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learning the Terminal: Part Three

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 15.24.53
It’s been a while since we last posted about Terminal tips and tricks, but a question popped up today about how to discover what tools are available on the command line.

Most of the tools you use in Terminal are located in /usr/bin, and we can use a nifty little tool from there to find out about all its friends. The whatis tool gives you a one-liner description of what a tool does. If it looks interesting, you can find out more about the tool by typing man and the tool’s name on the command line to see its help manual.

On my current machine, there’s over 1000 tools in /usr/bin, and life is just too short to go through them all doing whatis on each and every one, so we’ll combine a bit of command line power with some AppleScript magic, and produce a nice, easy-to-scroll output of all the summaries like the one in the screenshot above.

Copy the script below (or from my pastebin here) and paste it into the Script Editor (/Applications/Utilities/Script Click the ▶︎ button to run it.

This script took about 1m 30 seconds to run on my machine, but you only need to run it once then save the output. Browse or search through it at your own convenience. 🙂

The script will choose TextWrangler for display if you have it installed; if not, it’ll default to TextEdit. The display is much nicer in TextWrangler, but if you’re stuck with TextEdit, turning off ‘Check Spelling’ in TextEdit will aid readability.

# start 


This script produces a summary of all the CLI tools 

in /usr/bin and displays it in a text document 


set noDocsList to {}

on extractDescription(aText)

repeat with i from 1 to count of items in aText

set this_item to item i of aText

if this_item contains "NNAAMMEE" then

set r to item (i + 1) of aText


set o to offset of "" in r

set short_r to text (o + 1) thru -1 of r

set r to short_r

end try

return r

end if

end repeat

end extractDescription

set theDescriptions to return & return & "**********************************" & return & "SUMMARY OF CLI TOOLS (Version 2)" & return & "**********************************" & return & return & return

tell application "System Events"

set theItems to name of every file of folder "bin" of folder "usr" of startup disk

end tell

repeat with i from 1 to count of theItems

set this_item to item i of theItems

set n_item to length of this_item


set what_is to do shell script "whatis " & this_item

if text 1 thru n_item of what_is is this_item and what_is does not contain "nothing appropriate" then

set theDescriptions to theDescriptions & return & what_is & return



set getMan to paragraphs of (do shell script "man " & this_item)

set desc to extractDescription(getMan)

set what_is to this_item & tab & tab & tab & tab & desc

set theDescriptions to theDescriptions & return & what_is & return

on error

set end of my noDocsList to this_item & return

end try

end if

end try

end repeat

set theApp to "TextEdit"

tell application "Finder"

if exists POSIX file "/Applications/" then

set theApp to "TextWrangler"

end if

end tell

set theDescriptions to theDescriptions & return & return & return & "The following tools do not have any documentation: " & return & return & noDocsList

tell application theApp


make new document

set front document's text to my theDescriptions

end tell

# EOF 


FastTasks 2 update available 💥

I’ve just released an incremental update for FastTasks 2. Update 1.3 adds the ability to quickly see whether TRIM is currently on  or off for your SSD disks. Since TRIM support for non-Apple SSDs requires editing a kernel extension, TRIM is regularly disabled on non-Apple SSDs every time users update or upgrade OS X. FastTasks 2 v1.3 now lets you see TRIM status in the information section of the menu.

FastTasks 2 Trim

Get the latest release of FastTasks 2 by going directly to the FastTasks support page, or if you already have FastTasks 2 running, you can use the Preferences > Check for Update > Check now menu item. 🙂

FastTasks 2 – take the toil out of Terminal 💥

FastTasks 2.0 I’ve just released the first build of FastTasks 2 over on my software website

FastTasks 2 is a menu-bar app that takes the toil out of Terminal and offers at-a-glance display of key system info, the ability to quickly toggle hidden files, free memory, remove login items and create a super-fast RAM disk.

All told, FastTasks 2 offers more than a dozen tasks that you can accomplish with little more than a click. Check out the screenshots below to get an overview of the main features.

