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11 Command Line Tools I Couldn't Work Without

· 3 min read
Kam Lasater
Builder of things

I work on mac OSX and linux command line environments. My tool kit is shaped by the needs I have. There may be similar tools for powershell or other, I'm just not aware of them.

1. pbpaste and pbcopy

On mac you can access your paste buffer using the paste-buffer-paste (pbpaste) and paste-buffer-copy (pbcopy) commands. I love how they keep my console clean especially when I have trying to transform a large chunk of text/json


Some commands end with trailing newlines some do not. Also, if you use copy-paste to setup the command

2. grep

Grep stands for Global Regular Expression Print. That is what it does. Search the input for some regex on each line.


  • -E flag for extended, aka more modern, RegEx syntax
  • -n Print line number
  • -i Case insensitive matching
  • -v Invert the selection

3. wc

Word count does exactly what it says and more. Counts characters, words and lines. I'm suprised how often it comes in handy.

$ wc
24 62 407

4. jq

Universal swiss army knife for json. Love it.

5. git

Distributed version control ftw. I probably only use 4-5 git commands regularly (init, status, commit, push, checkout -b)

6. pushd, popd and dirs

When navigating directory structures pushd lets you keep your current working directory on a stack. When you are done with the directory you pushd'ed into you can popd to jump back. This can be handy with !pu and popd in bash to bounce between two directories. dirs lets you see the stack of directories that you can pop.

7. zip and unzip

Standard zip utils.


Try zip -r ./some/folder/ to recursively include subfiles. The first few times you use zip it is helpful to use unzip -l to see what is inside.

8. base64

Encode and decode strings as base64.


(note the -n drops the trailing newline from echo)

$ echo -n 'hello world :)' | base64
$ echo -n 'hello world :)' | base64 | base64 -D
hello world :)$

9. man

Read the manual for a command. Especially when you use / then type a search term. Use n to cycle to next found item.


  • man shasum
  • man base64

10. env

Print all your environment variables. It is also great for hash bang instructions for shell scripts.


  • Print sorted variables from nodejs: env | grep -i 'node' | sort
  • Start a bash shell script: #!/usr/bin/env bash

11. curl

Make requests. Although several protocols are supported I usually only use http(s).


  • See the response headers along with the response: curl -i
  • Set request headers: curl -i -H 'Accept: application/json'
  • Set Basic Auth user/password: curl -i -H 'Accept: application/json' -u MyUser:Pa$$w0rd
  • Send data: curl -i -H 'Accept: application/json' -u MyUser:Pa$$w0rd -XPOST --data '{"key":"value"}'