What is Command Line Interface (CLI)?

Web Development Jargons Explained in 5 Different Ways

TLDR: Command line interface (CLI) is a text based input system for programmers to instruct a computer. Programmers need to input lines of precise instructions the computer understands for it to work. It is the preferred way for programmers to interact with computers as it is very fast.


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Command line interface (CLI) is a text based input system for programmers to instruct a computer. Programmers need to input lines of precise instructions the computer understands for it to work. It is the preferred way for programmers to interact with computers as it is very fast.

Compared to the graphical user interface (GUI), which normal people use, command line interface is much harder to use and takes a while to become familiar. However, command line interface can be used to run custom programs and repetitive tasks.

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Early command line interface was used for communication between two human operators over a teleprinter machine. Computer scientists later adopted this mode of communication between a computer and its operator.

For many years, the command line interface was the only way to instruct and read the output of a computer. It wasn't until Microsoft's Windows 95 that general computer users switched to the graphical user interface.

Nowadays, every computer operating systems will ship with it a unique command line interface that programmers can use to instruct the computer using just text commands.

Window's latest CLI program is called PowerShell. Mac's default CLI program is called Terminal.

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Command line interface is like telling a story through writing a novel. Compared to graphical user interface, which is like telling a story through a painting.

The following is a CLI and GUI representation of the same folder and files structure on a Mac OS.

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The following video demonstrates how to create a text file, edit it, and delete it using the command line interface.

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Apart from the default terminals that come with each OS, we can install third party alternatives. A popular alternative on MacOS is iTerm. It supports split planes, autocomplete, mouse less copy, etc.

We also like to improve our user experience on the terminal with Oh My ZSH which uses colored text to make terminal outputs more readable.

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