How to find the Linux Command Line and How Do You Use It? – Guide

On most Linux computers, you have the option of opening a window and typing commands that instruct your machine to do things. Sometimes while your computer is booting up or if something crashes, this text-based interface will take up your entire screen. This is the Linux command line. It’s older than the various desktop interfaces, but there’s a reason it still exists and is widely used. Many people swear by it.

A Brief History of the Command Line

The interface you use to view and interact with an operating system, whether text-based or graphical, is known as a shell. The first shells were text-based. This is because the first electronic computers were not home devices. Instead, they were giant mainframes that took up entire rooms. At that time, computing power was very low and network connections were slow. You can store many files and many users can log into a system simultaneously over a very slow connection when you are only working with text. In 1969 Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson of Bell Labs developed the Unix operating system, one of the first mainframe operating systems to gain widespread adoption. Unix operated on mainframes as a shared system, with people interacting with the computer from individual terminals consisting of just a keyboard and a screen. Users did everything from creating and browsing files to transmitting data by typing commands using a shell, which the mainframe then interpreted. If something went wrong, a system administrator could check through a console, a dedicated text input, and display device used for system-related messages, such as those related to the BIOS, bootloader, or kernel. Linux is a Unix-like system that replicates many of the functionality of Unix, but as free software available to everyone. The Thompson shell (written by Ken Thompson) was the initial Unix shell, but a replacement came from Stephen Bourne in 1979, known as the Bourne shell. In 1989, Brian Fox created the Bourne Again shell (bash for short) as an open source replacement for the Bourne shell as part of the GNU Project. This is the default shell for most Linux operating systems. So we have several of the names that are still commonly used for the command line today: command line, shell, terminal, console, and bash.

How to Use the Linux command line

To get started, you simply need to click on the Linux distribution’s command line application. For many, the name is simply “Terminal”. That’s because applications are essentially modern virtual versions of the previous Unix terminal. An empty terminal window doesn’t seem to show much, but it does provide three pieces of information: your username, your hostname (either your local PC or a remote server), and your current directory (by default, yours). home folder, indicated by a ~). The $ marks the end of the prompt. When you type a command into the terminal and press Enter, the results usually appear instantly. Many main commands are short, such as the cd command to change a directory, ls to list files in the current directory, or rm to delete a file. Most commands follow a standard syntax. The formula goes like this: command option target The destination is usually a file or folder. Here is an example using the ls command: ls -a Downloads In the aforementioned snippet, ls is the command, -a is the option, and Downloads is the folder your command targets. So what does this command do? Well, by default, ls lists all visible files in your current directory. The -a option tells ls to display hidden files or folders as well. The Downloads destination directory tells ls to list the files in the Downloads folder instead of the folder you are currently working on. There are numerous command line programs out there, with many pre-installed by default. If you’re ready to dive in, check out our Linux command line reference sheet.

Why can you use the command line today?

Some tasks are simply faster from the command line. One use case that many older Linux users share is software management. If you know the exact name of an app you want, it’s faster to type the install command into a terminal than to open a Linux app store. This is not to say that Linux app stores are slow. Typing an apt or dnf command is faster than using any app store, including those on Windows, macOS, Android or iOS. The command line also tends to provide more information in the process. The command line provides quick ways to perform very specific tasks that you repeat periodically, such as cloning a hard drive or renaming a large number of photos. There are graphical applications that do these things, but if you’re performing the task identically every time, just entering a single command can save a lot of time. You can even automate these tasks by writing a script. Some commands start what appear to be full applications running inside the terminal, such as the top command which can replace your graphical system monitor tool. Knowing your way around a terminal also expands the type of hardware you know how to to use. For example, you can define up your own server, whether on home or remotely. Maybe you decide to become a Raspberry Pi or an old one laptop you are lying in a home media server or your own cloud storage device. And if, for some reason, you come across a computer that won’t boot, knowledge of the command line increases the chance of fixing the system yourself without having to reinstall the operating system.

Does Linux require command line?

At this point, you no longer need to know how to handle the command line to use Linux. Due to the available desktop and application environments, Linux is as easy to use as any other operating system, if not easier. But while learning the command line isn’t necessary, it has its benefits. And if you’ve fallen deeply in love with the terminal, you can install a program like Tmux that lets you run and view multiple commands simultaneously. Please share this article if you like it!

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