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Command Line: Address the Fear

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by | Nov 27, 2018

The command line. I have heard this muttered with a sense of dread in blog posts, and I have never fully understood what it is. I was happy to glance over it as I felt that it was far over my head. However, working my way through The Odin Project forced me to confront this blissful ignorance of Command Line knowledge, head on.

-Intended as a bite sized piece, approx. 3 minute read. 


What is the Command Line?


Normally when you watch a scene in a film where a hacker is staring at a black screen filled with green/white text that looks absolutely incomprehensible: that is the “Command Line Interface” (often abbreviated to CLI). Think “The Matrix”. At this description, I was ready to run for the hills: as a complete newbie, how on earth could I hope to understand this incomprehensible thing? I’m not a programmer! (yet). Until I broke it down …



If you break it down to it’s aim, the command line is really a very simple concept. The command line is just a way to view and manipulate files on your computer. The CLI is just a way to open a communication channel with your computer. Tadaa! The CLI is similar to using finder on a mac, it just looks way more complicated and you need to know slightly more than just how to click folders. The command line is your communication with your computer, it allows you to tell your computer exactly what you want it to do by typing “commands” into its CLI. You feel pretty powerful now, right?

Before proceeding, it is worth mentioning that I did read a warning that you should also heed: knowing the command line means you can tell the computer exactly what to do, and it will obediently carry out the task. So, if you are practicing and decide to “hey lets see what this command does” and the command deletes all of the date on your computer? Your computer will carry that out obediently without asking you “hey man, are you really sure you want to do that? Ouch. Proceed with caution and make sure you fully understand the command you are running!

That’s enough of the scary warnings …


How do I access the Command Line?


On different operating systems, you will access the command line in different ways


Open your Finder (this little guy)


Look for the applications folder



and then open the “terminal” (you might have to scroll a little, but it’ll be there!) 

And there it is, that little box of possibility!



Linux: Open the Programs menu and search Terminal. Alternatively CTRL + ALT + T.

Windows:  I couldn’t get any fancy screenshots because I work on a MAC, sorry guys! But in the interest of not being MAC biased check out Lifewire , or Digital Citizen for some great step by steps for finding “Command Prompt” on windows (lifewire even includes the different windows versions).


The command line can do things such as saving you time, renaming a lot of files? Instead of clicking through and renaming each one, the command line could do this for you by looping through a command and acting on all the files: so much quicker! To talk to the computer you will use commands and, like any programming language or spoken language, this will take time to get used to! As always, it’s best to learn the foundations first. Try and find basic commands that you will find helpful, if you are a complete newbie (like me) we won’t be hacking the matrix quite yet (yet). Start with things like cd (enter) which will navigate you home on Linux and Mac. You could also try ls (enter) which will list all of the files in the directory you are currently in. I will attempt to cover a few of these commands in my next post, it will take a little time to get your (and my) head around navigating the command line. But I have no doubts we can do it!