The Mac Terminal Commands Cheat Sheet
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macOS is an intuitive operating system, so you don’t have to spend lot of time learning the basics; Knowing this, why should you learn and take advantage of the Unix command line available on your Mac? We have four good reasons:

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  1. There are dozens of open source and freely available Unix-based apps. You don’t have to spend money on these.
  2. When you’re having difficulty searching for files in Spotlight, you can turn to Unix search tools. They’re way more powerful than Spotlight.
  3. You can manage files, folders, and file archives in an automated manner. Setting up a cron job will handle this automatically.
  4. It gives you more power and control over your system.

With so many Mac commands, it’s often difficult to remember and use them all. We’re here to help with a detailed cheat sheet of Mac Terminal commands you can use to unlock enhanced productivity on your system.

Launch the Terminal app from Applications > Utilities or search for it via Spotlight. Then you can get started with some of the powerful commands below.

The Mac Terminal Commands Cheat Sheet

Command Action
Shortcuts
TabAuto-complete file and folder names
Ctrl + AGo to the beginning of the line you're currently typing on
Ctrl + EGo to the end of the line you're currently typing on
Ctrl + UClear the line before the cursor
Ctrl + KClear the line after the cursor
Ctrl + WDelete the word before the cursor
Ctrl + TSwap the last two characters before the cursor
Esc + TSwap the last two words before the cursor
Ctrl + LClear the screen
Ctrl + CKill whatever you're running
Ctrl + DExit the current shell
Option + →Move cursor one word forward
Option + ←Move cursor one word backward
Ctrl + FMove cursor one character forward
Ctrl + BMove cursor one character backward
Ctrl + YPaste whatever was cut by the last command
Ctrl + ZPuts whatever you're running into a suspended background process
Ctrl + _Undo the last command
Basics
/ (Forward Slash)Top level directory
. (Single Period)Current directory
.. (Double Period)Parent directory
~ (Tilde)Home directory
sudo [command]Run command with the security privileges of the super user
nano [file]Opens the Terminal editor
open [file]Opens a file
[command] -hGet help about a command
man [command]Show the help manual of the command
Change Directory
cdHome directory
cd [folder]Change directory, e.g. cd Documents
cd ~Home directory
cd/Root of the drive
cd -Previous directory or folder you last browsed
pwdShow your working directory
cd..Move up to the parent directory
cd../..Move up two levels
List Directory Contents
lsDisplay the name of files and subdirectories in the directory
ls -CForce multi-column output of the listing
ls -aList all entries including those with .(period) and ..(double period)
ls -1Output the list of files in one entry per line format
ls -FDisplay a / (slash) immediately after each path that is a directory, * (asterisk) after executable programs or scripts, and @ after a symbolic link
ls -SSort files or entries by size
ls -lList in a long format. Includes file mode, owner and group name, date and time file was modified, pathname, and more
ls -ltList the files sorted by time modified (most recent first)
ls -lhLong listing with human readable file sizes in KB, MB, or GB
ls -loList the file names with size, owner, and flags
ls -laList detailed directory contents, including hidden files
File Size and Disk Space
duList usage for each subdirectory and its contents
du -sh [folder]Human readable output of all files in a directory
du -sDisplay an entry for each specified file
du -sk* | sort -nrList files and folders, totaling the size including the subfolders. Replace sk* with sm* to list directories in MB
df -hCalculate your system's free disk space
df -HCalculate free disk space in powers of 1,000 (as opposed to 1,024)
File and Directory Management
mkdir <dir>Create new folder named <dir>
mkdir -p <dir>/<dir>Create nested folders
mkdir <dir1> <dir2> <dir3>Create several folders at once
mkdir "<dir>"Create a folder with a space in the filename
rmdir <dir>Delete a folder (only works on empty folders)
rm -R <dir>Delete a folder and its contents
touch <file>Create a new file without any extension
cp <file> <dir>Copy a file to the folder
cp <file> <newfile>Copy a file to the current folder
