Hi! So you’ve found my list of the 10 CLI Applications that I think every modern developer should use on a Mac. These are the commands that I have found myself use day in and day out, and normally don’t even think about using I just use them.

I do have to say I had to capture them on a notepad over a week or two to see how often I did, and was surprised on the consistency I did use them. OK lets go!


Alright, alright, I know I’m cheating here. iTerm isn’t actually a CLI application, but an interface to your CLI applications. You may have found the Terminal under Applications > Utilities > Terimial.app but honestly it’s very static. iTerm2 is unbelievably powerful, and should become your main way to CLI apps. There’s tons of options, and knobs and dials to turn. I strongly suggest having the quick tips enabled, and just use it; before you know it, it becomes your second home.


The first real CLI app is the way to the world of CLI apps out there. brew is the way to install many applications in the Mac ecosystem. If you know anything about Ubuntu or Red Hat Linux, you may know of apt or dnf package managers, brew is Mac version.

In order to install brew you have to bring up a terminal (cough iTerm cough) and run the following:

/bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install.sh)"

After this you’ll have the brew command and you can start installing applications. One of the first apps you should install, is wget which grabs files from the internet and puts them places. Run the following:

brew install wget
wget https://google.com/blank.html
open blank.html

You’re web browser should open with the famous blank.html from Google!

zsh (oh-my-zsh)

The newest versions of MacOS zsh became the main shell. There is a wrapper called oh-my-zsh that sets your command prompt to 11. There are a ton of themes, plugins, and shortcuts to make you typing things out so much faster. Whatever language you’re planning on using, there are helpers in oh-my-zsh, whatever infrastructure you’re planning on using there’s plugins and helpers for that too. Installing it is pretty straight forward too:

sh -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/ohmyzsh/ohmyzsh/master/tools/install.sh)"

I believe it installs git but default too, which you should probably have installed also. :)


tmux is something I wish I had started to use from the get-go. To quote the main page:

tmux is a terminal multiplexer. It lets you switch easily between several programs in one terminal, detach them (they keep running in the background) and reattach them to a different terminal.

It’s a way to interface with your terminal sessions via the keyboard and split your windows to test multiple things. Take a moment and think of this process, without tmux if you had your code in one window, and a terminal in the other running your code out putting logs. Lets say you needed to bring up another command prompt to run something else. You’d have to either make another tab, or a new window taking you away from the running application. With tmux all you have to do is Control-b c to create a new terminal, or Control-b " to split under the running command. With a little bit of practice it becomes second nature and you can work at the speed of thought. (Yes that’s a vim reference.)


the_silver_searcher or ag is an application that most don’t find till much later in their career. It’s a super fast way to search through files for a string. So take a moment and imagine this: You have a code base and you need to find every line that has the word foo in it. With ag it is just,

cd src/ # assuming the code is in src/
ag foo

It can do so much more, but use ag and the next app…oh nelly, you can make some super fast changes…


sed is something everyone should learn to use as soon as they start using the CLI. sed is actually a programming language, and unbelievably powerful but 95% of the times you’ll use it it’ll be:

sed -i '' s/foo/bar/g file.txt

Now, if you’ve come from Linux and notice the -i '' and wonder why it’s there. That’s actually the main reason why I started writing this blog post, on a Mac, it’s actually BSD sed which requires the -i '' flag for backup. If you put -i .bak for instance, you’d change foo to bar in file.txt, but you’d also have a file.txt.bak created in original state. -i '' tells sed to skip the creation of the backup Now lets take ag and play with some sed. Take our fake src directory…

for i in $(ag -l foo src/)
  sed -i '' s/foo/bar/g $i

So to walk through this example, we use ag to search all our src directory outputting the files that have foo in them. Then we push that through sed and changes every instance of foo to bar. And that’s just a tip of an iceberg of other programmatic things you can do plugging these two apps together.


awk is another programming language, but basic usage it can be glued together with both ag and sed to make your life much much better. You can pull data out of files or csvs very easily with awk. Take the example here:

$  ~ cat file.csv
$  ~ awk -F ',' '{print $2}' file.csv

If I had this file.csv and I just wanted the second column, using awk with the -F ',' '{print $2}' where it splits on the , and then takes the second column. There are tons of options, but now that you have that string/list, you could push it in with an for loop and then push it through sed changing what you need. The options are truly limitless, and again with just a little practice you can start thinking of really neat ways to programmatically doing things.


alias is something that you’ll find yourself using over and over. It aliases commands to simple short things to you don’t have to type out massive things/remember. There are a ton of aliases you can use, and here are some ones I use on a daily basis.

alias v=vim
alias k8s='ibmcloud ks cluster config --cluster MY_K8S_CLUSTER'
alias k=kubectl
alias workshop='ibmcloud login --apikey o4h6IcZIM_A_FAKE_API_KEYK9HC1cWmDskAxbYz9HUH3c'

So let me walk through these 4.

  1. v aliases to vim. Now if i need to edit a file, I can just do v /etc/hosts or the like and get the file up. It might seem ridiculous at first, but bringing your index finger down and then tab completing a file over and over is much much faster then index finger down, middle finger up, index finger down. Take a moment and see the difference.
  2. k8s is my way to make sure my KUBECONFIG is pointing at the correct Kubernetes cluster I use. This is just an example of a pretty regular “login” command for a specific server, and you can envision what you could grow off it.
  3. k for kubectl, I use kubectl all the time. Just like v for vim, not having to tab complete kubectl allows me to think of what I’m doing not how to do it.
  4. Finally, workshop, which is another login command. As you can see you can string larger commands together and even use crazy API keys and things like that in aliases. Hopefully this has inspired you to look at your history and see those commands you type over and over, and ideally come up with some aliases for yourself.

jq / yq

The final command, cough commands cough is jq and yq. I’m bundling them together because they are two different interfaces to for two different types of files, but in essence does the same thing. (I believe jq inspired yq creation) jq is for parsing json documents/files, while yq is for yaml files. As you start doing more and more web development you will start needing to find information in both yaml and json docs’ and jq and yq are there to make them more human readable (colored and whatnot) and even parse specific sections to manipulate or report. If you haven’t needed them yet, don’t worry, you will, and it’ll become something like ag that you use without thinking.

Bonus: Brewfile

So if you’ve made it this far, either I’ve hit a cord with this post, or maybe you’re just curious what an old Sys Admin like myself uses. If you took my advice hopefully you’ve installed brew by now. If you went along and brew installed each good for you, but I wanted to get something repeatable, so I’ve created a simple Brewfile for you. Go ahead, open your favorite text editor, make the file called Brewfile copy the following into it, and run:

brew bundle

You’ll get all the CLI apps I talked about above, and now you can grow your Brewfile to what you find in the future.

tap "bazelbuild/tap"
tap "homebrew/bundle"
tap "homebrew/cask"
tap "homebrew/cask-versions"
tap "homebrew/core"
tap "homebrew/services"
tap "nektos/tap"
brew "jq"
brew "kind"
brew "the_silver_searcher"
brew "tmux"
brew "yq"
brew "zsh"