When you’re ready, head on over to the FastTasks home page to download your free copy, and forget looking up tiresome Terminal commands – just click and the task is done! FastTasks 2 contains no adds, nags or in-app purchases and is currently on offer for free, so go get one now!

FastTasks 2 requires OS X 10.9 or higher.

Toggle system settings



run Terminal commands from any app

In this post I’m going to show you how you can select a piece of text in any app and have it run in Terminal simply by hitting a hotkey. The trick is especially useful for running commands you find on websites (like this one!) in a browser like Safari or Firefox.

This 20-second clip demonstrates running a command from a Firefox browser and another one from TextEdit, but you can also do it from an AppleScript editor window (and indeed any app that has selectable text), which can be useful for testing the formatting of your ‘do shell script’ commands and the like:

The first thing you’re going to need is to create an Automator workflow, add an AppleScript action and insert some code. Really? Nah, just kidding. I did it for you. 🙂 Just download, unzip and double-click the .workflow file to install the completed Service:

Download Run in

Click through the various dialog boxes and choose ‘Install’ on the last one* (note for Snow Leopard users: the service will open directly in Automator; just do ‘command-shift-S’ to name it and save it).

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 12.10.58

All you need to do now is set the hotkey. Open  > System Preferences.. > Keyboard | Shortcuts and click ‘Services’ in the sidebar. Scroll down the window till you see the ‘Run in Terminal’ command. Click on the far right to add a shortcut of your choice. The one I used in the video is ‘command-option-control-T’ (‘T’ for ‘Terminal’ helps me remember the shortcut).

To use the Service, just highlight any Terminal command by triple clicking it and pressing your hotkey. Try this one,

cd ~/Desktop; ls -alF

which lists all the visible and invisible files on your Desktop, as a test.

You can also get to the Service from both the contextual menu (right-click > Services) and the application menu bar at the top (e.g., Safari > Services).

As a bonus, try out your new Service on the Terminal command in this post, and now you’ll be able to run Terminal commands even from Quick Look previews in Finder!

Enjoy! 🙂

how to show or hide hidden files with one click

Download the free

Reveal is a one-click toggle switch to show/hide hidden files in the Finder. Unzip it, pop it in your Applications folder and drag it to your Dock for quick access. You may need to override your GateKeeper settings the first time you run it if you have those set to ‘App Store & Identified Developers’ or stricter. Don’t worry! So long as you download it from here, I personally guarantee it’s safe (I wrote it myself!). Best of all, it’s free, so enjoy!

Download from here >>

learning the Terminal – Part Two

In the last post, we learned how to see all the contents of a folder – invisible and visible files – in the Terminal. However, most of us prefer working in the GUI, so this post is going to show you how to work a bit of Terminal magic to easily turn on and off your invisible files and folders in Finder and the desktop.

Open Terminal, and type or copy/paste the following to the command prompt:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE; killall Finder

(note that all commands in these posts should always be assumed to be case-sensitive).

Press Return.

Now switch out of Terminal and have a look at Finder or your desktop. You should see some ‘hidden’ files now in a sort of greyed-out 50% opacity (files like .DS_Store). If you can’t see such files, go back and check that you typed or copied the entire command correctly.

Assuming you can now see your invisible files in Finder, switch back to Terminal. Press the up arrow key on your keyboard. Notice that the last command you typed reappears.

That’s a handy trick to remember. You can move between your previous commands with the up arrow and down arrow keys to save time re-typing or modifying commands.

In this case, we want to use the last command again, but we also want to modify it. Use the left arrow key to move the cursor back to “True” and then use delete to remove “True”. Leave the cursor where the letter ‘T” was and type FALSE. Make sure the semi-colon ; is still there.

Press Return — you don’t need to move the cursor to the end of the line as you would with a word processor. You can hit Return no matter where the cursor is in the command line and it will execute (or try to) whatever is typed on the whole of the command line.

Now, if you switch back to Finder or the desktop, you should see that all your hidden files have disappeared again.

OK, now that we have tested these commands to check that they work, let’s do something a bit more useful with them.

Switch back to Terminal. Type


and press Return.

