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Basics of Command Line

Last updated 2013-01-08 - Send Feedback
Related: how-to, How To, Software

The command line is a powerful tool which can shorten and simplify many tasks.

However, the command line requires some investment in learning. This page covers a few very basic ideas in using the command line.

  • Lines preceeded with '#' are explanatory comments.
  • The prefix “diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ ” is a prompt emitted by the command line; do not type this; your system will have something of the same form reflecting your own system names.
  • Commands to type are shown in bold.

Very quick general tips for the command line

  • Spaces matter; they are used as separators on the command line. Hence “Macintosh HD” is a nuisance name for a volume, as is any file name with spaces (enclose in straight quotes ""). Hence I name my boot volume “Boot”, which is also shorter and easier to type.
  • Directory paths are separated by a forward slash "/".
  • Case sensitive: Boot ≠ boot ≠ BOOT.
  • The tab key will auto-complete filenames.
  • There are a variety of special characters to be aware of, but the main useful one is the "*" character which can be used to wild card file names instead of typing them out (e.g. “ls *.jpg” to list all .jpg files).
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Very brief examples of commands

The very, very basics.

Change directory

# change to home directory
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ cd
# change to top level of the volume 'Master'
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ cd /Volumes/Master
# change to top level of boot volume
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ cd /
# change to Applications folder on boot volume
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ cd /Applications

List files

# list files in current directory
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ ls
# list files in current directory, recursively
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ ls -lR
# list files in directory Photos on volume Master
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ ls /Volumes/Master/Photos
# list all .jpg and .JPG files in current directory (wild card)
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ ls *.jpg *.JPG

Run a command in the current directory

# run the command, found in the current directory
diglloyd:MPG lloyd$ ./
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