How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: Do You Use the Command Line?

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Most people have heard of it but not everyone is familiar or comfortable with how to use this bastion of geekdom. This week we would like to know if you use the command line or not.


The command line…the bastion of ultimate geekery in many peoples’ eyes. You often hear people referring to doing things using the command line, so there must be something to it, right?

For some people using the command line is the best, most efficient, and easiest way to do things on their systems. These are the people that many of us wish we were like. Next you have those who are proficient at using the command line but do not rely on it for everything they do on their systems. Then there are people who know how to perform some tasks or hacks using the command line but may not be as comfortable or knowledgeable as they wish to be using it.

Moving on you find those who are interested in learning how to use the command line and just need a small push to get started.  Perhaps you feel too intimidated to learn it and just need the right opportunity to come along. And maybe you do not care one way or the other so long as you get done what you want to do on your system. Or you may prefer to simply use a graphical interface since that is quicker and easier for you (along with being familiar). You can find the whole range of people when it comes to using the command line…

This week we would like to know if you use the command line or not. What command line category do you fit into? Power user? Casual usage? Totally lost? Let us know in the comments!

[polldaddy poll=”4215909″]

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .

  • Published 12/8/10

Comments (70)

  1. Hayden

    Every day. I do lots of programming, and the command line is invaluable. (BASH)
    I also do system configuring, like reinstalling VBox kernels, installing packages, and other stuff.

  2. Spydeyrch

    Casual user

  3. Will Burns

    It depends on what I’m trying to do. A lot of the time there’s an app that provides a GUI for command line type jobs, but other times a little command line knowledge comes in handy.

  4. Spydeyrch

    I would love to see some how-to on the cli. but nothing like the others that are out there. I have found that cli guides come in two flavors: for beginners using baby steps and speaking to me as if I was a complete moron; or for the complete nerd (notice I said nerd, not geek. nerds are far more advanced than geeks) who only speaks BORG.

    Something in the middle for a normal person would be wonderful.


  5. Plonk

    Quite often. Adding PPA, updating, upgrading, editing, compiling.

  6. Howard

    To be honest, I think it is to be expected that linux users would probably use and even have to use the command line much more than a windows user would

  7. Hatryst

    I don’t, but my perception is that every ubuntu user MUST have a know-how about the command line

  8. Kellan

    The Windows cmd is next-to-useless (apart from ipconfig /all).
    The Linux terminal is all-powerful, but most operations are easy to perform using the GUI.

  9. totorhino

    The how-to-geek readers are definitely power users!

    I guess most regular users are not using command line (I guess…).

    In fact, I’m always using command line when I don’t have the choice… which happens quite frequently actually ;-) but for regular tasks we have fantastic GUI

  10. kristy

    I (Ubuntu user) have the terminal on my panel. Whenever I want to listen to music or watch a movie I use the command line.
    That way I don’t have to click through files, the tab continues all my file names. And if I really don’t know the name, tabstop gives me all the possible options.

    For me, there’s nothing better

  11. bobo


    “The Windows cmd is next-to-useless (apart from ipconfig /all).
    The Linux terminal is all-powerful, but most operations are easy to perform using the GUI.”

    Spoken like a true novice

  12. Andy

    I’m still running DOS 6.5 so yes…yes I do.

  13. indianacarnie

    i agree with spydeyrch. how bout it how to ?

  14. Ed Stewart

    I use it a lot! Installing packages system monitoring ect.

  15. HCamper

    Good Survey! Command line can save time,money solve problem(s).
    @Kellan,@bobo Re:
    “The Windows cmd is next-to-useless (apart from ipconfig /all).
    The Linux terminal is all-powerful, but most operations are easy to perform using the GUI.”
    Spoken like a true novice.

    The Linux Terminal is only all-powerful if run by “Root” in “/Root” directory.
    If you check “PATH” for “Root” there are many directories that are not part
    of a user “PATH” (this is by design).
    The Linux Terminal is a very limited tool on it’s own.