Wow! Did you see what just happened? You substituted the word “FALSE” from the last command with the word “TRUE” and executed the entire command. In other words, you just made your hidden files visible again! Go and look at the desktop and you’ll see that your invisible files just returned. Try it again. Switch back to Finder and type


to replace the word “TRUE” in the last command with the word “FALSE”. Hit Return to execute it.

Using the pattern ^error^correction is a great way to both correct commands you type incorrectly and to run two commands one after the other that have only one term or option different.

Back in Terminal, hit the up arrow to bring the last command back onto the command line. This time, I want you to hit control-A on your keyboard. Notice that this brings the cursor to the start of the command line, which is what we want as we’re going to type in a new command before the “defaults…” part.

With the cursor at the beginning of the line, type


and a space. Then type a double quotation mark right next to the ‘d’ of ‘defaults, so the beginning part looks like this

echo “defaults…

(the ellipsis or ‘…’ is used here just to show that the command continues and should not be in your actual command line)

On the keyboard, press control-E.

This takes the cursor to the end of the command line (remember: control-A to go to the start, control-E to go to the end).

Type another double-quotation mark right after the word ‘Finder’ so the ending looks like this

… ; killall Finder”

Now hit the spacebar once, and type a double right angle-bracket


Hit the spacebar again and type


The entire command should look like this:

echo “defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE; killall Finder” >> .bash_profile

Now press Return. Type


and press Return one more time.

What did we just do?
To see what you did, type

emacs .bash_profile

As you can see, after testing those two commands on the command line, we’ve now sent them to the .bash_profile file, saving us the job of typing them out again (and possibly making an error when we do so). However, we can’t leave the commands like that – if we do, then they will run every time we log into the Terminal. Rather, we want to use these commands to define functions, just like we did last time with ‘show’ and ‘up’.

To do that, press control-L on the keyboard, then use the down arrow key to bring the cursor to the beginning of the first line with a ‘defaults’ command on it.

Press Return. Press the up arrow once, then type

function hide_all

Press Return and in the new line created type


Use the down arrow key to move the cursor down to the line below the “Defaults…FALSE” line and press Return.

In the new line created type


Then press Return. Type

function show_all

Press Return and type


Use the down arrow key to move the cursor below the “Defaults…TRUE” command. (If you can’t go below the last typed line, then on the keyboard press control-E to move the cursor to the end of the line, the press Return).

Then type


Check that the whole thing looks like this:

Once you’re satisfied, hold down the control key while pressing first the x and then c keys. Press y when prompted to confirm the save. You should be returned to the command line. Type


to logout. Then press command-W and command-N to close and reopen Terminal.

What did we do this time?
We just made some new, easy-to-remember commands to show and hide our hidden files in Finder and the desktop. On the way, we learned how to append commands to files using the >> function, as well as how to move the cursor to the beginning and end of a line using ‘control-A’ and ‘control-E’ respectively. We also learned how to recall previous commands on the command line using the arrow keys and how to correct or modify previous commands using the ^error^correction pattern.
Wow, you’ve come a long way in two short tutorials!

To test out what you just did, type


then press Return.

Switch to Finder and there’s all your hidden files! To make them invisible again, switch back to Terminal and type


then Return.

From now on, whenever you want to see your hidden files, just use the show_all command in Terminal. Hide them again with hide_all. 😀

control-A – places the cursor at the beginning of the command line (also works in emacs editor)
control-E – places the cursor at the end of the command line (also works in emacs editor)
control-L – on the command line, this clears the screen (equivalent to the ‘clear’ command); in emacs, this places the caret inside the editor allowing you to edit (=insert point)

up & down keyboard arrows – moves through history of commands

^error^correction – replaces the term after the first ^ with the term given after the second ^ in the previous command, then executes the entire command

echo – sends the following string or command to the specified file (if no file is specified, the string will output back to your terminal screen. In other words, if you type echo hello, the Terminal will print “Hello” on the next line; hence the term ‘echo’! )

Related Posts:

learning the Terminal – Part One
how to change all Desktop backgrounds
Fasttasks – a utility for ten common terminal tasks

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