Terminal Keys and Commands Reference

There have been many posts on Terminal on macOS recently. To catch up, here is a list of all the posts, so far:

And here are a few older posts that also fit well in this topic:

I have a few more ideas and will continue this series as long as I can think of topics. If you have suggestions, please let me know on Twitter, the MacAdmins Slack or in the comments!

And for reading through all of this you get a reward! Download a two-page PDF with all the most important Terminal Keys and Commands! Print it and put them up next to your screen!

You can also download another two-page PDF reference for my book ‘Property Lists, Preferences and Profiles for Apple Administrators’.

Weekly News Summary for Admins – 2017-04-07

On Scripting OS X

Mac Pro: Signs of Life

This week’s big surprise is that Apple has let out some early news that they are working on a new Mac Pro. Even more interesting than new hardware is (for me) that Apple is trying to re-assure the pro and prosumer market that Apple cares about them.

Micheal Tsai has a great summary post.

Other News

To Listen

On Viewing `man` Pages

When you frequently use Terminal, you will use man pages. They contain tons of useful information on most of the tools and commands you use on the shell.

However, the man command’s user interface was designed for terminal output decades ago and does not really integrate well with the modern macOS UI. When you run the man command the output will take over your current Terminal window and scrolling through long man pages can be tedious.

Normal man page in Terminal


However, on macOS you do not have to man like it’s 1989.

First solution is to use

$ open x-man-page://ls

instead of man. This will open the man page in a new yellow Terminal window, so you can still see what you are actually doing, while reading the man page. If the yellow is just too annoying for you, you can change the look of the window by changing the ‘Man Page’ window profile in the Terminal Preferences. Since this window shows the entire man page, you can scroll and even use ‘Find’ (Command-F) in this window.

The beautiful yellow x-man-page window

Since typing this open command is a bit awkward, you can add a function to your bash profile or bashrc file:

function xmanpage() { open x-man-page://$@ ; }

Note: You could use xman here. However, that will conflict with another command when you have X11/XQuartz installed.

You can also put ‘x-man-page:’ URLs in other applications, such as emails or chat applications. However, not all applications will recognize URLs starting with x-man-page: as URLs, so your results may be mixed. It does work in Slack, even though Slack is skeptic of the links:

Slack will warn you about unusual links

Taken from Context

In Terminal, you can open a man page from the context menu. Simply do a secondary (ctrl/right/two-finger) click on a word in a Terminal window and choose ‘Open man Page’ from the context menu. This will open the man page in a separate window, like opening x-man-page URLs.

Open man Page in the Terminal context menu

man Page with a (Pre)view

Back in the early days of computing you could (or had to) convert man pages into postscript output, so they would look nicer when printing. These options are still present and we can (ab)use them to show a man page in Preview. (Please don’t waste paper printing man pages.) The command for this is:

$ man -t ls | open -f -a "Preview"
Preview showing a man page

The -t options pipes the man page into another tool (groff) to reformat it into pdf which we then pipe into open and send to the Preview application. (More on the open command.) If you use this more frequently, you want to create a function for this in your bash profile or .bashrc:

function preman() { man -t "$@" | open -f -a "Preview" ;}

Text Editors

You can also send a man page to a tex editor. Before you pipe the output into a text editor, you have to clean it up a bit:

$ MANWIDTH=80 MANPAGER='col -bx' man $@ | open -f

This will open in TextEdit. If your favored text editor can receive data from stdin, then replace the open -f with its command. For BBEdit, this will work great:

$ MANWIDTH=80 MANPAGER='col -bx' man $@ | bbedit --clean --view-top -t "man $@"

And again, if want to use this method frequently, create a bash function for it.


The ManOpen application has been around for a long, long time, but amazingly, it still works on macOS Sierra. It will also display man pages in a separate window. The main advantage MacOpen has over the other solutions here is that it will automatically detect other commands and highlight them as hyperlinks to their man pages. There is also a command line tool, confusingly called openman to open the app directly from the Terminal.


You can also create an Automator Service for this. Then you can open man pages from (nearly) any application with a keystroke or from the context menu. I described this in an older post on man pages.

Weekly News Summary for Admins – 2017-04-03

On ScriptingOSX

Posts and News


The updates for macOS 10.12.4, iOS 10.3 watchOS and tvOS(!) dropped this week. Lot’s of Apple support pages to catch up with:

To Watch

To Listen

Navigating the Terminal Prompt

I have talked a lot about the Terminal recently. One the most basic elements of a command shell is the prompt line, where you enter the command. Sometimes you have to move the cursor around the prompt line and there are more efficient ways of doing this than hitting the left arrow multiple times.

