely by its name.

Of course, I'll enhance the table by adding the patterns for loop and vda devices:

Device Name PatternDescriptionExample Devices
/dev/hd[a-z]Older IDE drive naming scheme. Typically represents internal hard drives in older systems./dev/hda, /dev/hdb
/dev/sd[a-z]SCSI and SATA drive naming. Most modern hard drives, solid-state drives, including USB drives, use this format./dev/sda, /dev/sdb
/dev/sr[0-9]CD-ROM drives./dev/sr0
/dev/nvme[0-9]n[0-9]NVMe drives, a newer type of storage device, faster than traditional SSDs./dev/nvme0n1
/dev/loop[0-9]Loopback devices. Used for mounting filesystem images or ISOs directly without associating them with a physical device like a USB./dev/loop0, /dev/loop1
/dev/mmcblk[0-9]MMC block devices, typically representing SD cards and other similar storage./dev/mmcblk0, /dev/mmcblk0p1
/dev/md[0-9]Linux software RAID devices./dev/md0, /dev/md1
/dev/vda[a-z]Virtual drives, typically used in virtualized environments. Virtual machines might see their hard drives under this naming convention./dev/vda, /dev/vdb

Note that /dev/vda, /dev/vdb, etc., are commonly seen in virtualization environments like QEMU/KVM, where the virtual machine's drives are represented in this format.

Each device might also have additional partitions, represented with a number. For example, the first partition on /dev/sda will be /dev/sda1, the second /dev/sda2, and so forth.

4. Conclusion

Understanding device names is a fundamental aspect of Linux system administration. Whether you're mounting a new drive, formatting an SD card, or setting up RAID configurations, knowing how to determine and interpret device names will be a valuable skill. With the commands and patterns outlined in this article, you'll have a solid foundation to work with devices in Linux.

What Can You Do Next 🙏😊

If you liked the article, consider subscribing to Cloudaffle, my YouTube Channel, where I keep posting in-depth tutorials and all edutainment stuff for software developers.

YouTube @cloudaffle