Running a command on the terminal typically looks something like this:

name-of-command --options input-file-or-text output

The name-of-command is the actual command. Options are often preceeded by two dashes, or they can likely be shorted to one dash and the first letter or an abbreviation. Then, there will occasionally be some kind of input text or file that the command is acting on, or changing. Similarly, you might specify a filename for the output of the command. You’ll see that many of the commands below are more simple.

Basic commands:

Changing directory:

cd path/of/directory

cd on its own, or cd ~ will take you to your home directory.

Create a directory:

mkdir directory-name

Show the directory you’re currently in:


List the files in the directory:


List the files in a more readable way, with useful information like permissions included:

ls -al

Open a file with its default application:

open filename

Open current directory in the finder:

open .

or open some other directory:

open path/to/directory

Create an empty file if it doesn’t already exist:

touch file-name

Open and edit a file with the simple nano editor:

nano file-name

Move a file or directory:

mv file new/path/to/file

Rename a file or directory:

mv file new-file-name

Copy a file:

cp file name-of-file-copy

Copy a directory

cp -R directory directory-copy

The -R option allows for recursive copying of files inside the directory.

Delete a file:

rm file-name

Delete a directory and its contents:

rm -rf path/to/directory

Let’s dissect this command:

rm is for deleting things.

-rf means that files will be recursively deleted, and the deletion will be forced. r is for recursive, f is for forced.

Never do this:

rm -rf /

Be very careful with the rm command. You can easily delete things on accident.

This command is deleting with the rm command, recursively forcing the deletion of files and folders with -rf, and we’ve passed the root directory, / as the thing to delete. This means it will delete everything on your hard drive. Some operating systems protect against this mistake, and if you’re not the root user you would need to prefix this command with sudo to make it work. Be careful, and be nice.

Clear the terminal screen of previous activity:


Reset the terminal


Stop a running process


If a process is running in the terminal and you need to stop it, press the control key and the C key at the same time.

Run multiple commands on one line


With && you can chain together multiple commands that execute one after the other. This example creates a directory, then moves you into that new directory:

mkdir new-folder && cd new-folder

Aliases and environment variables


Aliases allow you to create abbreviated commands that alias long, complex, or regularly used commands.

Here is an example:

alias l="ls -al"

The above aliases the ls -al command to a shortened l.

To create an alias you will open the .bashrc file in your home folder.

Open the .bashrc file with nano:

nano ~/.bashrc

Add the following alias to the bottom of the file:

alias pizza="echo 'pizza is awesome!'"

Save the file by pressing control + O.

Exit nano by pressing control + x.

Environment variables

Environment variables represent values that are useful across for processes running on your computer.

Reading an environment variable:

In the terminal, run the following:

echo $HOME

If you’re logged into a vagrant machine, you’ll see output like this:


This is your home folder, also known as your user folder.

On a Mac you’ll see output like this:


Setting an environment variable

In the terminal, set an environment variable like this:

PIZZA="ooooooh, pizza"

Now, you can read the variable the same as we did before:

echo $PIZZA

If you close or reset your terminal session, you’ll lose this temporary variable. To save an environment variable so it can be accessed in all your sessions, we’ll place the definition of the variable in the ~/.bashrc file.

Open the ~/.bashrc file:

nano ~/.bashrc

Add the following to the bottom of the ~/.bashrc file:

export PIZZA="ooooooh, pizza"

Source the .bashrc file:

source ~/.bashrc

Now, you can close the terminal window, open a new one, and run the following command:

echo $PIZZA

And you’ll still see the following output:

ooooooh, pizza

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