    In Windows Vista PowerShell was introduced as a powerful management tool.
    At first use Powershell solved a problem for me by providing a reasoned
    response to my typing “ls -al” results in
    an expanded rirectory list ( a common command I use in linux) a hard habit to break.
    In Windows 7 PowerShell was expanded to include standard scripting,
    WMI (Remote Extensions),
    IIS (Powershell),
    SQL Server (PowerShell)
    all of which allow a admin(s)
    to automate and control either
    “Local system” or “Remote system” The other system utilties have been expanded.

    Good example of Network power “Netsh” can control more than Ipconfig ever could.

    Try it out using an Admin level cmd “Shell” type Powershell /? or /help.

    There is a large group of revised programs and help.
    In conclusion current Windows systems are very powerful at the “Shell” or “cmd” level.
    Martin :-)

    Windows and Linux can Work Together

  16. PendragonUK

    I still use the command line with Windows. I must admit less often now I’m using Win7. With WinXP it was far more common. Even more so with Win9x and I never much liked Windows 3.1

    With Linux I use it a lot but often just because I’m copy and pasting stuff from forums and websites. I’m not using it, I’m make use of it… subtle difference but you get what I mean. I don’t open the console and start typing commands and navigating around the file system as I would with DOS/Windows.

    Just about the first command I learnt in Unix is “shutdown -r now” (reboot). I can’t remember the first DOS commands probably DIR and CD you know the normal ones. I do remember when “MOVE” was added DOS 6 I think… May be DOS5 I’m not sure.

  17. susrich

    Where is the netsend gone?

  18. JuszR

    I try to do almost everything in console. I love cmus (music player)!

  19. nt0xik8ed

    very rarely in windows, almost always with ubuntu, and again, rarely with mint. with linux it’s something you need

  20. jdub

    “The Windows cmd is next-to-useless”

    Spoken by someone who is most definitely not a Windows power user or developer

  21. Zainul Franciscus

    Command line is definitely a great productivity tool once we are accustomed with its syntax. More and more users should familiarize themselves with the command line ^_^

  22. Jon

    Outside of network troubleshooting or perhaps faster drive mapping (net use) I rarely use command prompt.

  23. Grant

    “I’m still running DOS 6.5 so yes…yes I do.”


  24. J

    I use it quite a bit in Ubuntu, almost never in Windows.

    The main problem with using it for average users is that you have to remember commands, formatting etc as opposed to simply giving a couple of mouse clicks in a GUI. Most people have enough on their minds without adding that lol

  25. Adam Thompson

    I absolutely love the command line. It’s by far the most efficient way to work on Linux IMHO.

  26. mark

    If you want to do anything cool with a computer, you kind of need command line chops. I use it in Linux, Windows, and FreeBSD.

  27. Bebe

    I would love to be a geek. I’m a total geek wannabe. I spend hours in CMD trying to get it to teach me things….. there are all kinds of lists of commands out there, but no syntax examples, and no examples what you can do with them. Anyone know how to disable the default “read-only” attribute in files/folders for example?? (Win 7? The OS that treats you like a child?) God how I hate it. So where do I start on my journey to geekdom?

  28. Dresandreal Sprinklehorn

    I wish someone would put up a web site which is only about the Command Line and the tricks you can do with it written in plain simple English so anyone could understand it. No geeky talk please.

  29. Zack

    Almost everyday. I use it to install things mainly. Since I’ve discovered the web browser Links, I’m using it more often. I think it’s so cool to browse the web in a terminal.

  30. Carol

    I stopped using a command line when I started using Windows 3.0. I loved DOS, but Windows was more convenient.

  31. zoncity

    I used it everyday in Linux, not in Windows! I know Windows Powershell, but no!
    For me Windows is just for Game/Entertainment.

    The true of UNIX/Linux is CL, and it give me large money for 35 years!