cp <file>~/<dir>/<newfile>Copy a file to the folder and rename the copied file
cp -R <dir> <"new dir">Copy a folder to a new folder with spaces in the filename
cp -i <file><dir>Prompts you before copying a file with a warning overwrite message
cp <file1> <file2> <file3>/Users/<dir>Copy multiple files to a folder
rm <file>Delete a file (This deletes the file permanently; use with caution.)
rm -i <file>Delete a file only when you give confirmation
rm -f <file>Force removal without confirmation
rm <file1> <file2> <file3>Delete multiple files without any confirmation
mv <file> <newfilename>Move/rename
mv <file> <dir>Move a file to the folder, possibly by overwriting an existing file
mv -i <file> <dir>Optional -i flag to warn you before overwriting the file
mv *.png ~/<dir>Move all PNG files from current folder to a different folder
Command History
Ctrl + RSearch through previously used commands
history nShows the previous commands you've typed. Add a number to limit to the last n items
![value]Execute the last command typed that starts with a value
!!Execute the last command typed
Permissions
ls -ldDisplay the default permission for a home directory
ls -ld/<dir>Display the read, write, and access permission of a particular folder
chmod 755 <file>Change the permission of a file to 755
chmod -R 600 <dir>Change the permission of a folder (and its contents) to 600
chown <user>:<group> <file>Change the ownership of a file to user and group. Add -R to include folder contents
Processes
ps -axOutput currently running processes. Here, a shows processes from all users and x shows processes that are not connected with the Terminal
ps -auxShows all the processes with %cpu, %mem, page in, PID, and command
topDisplay live information about currently running processes
top -ocpu -s 5Display processes sorted by CPU usage, updating every 5 seconds
top -o rsizeSort top by memory usage
kill PIDQuit process with ID <PID>. You'll see PID as a column in the Activity Monitor
ps -ax | grep <appname>Find a process by name or PID
Network
ping <host>Ping host and display status
whois <domain>Output whois info for a domain
curl -O <url/to/file>Download file via HTTP, HTTPS, or FTP
ssh <username>@<host>Establish SSH connection to <host> with user <username>
scp <file><user>@<host>:/remote/pathCopy <file> to a remote <host>
Homebrew
brew doctorCheck brew for potential problems
brew install <formula>Install a formula
brew uninstall <formula>Uninstall a formula
brew listList all the installed formulas
brew searchDisplay available formulas for brewing
brew upgradeUpgrade all outdated and unpinned brews
brew updateFetch latest version of homebrew and formula
brew cleanupRemove older version of installed formula
brew tap homebrew/caskTap the cask repository from GitHub
brew cask listList all installed casks
brew cask install <cask>Install the given cask
brew cask uninstall <cask>Uninstall the given cask
Search
find <dir> -name <"file">Find all files named <file> inside <dir>. Use wildcards (*) to search for parts of filenames
grep "<text>" <file>Output all occurrences of <text> inside <file> (add -i for case insensitivity)
grep -rl "<text>" <dir>Search for all files containing <text> inside <dir>
Output
cat <file>Output the content of <file>
less <file>Output the contents of <file> using the less command that supports pagination and more
head <file>Output the first 10 lines of <file>
<cmd> > > <file>Appends the output of <cmd> to <file>
<cmd> > <file>Direct the output of <cmd> into <file>
<cmd1> | <cmd2>Direct the output of <cmd1> to <cmd2>

Next, Customize the Terminal

There are lot of commands in this cheat sheet. But you don’t have to learn all of them at once! Pick a few that integrate well with your workflow and save you the most time. Once you’ve mastered these commands, there’s still more to learn about the Terminal to enhance your experience with it.

For further reading, we’ve looked at how to customize the Mac Terminal and make it more useful How to Customize the Mac Terminal and Make It More Useful How to Customize the Mac Terminal and Make It More Useful The Terminal app on your Mac is powerful, but it's a bit bland out of the box. Here's how to personalize Terminal for your needs. Read More .

Explore more about: Cheat Sheet, Command Prompt, Linux Bash Shell, Terminal.

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  1. Keith
    April 25, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Very useful indeed!