How ToMiscellaneous

Best Command Line Crash Course

command line


Many students don’t know how to use the basics of the command line interface, and it was getting in the way of their learning. This book is designed to be something they can complete in about a day to a week and then get enough skill at the command line to graduate to other books.

This book isn’t a book about master wizardry system administration. It’s just a quick introduction to get newbies going.

Introduction: Shut Up And Shell

This book is a crash course in using the command line to make your computer perform tasks. As a crash course, it’s not as detailed or extensive as my other books. It is simply designed to get you barely capable enough to start using your computer like a real programmer does. When you’re done with this book, you will be able to give most of the basic commands that every shell user touches every day. You’ll understand the basics of directories and a few other concepts.

The only piece of advice is this:

Shut up and type all of this in.

Sorry to be mean, but that’s what you have to do. If you have an irrational fear of the command line, the only way to conquer an irrational fear is to just shut up and fight through it.

You are not going to destroy your computer. You are not going to be thrown into some jail at the bottom of Microsoft’s Redmond campus. Your friends won’t laugh at you for being a nerd. Simply ignore any stupid weird reasons you have for fearing the command line.

Why? Because if you want to learn to code, then you must learn this. Programming languages are advanced ways to control your computer with language. The command line is the baby little brother of programming languages. Learning the command line teaches you to control the computer using language. Once you get past that, you can then move on to writing code and feeling like you actually own the hunk of metal you just bought.

How To Use This Book

The best way to use this book is to do the following:

  • Get yourself a small paper notebook and a pen.
  • Start at the beginning of the book and do each exercise exactly as you’re told.
  • When you read something that doesn’t make sense or that you don’t understand, write it down in your notebook. Leave a little space so you can write an answer.
  • After you finish an exercise, go back through your notebook and review the questions you have. Try to answer them by searching online and asking friends who might know the answer.

Just keep going through this process of doing an exercise, writing down questions you have, then going back through and answering the questions you can. By the time you’re done, you’ll actually know a lot more than you think about using the command line.

You Will Be Memorizing Things

I’m warning you ahead of time that I’m going to make you memorize things right away. This is the quickest way to get you capable at something, but for some people memorization is painful. Just fight through it and do it anyway. Memorization is an important skill in learning things, so you should get over your fear of it.

Here’s how you memorize things:

  • Tell yourself you will do it. Don’t try to find tricks or easy ways out of it, just sit down and do it.
  • Write what you want to memorize on some index cards. Put one half of what you need to learn on one side, then another half on the other side.
  • Every day for about 15-30 minutes, drill yourself on the index cards, trying to recall each one. Put any cards you don’t get right into a different pile, just drill those cards until you get bored, then try the whole deck and see if you improve.
  • Before you go to bed, drill just the cards you got wrong for about 5 minutes, then go to sleep.

There’s other techniques, like you can write what you need to learn on a sheet of paper, laminate it, then stick it to the wall of your shower. While you’re bathing drill the knowledge without looking, and when you get stuck glance at it to refresh your memory.

If you do this every day, you should be able to memorize most things I tell you to memorize in about a week to a month. Once you do, nearly everything else becomes easier and intuitive, which is the purpose of memorization. It’s not to teach you abstract concepts, but rather to ingrain the basics so that they are intuitive and you don’t have to think about them. Once you’ve memorized these basics they stop being speed bumps preventing you from learning more advanced abstract concepts.


I (Zed A. Shaw) own the copyright on this book. You are free to give it to anyone you want, as long as you don’t modify it and you don’t make any money from the distribution of the book.

The Setup

In this book you will be instructed to do three things:

  • Do some things in your shell (command line, Terminal, PowerShell).
  • Learn about what you just did.
  • Do more on your own.

For this first exercise you’ll be expected to get your Terminal open and working so that you can do the rest of the book.

Do This

Get your terminal, shell, PowerShell working so you can access it quickly and know that it works.


For Mac OSX you’ll need to do this:

  • Hold down COMMAND and hit the spacebar.
  • In the top right the blue “search bar” will pop up.
  • Type: terminal
  • Click on the Terminal application that looks kind of like a black box.
  • This will open Terminal.
  • You can now go to your Dock and CTRL-click to pull up the menu, then select Options->Keep In Dock.

Now you have your Terminal open and it’s in your Dock so you can get to it.


I’m assuming that if you have Linux then you already know how to get at your terminal. Look through the menu for your window manager for anything named “Shell” or “Terminal”.


On Windows we’re going to use PowerShell. People used to work with a program called cmd.exe, but it’s not nearly as usable as PowerShell. If you have Windows 7 or later, do this:

  • Click Start.
  • In “Search programs and files” type: powershell
  • Hit Enter.

If you don’t have Windows 7, you should seriously consider upgrading. If you still insist on not upgrading then you can try installing it . You are on your own, though, since I don’t have Windows XP, but hopefully the PowerShell experience is the same.

You Learned This

You learned how to get your terminal open so you can do the rest of this book.


If you have that really smart friend who already knows Linux, ignore them when they tell you to use something other than bash. I’m teaching you bash. That’s it. They will claim that zsh will give you 30 more IQ points and win you millions in the stock market. Ignore them. Your goal is to get capable enough and at this level it doesn’t matter which shell you use.

The next warning is stay off IRC or other places where “hackers” hang out. They think it’s funny to hand you commands that can destroy your computer. The command rm -rf / is a classic that you must never type. Just avoid them. If you need help, make sure you get it from someone you trust and not from random idiots on the internet.

Do More

This exercise has a large “do more” part. The other exercises are not as involved as this one, but I’m having you prime your brain for the rest of the book by doing some memorization. Just trust me, this will make things silky smooth later on.

Linux/Mac OSX

Take this list of commands and create index cards with the names on the left on one side, and the definitions on the other side. Drill them every day while you do this book for just 15 minutes or so.

pwd – print working directory
hostname – my computer’s network name
mkdir – make directory
cd – change directory
ls – list directory
rmdir – remove directory
pushd – push directory
popd – pop directory
cp – copy a file or directory
mv – move a file or directory
less – page through a file
cat – print the whole file
xargs – execute arguments
find – find files
grep – find things inside files
man – read a manual page
apropos – find what man page is appropriate
env – look at your environment
echo – print some arguments
export – export/set a new environment variable
exit – exit the shell
sudo – DANGER! become super user root DANGER!
chmod – change permission modifiers
chown – change ownership


If you’re using Windows then here’s your list of commands:

pwd – print working directory
hostname  – my computer’s network name
mkdir – make directory
cd – change directory
ls – list directory
rmdir – remove directory
pushd – push directory
popd – pop directory
cp – copy a file or directory
robocopy – robust copy
mv – move a file or directory
more – page through a file
type – print the whole file
forfiles – run a command on lots of files
dir -r – find files
select-string – find things inside files
help – read a manual page
helpctr – find what man page is appropriate
echo – print some arguments
set – export/set a new environment variable
exit – exit the shell
runas – DANGER! become super user root DANGER!
attrib – change permission modifiers
iCACLS – change ownership

Drill, drill, drill! Drill until you can say these phrases right away when you see that word. Then drill the inverse, so that you read the phrase and know what command will do that. You’re building your vocabulary by doing this, but don’t spend so much time you go nuts and get bored.

Full Course Here