  32. HCamper

    If you goto the Microsoft Download Center
    and search for “Windows Command Reference” it has listing with lots of example for Windows.
    @Dresandreal Sprinklehorn
    If you search (Goodle or Bing) Technet Library Windows. You find details, examples and current
    posts from Support Forums (Tips and Tricks).
    For general purpose learning:
    If you search (Google or Bing) Linux Documentation Project.
    They have PDF guides for Command Shell, Bash Scripting, Security and installation.
    The LDP also has a very large HTML
    guide which contains commands and examples
    for A-Z for use and maintance of Linux
    systems, but much can be applied to Windows Systems also.

    Question about default read/only can be handled by adding to menu context a take “owner-ship”
    short cut. Go to top of this page and select Windows 7 Section.
    The method to do that is in “How-To-Geeks” Windows 7 section check for
    ” add-take-ownership-to-explorer-right-click-menu-in-vista” which also works for Windows 7.
    Martin :-)

    Windows and Linux Can Work Together

  33. Phoshi

    Damn straight. I practically never open a file browser in linux, only sometimes in Windows, but even that’s rare. Windows’s CLI is weak, but I’ve managed to script around a lot of the shortfalls so it’s actually not *that* bad to use!

  34. Raiyan Hossain

    I use it quite often.

  35. asdf-chan

    I use it on my notebook (Gentoo with Gnome) and my homeserver (CLI only), sometimes i use the crappy CLI of windows if it doesn’t allow me to delete a file because it is “in use”.

  36. Demon Lord

    I usually don’t use it unless I have to. Definitely a how-to article about CLI would be perfect since most of the tutorials on other sites is either stupid and treats you like a child or gibberish.

    For CLI lovers/users, this is an app that surely you’re so gonna love it. It’s called Yakuake, It’s a replacement for the Terminal/Konsole. The great thing about it is that is uses a Quake-style show/hide function, you hit F12, it shows, hit the button again and it’s gone. It is available in the default repos of Ubuntu.

  37. Veegertx

    The Windows cmd is next-to-useless (apart from ipconfig /all).

    Thats definitely someone who don’t know just how powerful it is with Win 7. I was here when MS tried to kill it with ME

    Wanna new world. Start, Accessories, Windows Powershell. Holy cow

  38. Bebe

    Thank you!

    Re taking ownership though—I think I did a registry tweak awhile ago that gave me that option in R-click…anyway, I have it and it doesn’t work. Whether I take ownership manually or with the context menu, read-only always comes back. I’ve succeeded a couple of times by giving “full control” permission to “everyone”…..but that method is spotty too.

    Windows 7 is the most intrusive, infantilizing OS I’ve ever encountered. It’s a fascist regime. No file paths or extensions. File and folder relocation regardless of the way you’ve taken pains to arrange them. (I’m still stumbling across files I thought I’d lost to the “OS” long ago…) Disable libraries? Dream on. They know best. I’ve come to detest Microsoft. Literally. I have to learn more about LINUX.

    What a rant! Sorry. And thanks again.

  39. Richard Walker

    I use it to convert text files (abc format) to sheet music. These programs are free and do an excellent job.

  40. That IT Guy

    There are tasks I can do faster with a Windows command line than I can clicking all over the place to get to the icon. Cmd line is my friend and used daily!

  41. VanCardboardbox

    I’m probably an pretty average desktop user (not a developer or programmer) and I have occasion to use the command line often. Mounting network drives, installing packages, launching remote desktop sessions, etc.. There are a number of routine tasks I find easier to launch from the command line than using a GUI interface.

    On the other hand I use GUIs for a couple of things most geeks would prolly use the line for. For example, I prefer Grsync over rsync for backups.

  42. DoR





  43. snert

    The Command Line.
    When I started computing that was the ONLY way to get the machine to do anything unless you loaded a pre-written prgram from a 5″ floppy. (Remember them? A lot of users don’t rmemeber 3 1/2″ floppies!)
    Ahh yes, them were the days my friends.
    Thank whomever for the GUI!

    I mainly use the Command Prompt to weed out strange stuff that seems to creep in when I’m not looking. I can search anywhere for anything by knowing how to use the DIR cmd.
    If you know how to use the Command Line, ‘specially in SAFE MODE, you’re down and dirty and I like it that way.

