Command-line Primer

What's the Command-Line?

Aka, Terminal on the Mac or Linux, cmd or Cygwin on windows. Might also be called Command Prompt, CLI, Bash, DOS...

We will call it the Command Prompt throughout this workshop.


Start -> Windows System -> Command Prompt

Looks like:

somethingsomething >


Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal

Looks like:

somethingsomething $

Linux (Ubuntu)

Accesssories -> Terminal

Looks like:

somethingsomething $

Basic Usage

To the left of the prompt symbol (indicated by somethingsomething above) will be helper info, which may differ from install to install. Generally it will tell you which directory you are in, possibly which user you are. It can even be configured to tell you which git branch you are in.

The prompt symbol will not be included in the commands you follow in this workshop. When typing a command, assume you are starting to the right of the prompt above.

All commands have the following format, where options and arguments are not always required. This is indicated by the square brackets around them- these are not part of the command:

commandname [options] [arguments]

They are finished, or submitted, with the return or enter key on your keyboard.

For example, a command with no options or arguments is:


Type this and press enter- it will respond with your username.

A command with an argument is:

mkdir dirname

This will create a new folder with the name dirname in the current working directory.

Directory Notation

This is done differently in Windows compared to Mac and Linux. Mac and Linux do not use drive letters, and use a forward slash to denote directories. Windows uses drive letters, and a back slash.



Mac and Linux



Many commands are slightly different in Windows, compared to Mac and Linux. For example the following commands do the same thing, which is to print the contents (files and folders) in the current directory:



Mac or Linux


In some cases, the same command behaves differently in Windows compared to Mac and Linux. For example the following variation on the mkdir command above will create the following structure in all cases:



mkdir dir1\dir2\dir3

Mac and Linux

mkdir -p dir1\dir2\dir3

Backspace clears text in an un-submitted command

Tab autocompletes a command or directory structure (where possible)

Up and Down Arrows cycle through the current command history

Summary of Useful Commands

(Copied from

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

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