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Quick answer: The RAM doesn't "know" anything. Whatever structures are stored in RAM that help determine the semantics of other contents of RAM, are built by the operating system.


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This isn't actually doing an ls -al and passing that into cat, it's doing a process substitution on cat and presenting that as a file to ls -al which will then do a listing on the file. So the process substitution creates a pipe connecting a file-object and stdin of the "inner" program, cat here and presents a file to the "outer" program. Then you do an ls ...



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