  44. DoR

    snert, You seem like GODLY…..

    Teach me your ways!!1


    no, but seriously, Teach me some stuff.


  45. Surya

    Hey how-to-geek, can you give some basic tips knowing that there are some noobs here too? (I’m one too and i’d like to learn it to impress my boss and then make how-to-geek accesible even in the office :P )
    You guys post useful articles so can we have some command line articles too? I don’t even know what it is yet O_o

  46. Dan

    I wish I could see it less when using Linux. =\

  47. StevenTorrey

    I have no idea what practical use of ‘command line’ is. On Windows 7 there seems to be a zillion ways to access the ‘command line’–but for what purpose? I can have all kinds of diagnostic tools but none of them can tell me exactly what the problem is or how to cure it. About 8 weeks ago–or so–the computer would cease functioning after 3 minutes or so and shut down. That went on for about a week or so, then mysteriously cleared up–went away! Have no idea what the problem was, no idea where to look for the problem, no idea how to solve the problem, no idea where to look to solve the problem. With all the diagnostic tools on the computer–autorun, cc cleaner, avg, partetologic, etc–none of them seemed to resolve the problem or identify the problem. How it resolved itself is a mystery to me.

  48. Jim

    I use it per online instruction when troubleshooting a problem or searching for a solution to a problem (as perceived by me.) I used it just yesterday to obtain MAC addresses for my 2 computers and laptop to better secure my network. I would not have known how to do this without google-ing for it. Online search solves or provides answers to 99.9 percent of my problems. Of course I get a lot of answers here at “how to” :) Thanx for being here.

  49. Roi

    I use the command line in windows for automation, synching, and To run my game servers :)

  50. MikeO

    I first used computers in 1974 what was called a mini computer then. The first micro computers (PC now) I used were based on an O/S called CPM which only had the command line. When DOS came along not much changed it just took over for the command line that is. Windows up to 3.1 was still a command line system basically it just started windows from Autoexec.bat which has not long gone. Wonder if windows would still execute it on boot? We used the commands which are still available to create menu systems. You will find that developers who work with large systems use the command line for various repetive jobs.

  51. ladyretreat

    I’m too old for this stuff but I’d still like to know what to do with command line.
    I would also like to find a small desktop reminder with no frills, bells, whistles, emails or whatever. Just a little reminder that floats up onto the desktop upon startup, shows me my reminders, then I tuck it back into the tray. I had one like that, but my computer crashed and with it went my reminder. Don ‘t know its name and cannot find one like it. HELP!

  52. HCamper

    @Steven Torrey
    The mystery problem(s) for Windows Vista,Windows 7,Windows 2000,Windows XP and Linux
    usually are detected by OS and are logged. For Windows Event logs, Linux in “/var/log/messages”.

    1.) By design “Soft Error(s)” are logged for use by Administrators and
    never displayed to standard users ( exception “Hard errors(s), critical error(s)).
    Note: Standard limited account user can not do anything about error(s) even when they are
    being displayed.
    2.) By design it is assumed Administrators are monitoring errors and will resolve them.
    For Windows systems check event logs for time during a problem there will be
    messages and details about most of what might be considered “Mystery” error(s).
    The common cause(s) for errors are caused by pending “Task(s)” updating, patching, indexing webserver, driver, java installs which require restart to complete.
    For you specific problem check the past “System” and “Application” logs.
    Martin :-)

    Windows and Linux Can Work Together

  53. HCamper

    A possible solution for your reminder software problem.
    Search via (Google or Bing) Karen Ware. Check the link under Free Programs
    look at the item labeled “Once-A-Day” it may be what you desire.
    Since it is a no charge program download and check it out.
    Note: Visual Basic Runtime installer maybe needed, if necessary link to download is
    on that page.
    I hope it helps.
    Martin :-)
    Windows and Linux Can Work Together

  54. leikhin

    only if I am forced to and given specific words to use.
    Oh! Except for my old first Toshiba which I can use ONLY by writing “Win” on command line.