These key commands are for the default Terminal configuration with the bash shell.

Recalling previous commands

Often you want to retry or re-use a previous command. Hitting the up arrow will recall the previous command, leaving the cursor at the end of the line, so you can either hit return to execute the command or edit it. You can hit the up arrow multiple times to go back further in your command history. You can also hit the down arrow to move forward again.

Instead of hitting the up arrow several times, you can also hit ctrl-R and start typing a command you used before. This will search through the history backwards and recall the latest command you used starting with what you typed. So ctrl-R and then typing cd will recall the last cd command you typed. When you get ‘stuck’ in the search mode you can leave it with ctrl-G.

Moving the cursor

Once you have recalled (or typed) a command and want to edit it, you will have to move the cursor.

The left and right arrows move the cursor left and right. You can use (option) ⌥-left (or right) to move word by word. You can use ctrl-A to jump to the beginning of the line and ctrl-E to jump to the end.

ctrl-XX (hold ctrl and press ‘x’ twice) will jump to the beginning of the line and then back to the current position the second time you use it.

If you recalled a wrong command, then you can clear the entire part left of the cursor with ctrl-U and the part right of the cursor with ctrl-K. There does not seem to be a keystroke that just clears the entire current line, but most of the time your cursor will be at the end of the line, so ctrl-U will do the trick.

And finally, you can option-click with the mouse pointer on a character in the command line to move the cursor there.

Selecting text

When you hold the option key, the mouse pointer will turn from the text insertion pointer to a cross. This is because the option key also switches text selection to rectangular. This can be useful when copying text from the table like output like ls -l or df.

As in any Mac application, you can double-click to select a word in the Terminal. However, for macOS a ‘word’ ends at special characters, including the /. This is annoying when you want to select a file path. If you double-click while holding command-shift Terminal will select the entire file path. This works for URLs, too.

Usually, you select some text to copy and paste it into the command prompt. You can take a short cut here, too. Terminal has a ‘Paste Selection’ command in the ‘Edit’ menu (command-shift-V). This way you save the ‘copy’ step.

And (as a recap from the post on marks) command-shift-A will select the output of the previous command.

Tab completes me

When you are typing commands, file names or paths, then you can use the tab key ⇥ to save keystrokes and typos.

For example you can type cd ~/Doc⇥ and it will complete to cd ~/Documents/. You can hit tab over and over at different parts of the command:

$ cd ~/Li⇥
$ cd ~/Library/Appl⇥
$ cd ~/Library/Application\ Su⇥
$ cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/

When there are multiple options to complete, bash will play an alarm sound, if you then press tab for the second time, it will list all options:

$ cd ~/D⇥<beep>⇥
Desktop/   Documents/ Downloads/

Using tab-completion not only saves keystrokes, and time, but also reduces the potential for typos and errors. Tab-completion will also automatically escape problematic characters such as spaces:

$ cd /Library/Appl⇥
$ cd /Library/Application\ Support/

Note: usually bash is case-sensitive. However, since the macOS filesystem (HFS+) is (for now) case-insensitive, you may want to switch tab-completion to be case-insensitive, too. The case-sensitivity of the file system may change with the upcoming APFS file system.

There is another form of completion which you invoke with pressing the esc(ape) key twice. This will replace bash ‘globbing’ characters such as ?, * and ~. For example:

$ cd ~/Doc*[esc][esc]
$ cd /Users/armin/Documents

Note that this replaces the ~ and the *. When there are multiple possible expansions, there will be an alert sound. You can press esc twice again to see all possible expansions:

$ cd ~/D*[esc][esc]<beep>[esc][esc]
Desktop/   Documents/ Downloads/

Third-party installer packages may not be installable by the macOS 10.12.4 OS installer

Rich Trouton has found that a custom NetInstall set with your own packages will not install the custom packages. Only Apple’s own packages will install. Even when you sign your own packages with an Apple Developer certificate they will not install.

This also affects custom packages added to COSXIP (Create OS X Installer Package).

AutoDMG uses a different workflow and can still add third party packages.

It is unclear whether this is unintentional or not. However, Mac Admins will have to make plans for deployment workflows without custom imaging or system installation.

Source: Third-party installer packages may not be installable by the macOS 10.12.4 OS installer | Der Flounder

New options for macOS Recovery

Mike Boylan on Twitter points to this new Apple Support article on re-installing your Mac. The option for restoring from internet recovery have changed:

Reinstall the latest macOS that was installed on your Mac, without upgrading to a later version.1
Upgrade to the latest macOS that is compatible with your Mac.2
Requires macOS Sierra 10.12.4 or later. Reinstall the macOS that came with your Mac, or the version closest to it that is still available.