Lead Image © Jeff Metzger, 123RF.com

Lead Image © Jeff Metzger, 123RF.com

At the Command Line


Article from ADMIN 60/2020
Working at the command line is both anachronistic and thoroughly modern.

Does the thought of typing commands into a terminal window or a CMD Command Prompt window transport you back to the days of clacking typewriters, dings, and whir-clunks of returning carriages? If it does, I think that's OK. There's no reason to make more of the lowly command line than there really is to it – no need to wax poetic about something as mundane as a flashing cursor and an empty black box on your screen. I, myself, used to scoff at the old school command-line nerds who shunned graphical interfaces and embraced their anachronistic black-and-white terminals that looked like something out of the technology dark ages. I still scoff at them, because that's who I am. But, I've also secretly become one with the terminal universe. I type faster than I talk, and I've grown weary of the scraping sound that my optical mouse makes on my desktop. Yes, isolation has driven me a little buggy, but it's made me appreciate my keyboard more.

Don't misunderstand me. I didn't just recently discover the command line. I've used it for many years, but I've found a renewed interest in all things command line, and not just in Linux either. I've explored the command line on my Mac computers and have rekindled my love of PowerShell and batch files. Yes, I'm a cross-platform weirdo. I like to play in all the sandboxes at once. I'd forgotten how much I loved PowerShell, and I'd forgotten that it doesn't work like any other scripting language that I've ever used. Often frustrating but always enlightening, command-line tools keep me technically sharp and focused.

Command-line automation with scripts is fun. I like setting and forgetting a task that just takes care of me in the background with no clicking, no typing, and no remembering. Believe it or not, I still use vi on Linux and Mac systems and notepad on Windows. Well, if you're going to slip back into yesterday, you have to use contemporary tools. I mean, you wouldn't jump into your time machine, set the dial for 1830 and then expect to use your car, your iPhone, or your Yeti. Nope, if I'm kicking it old school, I'm going in penny loafers and sporting a greasy ducktail.

I like the new-fangled, the modern, the leading edge – heck, I even love the bleeding edge of techno-gadgetry, streaming services, and mobile apps. I'm not someone who begrudges the contemporary or the future. Although I like the nostalgia of old technology, I don't feel particularly compelled to go back and use a DOS computer and a modem for any reason. Some things are better left in the distant past. The command line stands in that middle ground that still reaches back into time but also brings itself forward into the here and now with powerful commands, handy scripting languages, and, of course, a few ancient tools sprinkled in to keep us humble.

You should explore that /usr/bin directory on your system. Find out what's there. Discover some new powers, other than Google, that will give you super powers. Hit the man pages to see what those little powerhouses can do for you. You'll be surprised at what you'll find there.

I think we've become too dependent on web pages, graphical interfaces, and mice. A whole new world is waiting for you in those directories … sorry, folders, with which you should familiarize yourself. Find something to automate with a script. After two or three successful script creations, you'll be hooked, and you'll wonder why you've wasted so many years clicking around on icons, avatars, and other screen blips. Not only will you extend your technical knowledge, you might actually advance your career with some of the little gems you create. Remember, that like everything else in technology, you don't have to give up one part of it to use another. Enjoy that pretty graphical interface, but find out how the system really works. You'll thank me later – perhaps at the command line.

Ken Hess * ADMIN Senior Editor

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