  55. rob

    Just about everyday. At the moment for both unix and windows

  56. Camilo Martin

    I download files with wget in Windows regularly, it’s so unintrusive! :D

    Also netcat (Windows version) is fun to use as an IM program too.

  57. delukze

    please teach us how to use it or give us the most important codes…

  58. Geoff Kendall

    I used the command line to get Ubuntu working because I wouldn’t have a functioning netbook if I didn’t. Otherwise, I’d need to see what the benefits of learning to use the command line were before I’d want to bother? Mostly, I just access files and programs etc and then save the results of my work, like most of the PC users in the world, so no need for a command line. One exception is that some Windows settings are only accessible via msconfig, so I have used that to achieve a particular mod on occasion.

    If you were going to let us in on some really useful stuff, I’d def be interested though – and thanks in advance!

  59. asdf-chan

    – settings are only accessible via msconfig –

    Wrong also available over Management/Services/regedit etc

    – I’d need to see what the benefits of learning to use the command line were before I’d want to bother –

    A commandline is usefull when you: have a server because it doesn’t suck up resources that you need else the gui would take, want to configure your system in ways that cant be done by gui, want to search for specific words in a text with cat and grep instead of opening word and look in every document you have

  60. HCamper

    @Et al
    The command line ( can and wiil ) save your Posterior and System.
    Example of command line use: (note you may have different drive letters i.e. C: or D:)
    For Windows 7 go to Start -> Run
    in the prompt box type cmd then press enter key.
    You should now be in command shell and see C:\User\your name>
    at the “>” type echo %PATH% > path-machine.txt
    You just created a working backup of “PATH” settings.
    After finishing remaining steps of example
    a copy of this to some where else.
    This copy of “PATH” will be an life saver when you encounter
    an installer or program which either removes your “PATH” or truncates it to
    almost nothing.
    Af the “>” type echo %PATH%.
    Your should have a listing of “PATH(S)” or places where you have access for runnning programs

    Most important item to see and check is that on left hand side of “PATH”
    starts with “C:\Windows;C:\Windows system32;C:\Windows system32\Wbem” other items can follow
    these settings.
    If the left hand side does not start with, what is show above you have a slow starting
    computer and operations with-in Windows takes much longer.
    If you have installed “Windows Live Essentials” you will see your “PATH” has been modified
    both on Left hand side and Right Hand side for starting in Windows Live Folders before getting
    to windows and system folders.
    With limits of this short example best resolution is go to Start -> Control Panel -> System ->
    Advanced Settings and Enviroment settings and using copy, cut, paste modify “PATH” until
    it starts on Left Side as shown above.
    I hope this helps.
    Martin :-)
    Windows and Linux Can Work Together

  61. Buddy

    What is this GUI thing that people are talking about?

  62. Hayden


    Graphical User Interface.

    It’s windows, buttons, taskbars, anything you see on your computer that’s not a command line.

  63. Bodsda

    I think you missed the joke.

    I love the irony of talking about the command line, and showing a picture from one of the most underused distro’s by command line lovers.

  64. jolclode

    $ sudo please make it work
    $ unmet dependencies | no package geekiness found :)

  65. tw0faz3

    I use it casually…
    prob more often now since I’ve moved from ubuntu to fedora as my preferred distro….

  66. Aqib

    I use it quite occasionally, however I have a lecturer who uses it to do almost everything…. I’ve never seen him even use the file explorer (nautilus), he uses the terminal to go through his file…. lol

  67. Steve

    Using Vista w/SP2

    I’m with Spydeyrch wanting something in the middle. You’ve had a couple recently wiht streams and clip.exe.

    I use the dir command to find files faster than Desktop Search (sometimes), or to do batch renaming of files, stuff like that.

  68. Pat

    I use Command Line frequently for troubleshooting.

  69. bkurtin

    I’m a retired Microsoft support engineer; that says it all.

  70. ahmed

    Yes I love cmd as it make you seems professional

    knowing such command make you a really Geek

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