What Does 2>&1 Mean in Command?

Linux is one of the most popular operating systems for working in a command-line environment. While using Linux commands, you might have encountered the term “2>&1.” This term might need to be clarified for beginners or those who have just started using Linux. 

In this article, the purpose and importance  of 2>&1 will be discussed using the following content:

  • What Does 2>&1 Mean in Command?
  • Why is 2>&1 Important?
  • How to Use 2>&1 in Command?

What Does 2>&1 Mean in Command?

In simple terms, “2>&1” is a symbol that redirects error messages from standard error (stderr) to standard output (stdout). In other words, it is a way of combining stderr and stdout in one place.

Here’s what each component of “2>&1” means:

  • 2 – refers to stderr, which is used to output error messages.
  • > – is a redirection operator that directs the output of a command to a file or another location.
  • & – is used to signify that we redirect both stdout and stderr.
  • 1 – refers to stdout, which is used to output regular messages.

When a user uses “2>&1” in a command, then it means to redirect error messages (stderr) to the same location as standard output (stdout).

Why is 2>&1 Important?

Redirecting the standard error stream to the standard output stream can be incredibly useful in several scenarios. For example, if a user is running a script that produces error messages then those messages can be displayed alongside the standard output. 

Another benefit of using “2>&1” is that it allows you to capture error messages in a log file. By redirecting the standard error stream to the standard output stream, you can then redirect the entire output to a log file using a simple “>” command. This can be incredibly useful for debugging purposes, as it allows you to easily identify and diagnose any errors that may be occurring.

So to summarize it here are some of the key advantages of using 2>&1 in Command:

  • Saving time – By redirecting both streams to one location, you can avoid the need to check multiple locations for error messages.
  • Improving Error Handling – By capturing all error messages in one place, you can quickly analyze and fix errors.
  • Simplifying Debugging – By combining all messages in one output, you can easily trace the cause of errors.

How to Use 2>&1 in Command?

A user can use “2>&1” in conjunction with other commands to redirect stderr to stdout by following the general syntax mentioned below:

$ command 2>&1

In the above code, command could be any command that you want to execute.

Example of 2>&1 in Command

One of the example to incorporate it with other commands is mentioned below:

$ cat file1.txt > file2.txt 2>&1
$ cat file2.txt

There is no file available with the name of “file1.txt” but a user won’t be able to see any error on a terminal while executing it. The reason is that any error message generated by the above command will be saved in file2.txt. This error can be seen when a user executes this file as shown in the above image.

The content of file1.txt can also be move to file2.txt along with the error if any occurs by executing the below code:

$ cat file1.txt > file2.txt 2>&1
$ cat file2.txt

The execution of the first line does not provide any output as it is used to move the content of file1.txt to file2.txt. This can be verified by executing the second command and output can also be seen.


The “2>&1” operator is mainly used to redirect the input stream to output stream and comes with many advantages. Some of them are saving time, improving error handling, and simplifying debugging. By doing so, users can capture error messages, display them alongside the standard output, and even redirect them to a log file for debugging purposes. 

So, next time you come across this “2>&1” symbol, you’ll know exactly what it means and how to use it to your advantage.