An Illustrated Guide to Some Useful Command Line Tools
Inspired by a similar post by Ben Boyter this a list of useful command line tools that I use. It’s not a list of every tool I use. These are tools that are new or typically not part of a standard POSIX command line environment.
This post is a living document and will be updated over time. It should be obvious that I have a strong preference for fast tools without a large runtime dependency like Python or node.js. Most of these tools are portable to *BSD, Linux, macOS. Many also work on Windows. For OSes that ship up to date software many are available via the system package repository.
Last updated: 31 Oct 2019
About my CLI environment: I use the zsh shell, Pragmata Pro font, and base16 default dark color scheme. My prompt is generated by promptline.
Table of Contents
- Alacritty — Terminal emulator
- alt — Find alternate files
catwith syntax highlighting
- bb — System monitor
- chars — Unicode character search
- dot — Dot files manager
- dust — Disk usage analyser
- eva — Calculator
exa — Replacement for
fd — Replacement for
- hexyl — Hex viewer
- hyperfine — Benchmarking tool
awk/XPath for JSON
- mdcat — Render Markdown in the terminal
- pass — Password manager
- Podman — Docker alternative
- Restic — Encrypted backup tool
ripgrep — Fast, intelligent
- shotgun — Take screenshots
- skim — Fuzzy finder
- slop — Graphical region selection
- Syncthing — Decentralised file synchronisation
tig — TUI for
- titlecase — Convert text to title case
Universal Ctags — Maintained
- watchexec — Run commands in response to file system changes
- z — Jump to directories
- zola — Static site compiler
- Changelog — The changelog for this page
Alacritty is fast terminal emulator. Whilst not strictly a command line tool, it does host everything I do in the command line. It is the terminal emulator in use in all the screenshots on this page.
alt is a tool for finding the alternate to a file. E.g. the header for an
implementation or the test for an implementation. I use it paired with Neovim
to easily toggle between tests and implementation.
$ alt app/models/page.rb spec/models/page_spec.rb
bat is an alternative to the common (mis)use of
cat to print a file to the
terminal. It supports syntax highlighting and git integration.
bb is system monitor like
top. It shows overall CPU and memory usage as well as
detailed information per process.
chars shows information about Unicode characters matching a search term.
dot is a dotfiles manager. It maintains a set of symlinks according to a mappings file.
I use it to manage my dotfiles.
dust is an alternative
du -sh. It calculates the size of a directory tree, printing
a summary of the largest items.
exa is a replacement for
ls with sensible defaults and added features like a
tree view, git integration, and optional icons. I have
ls aliased to
eva is a command line calculator similar to
bc, with syntax highlighting
and persistent history.
fd is an alternative to
find and has a more user friendly command line interface
and respects ignore files, like
.gitignore. The combination of its speed and ignore
file support make it excellent for searching for files in git repositories.
hexyl is a hex viewer that uses Unicode characters and colour to make the output more
hyperfine command line benchmarking tool. It allows you to benchmark commands
with warmup and statistical analysis.
jq is kind of like
awk for JSON. It lets you transform and extract information from JSON
mdcat renders Markdown files in the terminal. In supported terminals (not
Alacritty) links are clickable (without the url being visible like in a web
browser) and images are rendered.
pass is a password manager that uses GPG to store the passwords. I use it with the
passff Firefox extension and Pass for iOS on my phone.
podman is an alternative to Docker that does not require a daemon. Containers are run as
the user running Podman so files written into the host don’t end up owned by root. The CLI
is largely compatible with the
restic is a backup tool that performs client side encryption, de-duplication and
supports a variety of local and remote storage backends.
rg) recursively searches file trees for content in files matching a
regular expression. It’s extremely fast, and respects ignore files and binary
files by default.
shotgun is a tool for taking screenshots on X.org based environments.
All the screenshots in this post were taken with it. It pairs well with
$ shotgun $(slop -c 0,0,0,0.75 -l -f "-i %i -g %g") eva.png
skim is a fuzzy finder. It can be used to fuzzy match input fed to it. I use it
with Neovim and zsh for fuzzy matching file names.
slop (Select Operation) presents a UI to select a region of the screen or a
window and prints the region to stdout. Works well with
$ slop -c 0,0,0,0.75 -l -f "-i %i -g %g" -i 8389044 -g 1464x1008+291+818
Syncthing is a decentralised file synchronisation tool. Like Dropbox but self hosted and without the need for a central third-party file store.
tig is a ncurses TUI for git. It’s great for reviewing and staging changes, viewing
history and diffs.
titlecase is a little tool I wrote to format text using a title case format
described by John Gruber. It correctly handles punctuation, and words like
iPhone. I use it to obtain consistent titles on all my blog posts.
$ echo 'an illustrated guide to useful command line tools' | titlecase An Illustrated Guide to Useful Command Line Tools
I typically use it from within Neovim where selected text is piped through it in-place.
This is done by creating a visual selection and then typing:
Universal Ctags is a fork of exuberant ctags that is actively maintained.
ctags is used to generate a
tags file that
vim and other tools can use to
navigate to the definition of symbols in files.
$ ctags --recurse src
watchexec is a file and directory watcher that can run commands in response to
file-system changes. Handy for auto running tests or restarting a development
web server when source files change.
# run command on file change $ watchexec -w content cobalt build # kill and restart server on file change $ watchexec -w src -s SIGINT -r 'cargo run'
z tracks your most used directories and allows you to jump to them with a
zola is a full-featured very fast static site compiler.
- 31 Oct 2019 – Add
bb, and brief descriptions to the table of contents
- 28 Oct 2019 – Add
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