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Benjamin Justice
Benjamin Justice

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Cross-Platform Command Line

The command line can be daunting for many. And yet it is one of the most powerful tools we developers can have. And it's free!

So in this episode I want to help you get comfortable using your command line. You don't have to use it much, but there are some tasks that were just made for the command line. Also, this is a foundation for writing scripts for any operating system.

As part of my Getting Started with DevOps series, this tutorial is cross-platform. We will be using PowerShell on Windows and bash (or zsh, they are compatible) on macOS and Linux.

Feel free to use this article as a reference to look up commands later:

The Basics

First off, start your engines.

  • Windows: press the start button and search for a program called PowerShell.
  • macOS: Use Spotlight to launch
  • Linux: Search for an application called Terminal. In Ubuntu, you can also press ctrl+alt+T

Now the first question to answer is: Where are we?

# print working directory

This is one command for Windows, macOS and Linux. How can this be?

The command line interface in macOS and Linux are identical (bash or another compatible shell like zsh, fish, etc).

You can use most commands in both operating systems.

And while Windows uses PowerShell, they have integrated aliases for unix commands. The output will often differ, but you get nearly the same information.

Now let's navigate around your file system with the following commands:

# list files in directory

# list all files in directory (includes hidden files)
ls -al # macOS and Linux
ls -Hidden #PowerShell

# change directory

# leave directory / move up
cd ..

# go back to your $HOME directory
cd ~

So we can now navigate around our file systems, but typing the folder names takes long. Time to try out tab-completion.

While typing anything in your terminal, you can often press tab to auto-complete your command, filename or directory name.

Just a few examples to get you started:

# cd to directory "Documents"
cd Doc
# => cd Documents

# list hidden files in PowerShell
ls -Hi
# => ls -Hidden

Read the Manual

There are many commands coming up and both PowerShell and bash/zsh have manuals you can read on every single command.

After all, this is just your beginning ;)

# Show manual in PowerShell
Get-Help  -Full

# Show only examples in PowerShell
Get-Help  -Examples

# Show manual in macOS/Linux
# Scroll with arrow keys up/down
# Close with Q

File Operations

# Create a new file

# Display file contents

# list target directory contents
# e.g. ls ~/Documents

So now that we can navigate through our file system, it‘s time for some interaction. Creating, Copying, Moving and removing files are the three basic operations I use everyday.

# Move a file 
mv  /
# e.g. mv Documents/photo.jpg Pictures/

# With the move command you can also rename files
mv  /
# e.g. mv Documents/photo.jpg Pictures/holiday-photo.jpg
# e.g. mv photo.jpg holiday-photo.jpg

# Remove a file

Now that we know how to work with files, we can alter these commands slightly to work with directories.

# Move a directory 
mv  /
# e.g. mv Scanned-Pages ~/Documents/

# With the move command you can also rename directories
# e.g. mv Scanned-Pages Scans

# Remove an empty directory

# Remove a directory with all its contents (careful with this one!)
rm -rf 

Take some time to get comfortable with these commands before you move on. The cool stuff is just ahead.

The Wildcard

# Show the content of all .txt files
cat *.txt

# Move Photo-london.jpg, Photo-tokio.jpg, Photo-berlin.jpg etc to parent directory
mv Photo-*.jpg ../

Executing Programs

Now the last part missing is: How do I execute a program on the command line? Of course, globally installed software can be run by simply executing the command. But local files? They sometimes need execution permission (macOS and linux only)

# Add execution permission to file on macOS/Linux
chmod +x 

# execute a local file
# Example: list connected devices with android developer tools
./adb list devices

Beware that the above command sets execution permissions for all users on your computer. If you are managing permissions for a file outside of your personal directory or generally want to learn more about your unix/linux permissions, tutorialspoint explains it well.

Make it fun to use!

Now I would love to share an easy-to-setup terminal, that is really fun to use. Including bells and whistles!

First, let‘s get a good terminal Emulator that supports tabs.

Just like in my browser, I often use multiple Terminal Tabs (e.g. for working in different Git repositories)

Okay. Now that the terminal emulator (the window) is easy to rich and offers tabs, support for ctrl+f/cmd+f text search, copy-paste and more, it‘s time to upgrade what‘s inside of that window.

Meet Starship.

Starship is a feature-loaded command prompt, which automatically shows you the following information and more without you asking for it:

  • Git Status
  • Current User
  • If the last command returned an error
  • Current directory’s NodeJS/Python/Ruby/Rust/Dotnet/Java/etc version
  • Current Kubernetes/Azure/AWS/etc environment
  • command duration

Just check out the gif on its website. it shows it all.

As I also like the features oh-my-zsh brings to the table, I use iTerm2+oh-my-zsh+spaceship, which is very similar to starship but only available for zsh. If you‘re interested, I might go into detail on my personal setup.

Thefuck (plugin)

Another Plugin I love using is thefuck. Yes, that‘s its name. And it does what you think it does: It adds support for writing fuck when you messed up your last command.

# try to clone the bouncer repo
git clpne
# => git: 'clpne' is not a git command. See 'git --help'.

# The most similar command is
#  clone

# correct the previous command
# => git clone [enter/↑/↓/ctrl+c]

My most common case: When I create a local git branch and try git push, git says that I must first setup your new branch to track a remote new branch.

I do not know this command, but instead write fuck, which then suggests the correct command.

For those of us working for clients, we can change the word to „carp“, „meh“ or something funny.

# push new "my-branch" to the git repository
git push
# => fatal: The current branch new-branch has no upstream branch.
# To push the current branch and set the remote as upstream, use
#    git push --set-upstream origin my-branch

# correct the previous command
# => git push --set-upstream origin new-branch [enter/↑/↓/ctrl+c]

Further Reading

If this was a little much at once, no worries.

You can come back to this article anytime and look up the commands.

If you wanna learn more about your command line, here are some interesting links:

Did this post help you? Do you still have questions?

I will be kapping an eye on the comment section below :)

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