touch is used to create new, empty files or update the timestamp of an existing file.

$ touch newFile.txt

will create a new, empty file named newFile.txt in the current directory. The other main use for touch, updating timestamps, can be achieved by:

$ touch existingFile.txt

As touch does not overwrite an existing file, touch here only updates the timestamp of a file. This is useful when trying to do something such as rerunning a makefile after having updated the makefile, but none of the files it operates on.

Generally, use:

$ touch [option(s)] [path(s)]

Useful Options / Examples

There are a number of useful options. For instance, -a changes only the access time while using -m changes only the file’s modification time. You can combine these options to get back to touch’s default behavior!

You can use the -r flag to reference another file’s access time and update another file to have those values.

The -B option rewinds a file’s timestamp a specified number of seconds. The -d flag sets the timestamp equal to a relatively free form string (E.g. Sun, 29 Feb 2016 13:24:31 or something like next Thursday) while the -t flag accepts a more rigid time format.


You want to update a file’s timestamp to rerun make after having edited the makefile, but don’t want to change any of the files the makefile executes on.


Simply run

touch [pathToMakefileDependency]

to update the timestamp of the file and then run the makefile again. It’s that easy!

Break it down

pathToMakefileDepenency is the path to one of the dependencies of the makefile. After running this command, the timestamp of the specified path will be updated to the current system time. As touch does not overwrite previously existing files, only the timestamp is updated here.


You want to change the timestamp of a file bestFile.txt (for some reason) to next Saturday.


Use touch with its -d flag!!

$ touch -d 'Next Saturday' bestFile.txt


Break it down

The -d flag stands for date. This accepts a freeform string specifying the date to which the timestamp should be changed.

Next Saturday is the date string which is passed to touch via -d.

bestFile.txt is the file whose timestamp will be changed.

Running this entire command sets the timestamp of bestFile.txt to the date of next Saturday.


You want to create a number of new, empty files to upload to some web app which will then manipulate those files.


Use touch to create new, empty files!

$ touch newFile1.txt newFile2.txt newFile3.txt
Break it down

As these new files don’t yet exist in the current directory (assuming they don’t), touch simply creates new empty versions of them in the directory. It will create an empty newFile1.txt, newFile2.txt, and newFile3.txt.