Frequently asking questions about the smallest and most subtle elements of your computing experience can yield interesting insights into computers and their history. Today we look at the little block of text that sits at the front of the command line.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader Erty is curious:

Is there a name for the text that shows up at the front of each command at the Command Line Interface. For example, in Ubuntu when I start up a terminal, it says:

And in Windows:

Is there a formal way to refer to that text?

Thanks in advance!

What is that little bit called?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor Barlop offers some insight:

It’s called ‘the prompt’

In linux, you could be more specific and say “the bash prompt” in the case of the bash shell, or for the KSH shell, The KSH (korn shell) prompt etc. In Windows you can change the prompt with the PROMPT command.

In windows, you could be more specific and say “the C prompt”, and the prompt in windows is most famously C:\> or C:\something…> so you can see how it gets that name. A techie might’ve frustratingly said to a user on the phone “Do you get the C prompt?”. While saying it as C prompt, some write it as The C:\ prompt or The C: prompt. One wouldn’t call it that when it was A: or D: (which you get when you boot DOS off floppy or cd drive, or you change to one those drives from the command prompt) and nobody talks of the A prompt or the D prompt, only the famous one, the C prompt.

If all this talk of the prompt has you in a command-line sort of mood, check out some of the following How-To Geek articles about life at the prompt:

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.



Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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