Anatomy of a Command#
Commands on this page:
Securely connect to a shell on a remote machine over the internet
Display a calendar
Show free space on disk
Show available RAM memory
Exit the shell
Show OS information
Show Linux distribution information
The Anatomy of a Command#
Commands are words separated by spaces. The first word is the name of the command. Subsequent words are called arguments. A special kind of argument called a switch or flag begins with the dash (
Here’s an example of a simple command with no arguments:
cal command shows a calendar of the current month. Many UNIX commands take the
--help switch as an argument. See what happens to the
date command when you add the
$ cal -h
cal command will show you any month or year you like. With one argument, a year,
cal prints every month in that year:
$ cal 1976
Run the command above but substitute the year you were born. What day were you born on? Commands can take any number of arguments. You can add a month to the
cal command to print only a particular month in a year. This example prints the calendar for January 2030:
$ cal 01 2030
-l switch means long listing. In long form the
ls command prints one file per line with a bunch of extra information that we’ll talk about in the next lesson. The
ls command color codes its output. Directories are colored blue in the example above.
Directories contain both files and other directories. The
tree commands shows the structure of the current directory.
tree command and look at the output. You should see output very similar to mine.
The Terminal and the Shell#
The terminal is the program you use on your computer to view the command line. The terminal is software that takes the place of the old-school terminal hardware like the thing pictured below:
When the terminal is a program it’s called a terminal emulator but since it’s been so long since anyone has seen a real terminal everyone just says terminal. The shell is the program that shows you the prompt and accepts commands. The shell runs on the remote side of a network connection. When you use the
ssh command to access another computer the terminal runs on your computer and the shell is started by
ssh after you enter your login credentials.
The Current Directory#
There’s no place like home!
cdwith no arguments takes you to your home directory.
When you use the file tool on your operating system the graphics on the screen show you files and folders at the same time and you pick what you want. On the command line you navigate folders by “walking” from one directory to another. The key concept that you have to remember is that of the
working directory. That’s the folder you’re working in. Think of it like the place you’re standing.
To help you understand the place you are standing let’s play a game from my childhood: Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor
In the game you walk from place to place. The graphic on the screen helps you see the effect of moving in different directions. When you use the command line the
cd command moves you from place to place, the
ls command shows you what’s around and the
pwd command shows you where you are.
Arguments and File Names#
The Secure Shell (
ssh) command connects your terminal to another computer. When your terminal is connected the commands you issue will be run on the remote machine. The
exit command ends the connection. The
ssh command works on Windows (10 and above), Mac and Linux. The
ssh command works like this:
$ ssh <user-name>@<computer-name>
For example, this command logs me into opus.
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org