7 Handy Command Line Tips You Don’t Want to Miss

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After many requests from our users, here is a guide to 7 handy command line tips you won’t want to miss.

It’s often a matter of learning a few commands to become familiar with the command line tricks and find uses for them, and we provide six useful tricks that you will almost certainly use regardless of your level of knowledge in the terminal.

Read on, you’ll download files, use better directory listing, kill processes faster, run previous commands as root, find previous commands, and create new files in no time.

1: Download a file from the internet and follow the progress

Do you know the url of a file to be downloaded from the internet? Use curl with the -O command to download it:

lure -O url

Make sure to use the full URL. Also, don’t forget to use the uppercase “O” rather than the lowercase “o” to keep the same file name on your local computer.

For example, the following command downloads the iOS 7 IPSW file from the Apple servers to the local Mac, keeping the file name as it was on the remote server:

curl -O http://appldnld.apple.com/iOS7/091-9495.20130918.FuFu4/iPhone5,1_7.0_11A465_Restore.ipsw

We covered this trick a long time ago and it really helps. Also, since it shows the download speed and progress, it can be used as an alternative to the wget trick to test the speed of an internet connection from the command line.

2: List of directory contents by date of modification

Would you like to see a long list of a directory with permissions, users, file size, and modified date, with the most recently modified files and folders listed below? Of course you do:


This is extremely useful and easy to remember too since the command flag is thor and how can you ever forget the mythological thor?

3: Search Spotlight with Live Results from the command line

The mdfind tool is a command line front end of the excellent Spotlight search tool, usually accessed through the Finder. In the default state, mdfind differs from the Spotlight search in that the results are not updated live as found. That’s what this trick is for. A simple flag illuminates the command line search with live update results:

mdfind -time findme

This can be very quick, depending on the specificity of the terms you are looking for. However, if you see a match, press Ctrl + C to end the search.

If you’ve turned off Spotlight or find that it doesn’t work, you can always use the familiar Find command.

4: Kill processes with wildcards

Ever wish you could kill many processes or commands at the same time using wildcards? Or do you just want to exit a little faster without entering the full process name or PID? The standard kill command does not accept wildcards, but pkill does accept wildcards, so it is the right choice for the job.

For example, if you want to kill each active instance of the SampleEnormousTaskNameWhyIsThisProcessNameSoLong process at once, you can use:

pkill Sam *

Remember that wildcards are relentless and pkill will finish tasks without hesitation or prompting to save. So if you have other closely matching process names these will be killed too. The easiest way to get around this is to provide a slightly longer element for the task name to target.

You can also use pkill to target any specific user process. This can be useful in some situations on multi-user Macs.

5: Run the last command again as root

Don’t you hate it when you run a long command and after hitting Enter, find out that it requires a superuser to run? You know how one of these standard commands? Don’t re-enter the entire command string, instead use this simple trick:

sudo !!

This is an oldie-but-goodie trick that has been around for ages. The more time you spend at the command line, the more secure it becomes.

6: Get the last occurrence of a command without executing it

Can’t remember the exact syntax that you used the last time you ran a particular command? You can find it instantly without running the command again by using this trick, where “search term” is the appropriate command:

! Search term: p

For example, to find the last full command that used the “sudo” prefix, use:

! sudo: p

This reports something like the following: You will get the full command syntax but will not run again:

sudo vi / etc / motd

Again, this trick only reports the last time a command based on a prefix was used. If you really need to search your previous command list, grep can be used to search your bash history.

7: Create a blank file or multiple files instantly

The touch command lets you quickly create blank files for placeholders, tests, demonstrations, or whatever your plans are. The secret is the “touch” command and it’s easy to use:

Tap on Filename

You can specify multiple names to create multiple files. For example, this would create three files named index, gallery, and resume with an html extension:

Tap index.html gallery.html cv.html

This is especially useful for developers.

Would you like to learn more about Terminal and the command line? We have many more command line tricks for those interested.

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