Switch branches/tags
Nothing to show
Find file Copy path
Fetching contributors…
Cannot retrieve contributors at this time
185 lines (118 sloc) 8.08 KB

The Command Line

Command line, terminal, shell, CLI ("command line interpreter" or "command line interface").

Why do we use the command line?

  • It helps make some things faster
  • There are tools that only exist for the CLI and don't have a point-and-click interface.
  • It opens the door to programming languages like Ruby

Using the command line

Opening a terminal

Mac: Open the Terminal app. (It's inside Applications->Utilities, but you can also get to it by searching.)

Windows: Press the Windows key and search for PowerShell. You can also press Windows-R to get the "run" menu and type in cmd, then press enter.

You Are Here: Moving around

When you use the Finder or File Explorer, your window is always open to a specific folder. You can go to other folders by clicking on them. Similarly, a terminal is always in a specific folder. Instead of clicking, you use text commands to figure out where you are and to move around.

By default, the terminal starts in your home directory.

Mac Windows Description
pwd pwd shows you what directory you're in (and the full path to that place)
ls ls shows you a list of all things in current directory
cd Desktop cd Desktop moves to the Desktop directory inside the current directory
cd / cd C:\ moves to the "top" of your hard drive
cd /Users cd C:\Users moves to the folder called Users (if there is one) in your hard drive
cd ~ cd %HOME% moves back to your home directory

The thing after the cd is an "argument" -- it's something you give to the cd command to do whatever it is the command does. cd moves the terminal "into" another folder, like double-clicking in Finder or File Explorer.

(On Windows, doing cd without an argument simply shows you the current directory, like Mac pwd. On Mac, doing cd without an argument moves to your home directory.)

  • Relative paths: you can get into Desktop from your home directory by doing cd Desktop, because Desktop is inside your home directory. Similar to the way the <link href="..."> tag works when something is in the same directory.
  • Absolute paths: you can get into Desktop directly from anywhere by entering in the absolute path or full path of the Desktop folder cd /Users/mtigas/Desktop (Mac) or cd C:\Users\mtigas\Desktop (Windows). See the pwd / echo %cd% command to see the current absolute path.

Common path & file aliases

alias description
~ (Mac) or $HOME (Windows) your home directory
. the current directory
.. the directory above this one
* all files and directories inside this directory
*.html all files with names that end with .html inside this directory

Tip: If you mistype and want to cancel the current line you're in the middle of, press Control-C.

Example: From a newly-opened terminal, try the following.

  • ls
  • cd Documents
  • pwd
  • ls


  • Move into the GitHub directory on your computer that was created by the GitHub Desktop app yesterday.
    • On Mac it's in your home directory; on Windows, it's inside Documents in your home directory.
  • Move into one of the repo directories, like awesome-project or hello-propubdata and get a list of what's inside that directory.
  • Use Finder or File Explorer to look at that directory. Are there any differences between what's listed in the user interface vs in the command line?

Doing things to files

Mac Windows PowerShell Description
mv index.html something.html mv index.html something.html renames index.html to something.html
cp index.html index-backup.html cp index.html index-backup.html makes a copy of index.html to a new file called index-backup.html
rm something.txt rm something.txt deletes the file called something.txt in the current directory
mkdir MyFolder mkdir MyFolder creates a directory named MyFolder inside the current directory
cp -r MyFolder MyFolderCopy cp MyFolder MyFolderCopy makes a copy of the directory MyFolder to a new file called MyFolderCopy
rm -fr MyFolder rm MyFolder deletes the directory named MyFolder

Cool things you can do

Mac Windows Description
find . dir -r shows you all the files and folders in the current directory, and all the files and folders inside all those folders and so on
open . explorer . opens a Finder or File Explorer to the current directory
open some_file.txt explorer some_file.txt this does the same as double-clicking on some_file.txt if you were in a Finder or File Explorer
subl some_file.txt subl some_file.txt‡‡ opens up some_file.txt in Sublime Text
subl . subl .‡‡ opens up Sublime Text with this folder in the sidebar
  • ‡ You need to run this command first:
    sudo ln -s /Applications/Sublime\ /usr/local/bin/subl
  • ‡‡ Not installed in Windows by default; involves editing some settings to turn it on.
Mac Windows Description
grep "<p>" index.html select-string "<p>" index.html shows you all lines that contain <p> inside the index.html file in the current directory
grep "text" * select-string "text" * look for text in all files in the current directory
grep -r "text" . --- look for text in all files inside the current directory and all directories underneath

Getting help

Most commands can give you information on how to use them. Usually you get it by doing -h or --help or /? or /help.

The following lists some information on how to use the git command-line command:

git --help

You should get something like:

usage: git [--version] [--help] [-C <path>] [-c name=value]
           [--exec-path[=<path>]] [--html-path] [--man-path] [--info-path]
           [-p | --paginate | --no-pager] [--no-replace-objects] [--bare]
           [--git-dir=<path>] [--work-tree=<path>] [--namespace=<name>]
           <command> [<args>]


Tips & Tricks


If a command seems stuck, you can press "Control-C" on your keyboard to cancel it.

If you only pass the first argument to grep or find, for example, it waits for some input instead of searching files in your directory...

# mac
grep "text"

# windows
find "text"

...a you'll need to press Control-C to quit the command.


The modern command line has an autocomplete feature which can help you quickly enter in commands, file names, and directory names.

Try it! From a fresh terminal, type cd Desk and press the tab key; the remaining letters in Desktop should automatically appear.

Jump to the beginning or end of the line.

If your keyboard has "home" and "end" keys, those will go to the start or end of the line, like in Word or other text editors.


  • Control-A will jump the cursor to the start of the line.
  • Control-E will jump the cursor to the end of the line.

Helpful if you've mistyped the beginning of a command.

The "say" command (Mac only)

The say command is fun: say hello

Administrator privileges

Sometimes you need to install software from within a command-line. If it doesn't work normally, you will have to run the command with administrator privileges.

On Windows, you need to open a terminal in Administrator Mode.

  • Click the Start menu and start typing in "Command Prompt".
  • When the "Command Prompt" app appears, right-click and choose "Run as Administrator".

On Mac, you can prepend sudo to the command you originally tried.

More Resources

Git on the Command Line