Can you tell me what the difference is between cat and sudo cat?

All I know so far is that cat is used for displaying contents of file and concatenation.

  • 3
    cat is used to read file, sudo is use for super user privileges. so sudo cat mean read the file with super user ( that is root ) privileges.
    – Qasim
    Mar 5, 2014 at 17:25
  • Thanx that helped.
    – Edison
    Mar 5, 2014 at 17:35

3 Answers 3


For a little humour I would say that cat is an animal and sudo cat is a feline with superpowers. :D

sudo is a command that you use to obtain root privileges. root is a special user that manages the machine, and for this he/she has superpowers. For example, if there is a file that only root can see its contents, and you are logged in as a normal user, you can use

$ sudo cat name_of_the_file

to read it. Also if there is a program that only root can run, like the reboot command:

$ reboot
warning: must be root!
$ sudo reboot

THE CATCH IS: you must be specially (and manually) assigned by root to have permission to use sudo. The permission is given in a file called /etc/sudoers. In Ubuntu, the first user, the one created during install, is automatically a sudoer. But the subsequent users are not. You have to add them manually to the group sudo whose members are allowed to use the command sudo.

By the way, /etc/sudoers is a file that only root can see. So if you do

$ cat /etc/sudoers

you will not be able to see its contents. But if you do:

$ sudo cat /etc/sudoers

you are good.

Hope this helps.

  • 2
    +1 for explaining cat with an impressive ways. Indeed an amazingly constructed answer. :)
    – AzkerM
    Mar 5, 2014 at 18:03
  • Surely sudo cat is something masquerading as a cat? :oP
    – Emmet
    Mar 5, 2014 at 19:00
  • 8
    I can't believe nobody has yet posted a link to xkcd.com/149
    – tobyink
    Mar 5, 2014 at 23:00
  • Note for all newcomers: Do not directly edit /etc/sudoers. Any changes to this file must be made via visudo. You can grant administrator privilege to users from the System Settings > User Accounts; no need to manually edit /etc/sudoers. Mar 12, 2014 at 13:14
  • 1
    Just as a personal anecdote, some months after this thread I was locked out of the system for neglecting to use visudo, and I instantly remembered @curusarn 's warning.
    – Henrique
    Mar 23, 2020 at 17:58

Cat is a standard unix utiliy and a most frequently used command which concatenate files and print on the standard output.

You may open a terminal (press CTRL+ATL+T) & type man cat to know more about the command and its usage.

Further, the difference between cat & using sudo cat;

  • cat - Frequently & the standard command in use to print an output
  • sudo cat - Which prints an output with root privilege. This is mostly needed when a file doesn't have read access for certain user/users but not limited to root user.


-rw------- 2 root root 4096 996 Feb  6 20:39 log.txt

Above seen is a file which only a root user (or a user who's within root group) can read/write. In such situation you will need to use sudo cat filename to print the output.

Assume it helped you to understand more.!


cat is used to read a file; sudo is used for super user privileges. So sudo cat means read the file with super user (that is, root) privileges.

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