When I first heard their names, I got really confused when I tried to guess what these tools might do, I thought I'd misheard something.

What's the difference between more and less, i.e. why should I choose one over the other?
They both seem to do the same thing...

Also, why are they named like that in the first place?

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    Wait until you find out about most! It's just like more and less but it supports colors too! – Kevin Panko Jul 13 '11 at 19:03
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    o_O you're joking right? – user541686 Jul 13 '11 at 19:30
  • @Mehrdad No. – new123456 Jul 13 '11 at 20:12
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    @new123456: lol Why settle for less?... – user541686 Jul 13 '11 at 20:13
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    less is more than more! – ctype.h Jan 17 '12 at 0:17

more is a basic pager, which allows you to scroll downwards, one page at a time. Only downwards.

less is also a pager, but has addition functionality to scroll upwards and downwards through the input, in addition to several other extensions.

So, yes. less is more, and more is less. Another common idiom (according to the wiki entry) is "less is more, more or less." The name comes from the fact that the author (Mark Nudelman) essentially wanted a program that was "backwards more" -- The opposite of more, is less.

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  • +1 cool, thanks. Any idea why more was named more, btw? – user541686 Jul 13 '11 at 16:17
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    @Mehrdad I just realized I misread your comment-- I have no clue why more is called "more", but I would suspect that it's because all the program originally did was accept input and display -- More -- at the bottom of the screen if there was more. – Darth Android Jul 13 '11 at 16:35
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    more came well before less, and was named for the simple purpose that it let you handle "more" output than would fit on screen. – Stephanie Jul 14 '11 at 4:01
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    True, more or less. – Daniel R Hicks May 9 '12 at 18:37
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    To add confusion...what about the 'most' pager program. – mdpc Aug 27 '14 at 23:15

I find less a bit more friendly than more because you can use the arrow keys to stroll through the file. more only scrolls screen by screen (by default).

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  • ... And you can search with / – Canadian Luke Jan 2 '15 at 23:00

Other that it allows more scrolling features, less also doesn't need to read the whole file, i.e. it loads files faster than more

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Another difference between more and less, is that more leaves the (last page of the) output on the shell, while less leaves the shell clean.

Sometimes you might prefer one over the other. For example, if you need to copy-paste from the file, more can be better. However, in other cases you might prefer the 'cleaner' approach of less.

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  • Less's behavior on small inputs and its use of the alternate screen is configurable (-F and -X respectively). – torek Feb 24 at 8:16

More or less they also work well together:

more * | less

This shows the contents of matching files along with the decorated matching file and directory names.

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