C-3PO thinks it is improper not to learn the terminal. R2-D2 thinks you should learn to use the terminal.

Command Line Workshop (tutorial)

3 minute read


I recently gave a workshop on using the command line (a.k.a., terminal, command prompt, shell, etc.) at the Graduate Center as part of my Digital Fellow responsibilities. For the sake of sharing, I’m reposting the tutorial/walkthrough that guided the workshop. It’s really basic and pretty sparse, but the resources linked at the bottom provide lots of additional content to help you or your students get started using the *NIX/BSD/CygWin/busybox command line. Note: everything listed should work with most shells, although iirc, the “apropos” command isn’t included in busybox and “man” probably won’t have much useful documentation.

Command Line Walkthrough

  1. Setup

     cd ~
  2. Structure of a command

    grep -r capital etext/*

    command, flags/options, arguments

    * (asterisk) is a wildcard, meaning match everything in the etext directory. / slashes are used to separate directories: /home/keith/projects/etext might be the full path (location) of the etext folder, which is within the projects folder, which itself is in the keith folder within the home folder located at the root of my drive (filesystem).

  3. White spaces in commands

    White spaces separate arguments and options, use quotes to include spaces in things like filenames

    grep -r "they were" etext/*

  4. The file system, files, folders, user folder

    Common commands: pwd, ls, cd, mkdir, touch, rmdir, rm, cp, mv

     ls -l  
     cd mydir  
     cd ~  
     mkdir mynewdir  
     mkdir -p mynewdir/mysubdir/mysubsub/subx3  
     touch goodbye.txt  
     rmdir mynewdir/mysubdir/mysubsub/subx3  
     rm goodbye.txt  
     rm -r mynewdir  
     cp hello.txt mydir/hello_copy.txt  
     mv mydir/hello_copy.txt ./
     mv hello_copy.txt hello_goodbye.txt

    Use mv to rename a file (move a file to a new file with a different name)

  5. Working with files: cat, less

     cat hello.txt  
     cat aesopa10.txt  
     less aesopa10.txt
  6. Pipes and redirection

    | pipes take the output from one command and sends it as an argument of the second one

    > (redirect), >> (append) sends output as the input to the file/stream

     echo "hello world." > hello.txt # output "hello world." into a new text file, hello.txt
     cat aesopa10.txt | less # read the aesopa10.txt file and send the output to the less program
     grep -r they etext/* > them.txt # search for 'they' and output results to them.txt
     cat >> them.txt # enter text to be appended to the end of them.txt

    Use ctrl-d to finish entering text

  7. Finding stuff: grep, find

    files: find . -name "*.txt" -print

    The . (dot) indicates the current directory. .. (two dots) indicate the directory above the current directory (use pwd if you forget what directory you’re in).


     grep -r race ./*  
     grep -r " race" ./*

    case insensitive: grep -ir german ./*

    wildcards: grep -ir "fr.nc[eh]" ./*

  8. Getting help: man, apropos, –help

     man grep  
     apropos find  
     grep --help
  9. Autocompletion, bash history

     cat ae<tab> # --> [cat aesopa10.txt]
     <up> # --> scroll through previous commands
  10. Exit


Additional Stuff

  1. Keyboard shortcuts

    See: Wikipedia Bash Keyboard Shortcuts

    • ctrl-c: kill the currently running command/program
    • ctrl-d: exit the current program
    • ctrl-z: pause and return to the command line (%n to resume the nth paused command, e.g., %1 for the first paused command, etc.)
    • ctrl-a: jump to the beginning of a line
    • ctrl-e: jump to the end of a line
    • ctrl-b: move back one character
    • ctrl-f: move forward one character
    • ctrl-w: delete a word backwards
    • up/down/ctrl-p/ctrl-n: previous/next command
    • tab: autocomplete
    • ctrl-l: clear the display
  2. Installing command line programs:

  3. Other topics to look into: users, groups, permissions, linking, processes, shell scripts, loops…

  4. Google is your friend!!!

Additional Resources

Advanced Resources