An introduction to the OS X Terminal

by Ross McKillop on October 5, 2006

Mac

Straight from the horse’s mouth – Apple says this of the Terminal:

“UNIX users will feel at home in Darwin, the robust BSD environment that underlies Mac OS X. That environment is accessible at any time from the Terminal application.”

OK – what about non-UNIX users?

Background/About the Terminal
Launch
Customize
Commands


History/Background

Yes, the Terminal is your gateway to the BSD core that is OS X. But what on earth does that mean? Here’s the best way I can think of to explain it.

The Finder, that “thing” you use to launch programs and sort/re-name/move/delete files – is really just a graphical version of the Terminal. The Terminal is a “text” version of the Finder – and a much more powerful one at that. When you open programs using the Finder (by double-clicking them) they just open. With Terminal, you can launch programs and issue additional parameters – like ‘open x program and then have it open a file’.

To be slightly more accurate, the Terminal is actually an interface to a “shell”. The default shell on the Mac is named bash. A shell is the program that reads your text, splits the command (launch x program) from the parameters (open a file when x launches) and then executes them.

Launch

Opening the Terminal is pretty easy. Open a Finder window, select Applications, then Utilities, and finally double-click the Terminal.

the OSX Terminal

Yep – that’s the Terminal. Pretty dull at first sight.

the OSX Terminal

You may want to make it a bit easier to get to the Terminal in the future. Right-click (or ctrl-click for you one-button mouse folks) and select Keep in Dock. Now it’s just one quick click away.

the OSX Terminal

Customize

Now lets make the Terminal at least a bit more visually appealing. Select Terminal and then Window Settings… from the drop-down menu.

the OSX Terminal

Select the drop-down menu (probably set to Shell by default) and select Display

the OSX Terminal

First select your cursor style. I prefer Underline, but different strokes for different folks, right? Now click the Set Font… button

the OSX Terminal

The Font window should be a familiar one. Select your favorite font, size etc. Close the window when you’re done.

the OSX Terminal

Now select Color from the drop down menu

the OSX Terminal

Mess around with the color selections and pick one that suits you. Choose a background color (if you want). I very much like to have a transparent Terminal, so give it a try. Move the slider over until you’re happy with the style.

the OSX Terminal

Finally, select Window from the drop-down menu

the OSX Terminal

Here you can specify custom dimensions for your Terminal. Again, try different combinations until you find one you like. You can also change the default “name” that appears in the Terminal title menu. I also like to de-select TTY Name and Active Process Name.

Feel free to check out the other options from the drop-down menu. When you’re ready, click the Use Settings as Defaults so that each time you open Terminal, it has your new custom look and feel.

the OSX Terminal

the OSX Terminal
Click to enlarge

Commands

There are a lot of commands. Far too many to outline here. http://www.ss64.com/bash/ has a huge list. Something to keep in mind – Terminal is a bit more unforgiving than Finder. You can accidentally delete, change, and/or otherwise mess things up pretty quickly (esp. if you’re playing around with the sudo command). With that said, once you get used to the Terminal, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. An added bonus – once you do get used to using it, you’ll find that ‘learning’ a Linux or Unix based Operating System is much, much easier.