The Essential Cheat Sheet for Mac Terminal Commands [2024]

mac terminal commands cheat sheet

Apple’s macOS is renowned for its sleek interface and powerful features, designed to offer users a seamless computing experience. At the heart of macOS’s prowess is its POSIX-compliant UNIX-based system, which provides access to a robust command-line interface through the Terminal. This interface allows users to execute a wide range of tasks more efficiently than might be possible using the graphical user interface alone.

This article aims to serve as a comprehensive Mac terminal commands cheat sheet, designed to empower both beginners and seasoned users with the knowledge to navigate and perform tasks within the Mac Terminal with greater efficiency.

Table 1: Quick Reference Command Table

cdChange directorycd /path/to/directory
lsList files/directoriesls -la
cpCopy files/directoriescp source.txt dest.txt
mvMove/rename filesmv old.txt new.txt
rmRemove files/directoriesrm file.txt
sudoExecute as superusersudo apt-get update
chmodChange file permissionschmod 755
brewHomebrew package managerbrew install wget

Basic MacOS Terminal Commands

The Terminal in macOS is a gateway to the underlying UNIX system, allowing users to perform tasks and manage their systems with command-line instructions. Its importance cannot be overstated, as it provides direct access to system functions and tools for advanced file management, system monitoring, and network operations, which are often more cumbersome or simply not possible through the graphical user interface.

Opening Terminal

Accessing the Terminal on a Mac is straightforward:

  1. Open Finder.
  2. Navigate to Applications > Utilities.
  3. Double-click on Terminal.

Alternatively, you can use Spotlight by pressing Cmd + Space, typing “Terminal”, and pressing Enter.

Navigation Commands

Navigating through files and directories in the Terminal is fundamental. Here are some essential commands:

  • cd (Change Directory): Change the current directory.
  cd /path/to/directory
  • pwd (Print Working Directory): Display the current directory path.
  • ls (List): List files and directories in the current directory.

File Operations

Managing files is a common task in the Terminal. Here are some commands for creating, viewing, and editing files:

  • touch: Create a new file.
  touch filename.txt
  • open: Open a file with the default application.
  open filename.txt
  • cat: Display the content of a file.
  cat filename.txt
  • less: View the content of a file one page at a time.
  less filename.txt
  • head, tail: Show the beginning or end of a file, respectively.
  head filename.txt
  tail filename.txt

Directory Management

Directories, or folders, are crucial for organizing files. Here are commands for managing directories:

  • mkdir (Make Directory): Create a new directory.
  mkdir newdirectory
  • rmdir (Remove Directory): Delete an empty directory.
  rmdir olddirectory

Searching Files

Locating files and content within files is made easy with these commands:

  • find: Search for files in a directory hierarchy.
  find /path/to/search -name "filename"
  • grep: Search for patterns within files.
  grep "search pattern" filename.txt

These basic commands form the foundation of navigating and managing files and directories within the Mac Terminal, providing users with powerful tools to enhance their productivity and system management capabilities.

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File and Directory Operations

Creating and Editing Files

For creating and editing files directly from the Terminal, macOS offers several text editors, with nano and vim being among the most popular due to their ease of use and powerful features, respectively.

  • Nano: A straightforward, easy-to-use text editor. To create or edit a file:
  nano filename.txt
  • Vim: A more powerful, feature-rich editor designed for experienced users. To edit a file:
  vim filename.txt

File Manipulation

Managing files efficiently is crucial for any user. The Terminal provides commands for copying, moving, and removing files:

  • cp (Copy): Copy files or directories.
  cp source.txt destination.txt
  • mv (Move): Move or rename files or directories.
  mv oldname.txt newname.txt
  • rm (Remove): Delete files or directories.
  rm filename.txt

Directory Handling

Beyond basic creation and deletion, managing directories effectively involves copying and moving them as well:

  • To copy a directory, including all its files and subdirectories, use:
  cp -R sourcedirectory/ destinationdirectory/
  • Moving a directory is similar to moving a file, using the mv command.

Permissions and Ownership

Securing files and directories by managing permissions and ownership is a key aspect of system administration:

  • chmod (Change Mode): Change the permissions of a file or directory.
  chmod 755 filename
  • chown (Change Owner): Change the ownership of a file or directory.
  chown username:group filename

System Management Commands

Monitoring System Performance

Keeping an eye on system performance and managing processes is made straightforward with these commands:

  • top: Display an overview of running processes, including CPU and memory usage.
  • ps: Display information about active processes.
  ps aux
  • kill: Terminate processes using their process ID (PID).
  kill PID

Disk Usage

Understanding and managing disk space is essential for maintaining system performance:

  • df (Disk Free): Show available disk space on file systems.
  df -h
  • du (Disk Usage): Estimate file space usage.
  du -sh /path/to/directory

Networking Commands

For basic network operations and establishing remote connections, the Terminal offers powerful commands:

  • ping: Check the reachability of a host on an IP network.
  • ifconfig: Configure or display network interface parameters.
  • ssh (Secure Shell): Securely connect to a remote server.
  ssh username@hostname

These system management commands provide users with the ability to monitor and maintain their system’s performance, manage disk space efficiently, and handle network connections, all from the convenience of the Terminal.

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Advanced Terminal Features

Using sudo for Administrative Tasks

The sudo command is a powerful tool that allows users to execute commands with the security privileges of another user, typically the superuser or root. It’s essential for tasks requiring administrative permissions, such as installing software or modifying system files. However, because of its power, users should exercise caution to avoid unintended changes to the system.

sudo command

Shell Scripting Basics

Shell scripting is a method to automate repetitive tasks in the macOS Terminal, enhancing productivity. By writing a series of commands in a file, users can execute complex tasks with a single command. Simple scripts might automate file backups or system updates.

# Example backup script
cp -R ~/Documents ~/Backups/DocumentsBackup

Customizing the Terminal

Personalizing the Terminal can make it more user-friendly and efficient to use. Users can:

  • Change the prompt appearance by modifying the PS1 variable.
  • Adjust colors for readability or preference through Terminal preferences.
  • Use aliases to shorten frequently used commands.
alias ll='ls -la'

Homebrew and Package Management

brew package management

Introduction to Homebrew

Homebrew is a free and open-source software package management system that simplifies the installation of software on macOS. It allows users to easily install, update, and manage software packages without needing to compile them from source.

/bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL"

Common Homebrew Commands

  • brew install: Install a new package.
  • brew update: Update Homebrew itself.
  • brew upgrade: Upgrade all installed packages.
  • brew cleanup: Remove outdated versions of installed packages.
brew install wget


How do I open Terminal on Mac?

Access Terminal by navigating to Applications > Utilities > Terminal, or use Spotlight search by pressing Cmd + Space and typing “Terminal”.

What are the most important Terminal commands I should know?

Essential commands include cd for changing directories, ls for listing files, cp and mv for file management, and sudo for executing commands with administrative privileges.

How can I use Terminal to improve my workflow on Mac?

Leverage Terminal for quickly navigating file systems, automating repetitive tasks with scripts, and managing software installations and updates more efficiently.

Can I use Terminal to manage network settings?

Yes, commands like ifconfig for network configuration and ping for network diagnostics can help manage and troubleshoot network settings directly from Terminal

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1 thought on “The Essential Cheat Sheet for Mac Terminal Commands [2024]”

  1. what’s the mac command equivalent for ‘net use’ , or any other network related commands standard in windows ???

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