Alex Kaloostian

Apple Certified Master Trainer | Systems Integrator | Video Editor | Motion Graphics Artist

Terminal basics – lesson one


The command line is scary! It’s all, like, black and white, and you can’t use the mouse, and, and, why would anyone want to subject themselves to such madness? Here are 5 good reasons:

  1. Its faster. There’s no graphical interface to get in the way, and no annoying warnings and safeguards. You type a command, hit enter, and your command is simply, instantly performed.
  2. It’s more powerful. You can bypass precautions in the Finder, see invisible files, and delve into deep corners and recesses of the System that are usually off-limits. You can even customize settings that the Mac usually doesn’t allow.
  3. Remote access. Every Mac supports screen sharing, but screen sharing can be slow, especially over a dial-up connection. And it can be hard to see a large screen scaled down to fit your laptop (or phone). The command line is crisp, clear text, very low bandwidth and easily pushed over even the slowest connection.
  4. It’s scriptable. Anything you can do in the command line, you can script to do automatically. You’ll be amazed to see just how easy it is to get into scripting.
  5. Its cool. Lets face it, when you’re in the command line, you get to pretend you’re Matthew Broderick in War Games, and who doesn’t like that?

So how do you access the command line? There are a bunch of ways, but until we get into the really advanced stuff, we’re going to stick with the easiest and most popular method: The Terminal.

A lot of people use the word “terminal” to refer to the command line, but the Terminal is a utility. A Utility you use to access the command line. Think about, um, okay, think about baseball. Usually you’d play baseball on a baseball diamond in the park, but you wouldn’t say the diamond is baseball. The diamond is just the most popular place to do it. You could play baseball in a parking lot, or the middle of the street, or the beach, or even on a video game. The command line is the same way. You could access the command line from the login screen, or from a remote SSH session, or from single-user mode, but the most popular method by far is the Terminal app.

So open your Utilities folder, and launch the Terminal app. Now you’ll probably see something like this:

That’s your command line. We will talk all about the ins and outs and details in a later post, but this is getting long, so let me finish by having you type your very first command! Don’t be nervous, now, just put your hands on the keys and type:


Press return, and see what it does. Figure it out? It’s just a simple command to show you how long your Mac has been up and running without a restart. Easy! next time we will explore some more complex commands, promise. TTFN!

Author: alexkaloostian

I'm a video editor, motion graphics designer and Mac IT consultant in the Boston area.

2 thoughts on “Terminal basics – lesson one

  1. Pingback: Command Line Basics 4 – targets « Alex Kaloostian

  2. Pingback: Command Line Basics 7 – review time | Alex Kaloostian

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