Introduction to the command-line interface

For readers at home: this chapter is covered in the Your new friend: Command Line video.

It's exciting, right?! You'll write your first line of code in just a few minutes! :)

Let us introduce you to your first new friend: the command line!

The following steps will show you how to use the black window all hackers use. It might look a bit scary at first but really it's just a prompt waiting for commands from you.

Note Please note that throughout this book we use the terms 'directory' and 'folder' interchangeably but they are one and the same thing.

What is the command line?

The window, which is usually called the command line or command-line interface, is a text-based application for viewing, handling, and manipulating files on your computer. It's much like Windows Explorer or Finder on the Mac, but without the graphical interface. Other names for the command line are: cmd, CLI, prompt, console or terminal.

Open the command-line interface

To start some experiments we need to open our command-line interface first.

Windows

Go to Start menu → All Programs → Accessories → Command Prompt.

OS X

Go to Applications → Utilities → Terminal.

Linux

It's probably under Applications → Accessories → Terminal, but that may depend on your system. If it's not there, just Google it. :)

Prompt

You now should see a white or black window that is waiting for your commands.

OS X and Linux

If you're on Mac or Linux, you probably see $, just like this:

command-line

$

Windows

On Windows, it's a > sign, like this:

command-line

>

Each command will be prepended by this sign and one space, but you don't have to type it. Your computer will do it for you. :)

Just a small note: in your case there may be something like C:\Users\ola> or Olas-MacBook-Air:~ ola$ before the prompt sign, and this is 100% OK.

The part up to and including the $ or the > is called the command line prompt, or prompt for short. It prompts you to input something there.

In the tutorial, when we want you to type in a command, we will include the $ or >, and occasionally more to the left. You can ignore the left part and just type in the command which starts after the prompt.

Your first command (YAY!)

Let's start with something simple. Type this command:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ whoami

Windows

command-line

> whoami

And then hit enter. This is our result:

command-line

$ whoami
olasitarska

As you can see, the computer has just printed your username. Neat, huh? :)

Try to type each command; do not copy-paste. You'll remember more this way!

Basics

Each operating system has a slightly different set of commands for the command line, so make sure to follow instructions for your operating system. Let's try this, shall we?

Current directory

It'd be nice to know where are we now, right? Let's see. Type this command and hit enter:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ pwd
/Users/olasitarska

Note: 'pwd' stands for 'print working directory'.

Windows

command-line

> cd
C:\Users\olasitarska

Note: 'cd' stands for 'change directory'. With powershell you can use pwd just like on Linux or Mac OS X.

You'll probably see something similar on your machine. Once you open the command line you usually start at your user's home directory.


List files and directories

So what's in it? It'd be cool to find out. Let's see:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ ls
Applications
Desktop
Downloads
Music
...

Windows

command-line

> dir
 Directory of C:\Users\olasitarska
05/08/2014 07:28 PM <DIR>      Applications
05/08/2014 07:28 PM <DIR>      Desktop
05/08/2014 07:28 PM <DIR>      Downloads
05/08/2014 07:28 PM <DIR>      Music
...

Change current directory

Now, let's go to our Desktop directory:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ cd Desktop

Windows

command-line

> cd Desktop

Check if it's really changed:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ pwd
/Users/olasitarska/Desktop

Windows

command-line

> cd
C:\Users\olasitarska\Desktop

Here it is!

PRO tip: if you type cd D and then hit tab on your keyboard, the command line will automatically fill in the rest of the name so you can navigate faster. If there is more than one folder starting with "D", hit the tab key twice to get a list of options.


Create directory

How about creating a practice directory on your desktop? You can do it this way:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ mkdir practice

Windows

command-line

> mkdir practice

This little command will create a folder with the name practice on your desktop. You can check if it's there just by looking on your Desktop or by running a ls or dir command! Try it. :)

PRO tip: If you don't want to type the same commands over and over, try pressing the up arrow and down arrow on your keyboard to cycle through recently used commands.


Exercise!

A small challenge for you: in your newly created practice directory, create a directory called test. (Use the cd and mkdir commands.)

Solution:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ cd practice
$ mkdir test
$ ls
test

Windows

command-line

> cd practice
> mkdir test
> dir
05/08/2014 07:28 PM <DIR>      test

Congrats! :)


Clean up

We don't want to leave a mess, so let's remove everything we did until that point.

First, we need to get back to Desktop:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ cd ..

Windows

command-line

> cd ..

Using .. with the cd command will change your current directory to the parent directory (that is, the directory that contains your current directory).

Check where you are:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ pwd
/Users/olasitarska/Desktop

Windows

command-line

> cd
C:\Users\olasitarska\Desktop

Now time to delete the practice directory:

Attention: Deleting files using del, rmdir or rm is irrecoverable, meaning the deleted files will be gone forever! So be very careful with this command.

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ rm -r practice

Windows

command-line

> rmdir /S practice
practice, Are you sure <Y/N>? Y

Done! To be sure it's actually deleted, let's check it:

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ ls

Windows

command-line

> dir

Exit

That's it for now! You can safely close the command line now. Let's do it the hacker way, alright? :)

OS X and Linux

command-line

$ exit

Windows

command-line

> exit

Cool, huh? :)

Summary

Here is a summary of some useful commands:

Command (Windows) Command (Mac OS / Linux) Description Example
exit exit close the window exit
cd cd change directory cd test
cd pwd show the current directory cd (Windows) or pwd (Mac OS / Linux)
dir ls list directories/files dir
copy cp copy file copy c:\test\test.txt c:\windows\test.txt
move mv move file move c:\test\test.txt c:\windows\test.txt
mkdir mkdir create a new directory mkdir testdirectory
rmdir (or del) rm delete a file del c:\test\test.txt
rmdir /S rm -r delete a directory rm -r testdirectory

These are just a very few of the commands you can run in your command line, but you're not going to use anything more than that today.

If you're curious, ss64.com contains a complete reference of commands for all operating systems.

Ready?

Let's dive into Python!

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