Managing your Command Line Like a Boss 😎

I’m no command line expert but I use it daily. For almost a year and a half I was using it in a way which I assume most of us would be using it.

But there is so much more that we can do with our terminals. Even with a few one time customizations you can do the following.

Your tools are one of the most important factors which make you more efficient in your everyday work. You should definitely use more and more tools to up your game.

Whenever a user logs into a system a lot of background processes and initialization files are loaded into the system. A user has a home directory to create and store files that belongs to that user. But a lot of times a we also need to load some user specific configurations and processes to create its working environment which is determined by initialization files. These initialization files are defined by the user’s startup shell, which can vary depending on the operating system. The default initialization files in your home directory enable you to customize your working environment.

Important - The following blog is written for OS X. It might not work for other OS.

How to create your own initialization files ?

You don’t have to create your own initialization files. We get a number of different files located in hour user’s home directory. For example ~/.bash_profile, ~/.profile , ~/.bashrc, ~/.bash_aliases, etc. We can edit these files to add our initialization scripts, environment variables, aliases, etc.

The only thing we need to know is when do we use which file? as each file serves a different purpose and is loaded in a slightly different way from other files. In order to understand that we need to know how these configuration files are loaded.

Types of shells and How they are loaded ?

Login Shell - A Login shell is started after a successful login, using /bin/login, by reading the /etc/passwd file. Login shell is the first process that executes under our user ID when we log in to a session.

When Bash is invoked as a Login shell;

  1. Login process calls /etc/profile
  2. /etc/profile calls the scripts in /etc/profile.d/
  3. Login process calls one of ~/.bash_profile, ~/.profile and ~/.bash_login

Non Login Shell - A Non login shell is started by a program without a login. In this case, the program just passes the name of the shell executable. For example, for a Bash shell it will be simply bash.

When bash is invoked as a Non login shell;

  1. Non-login process(shell) calls ~/.bashrc

In OS X, Terminal by default runs a login shell every time Sourcing a file (by typing either source filename or . filename at the command line), the lines of code in the file are executed as if they were printed at the command line.

When to use .bash_profile ?

Your .bash_profile should simply source your .bashrc so you don’t have to repeat configurations in different files. It can also contain stuff(commands, env variables, etc) that you want to run during the startup of a login shell.

# Add stuff here which you want to run when a new login shell(session) starts

# It should load .bashrc file
if [ -f ~/.bashrc ]; then
   source ~/.bashrc

When to use .bashrc ?

Your .bashrc should source your .profile and .bash_aliases and contain stuff that you want to run during the startup of a non login shell.

# Add stuff here which you want to run when a new non-login login shell starts
# It should now output anything

# Loads .profile
if [ -f ~/.profile ]; then
   source ~/.profile

# Loads .bash_aliases
if [ -f ~/.bash_aliases ]; then
   source ~/.bash_aliases

When to use .bash_aliases ?

You should put all your bash alias definitions into a separate file like ~/.bash_aliases, instead of adding them in the ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_profile file directly.


alias update='sudo -- sh -c "/root/bin/chk_disk && dnf update'
alias ec2-prod='ssh -i /path/to/special/privatekey/amazon.pem'
alias check-brew='brew upgrade && brew update && brew cleanup -s'


Now you can type check-brew in your shell and it will run the corresponding command(s) defined above.

> check-brew
... upgrading brew
... updating brew packages
... cleanup brew

When to use .profile ?

The .profile should contain all the env variables and you can also modify the path variable here.

# Set Path Variable here
export PATH="$HOME/.cargo/bin:$PATH"

# nvm initialization should also come here

# set variable only for current shell

# set it for current shell and all processes started from current shell
export NODE_CONFIG_ENV="local"


Bash only reads the first one out of three files (.bash_profile, .profile, .bash_login). Meaning, if you have a .bash_login, then both .profile and .bash_profile will be mysteriously ignored. So make sure you don’t have a .bash_login file.

.bash_profileloads login shell stuff, calls .bashrc file
.bash_aliasescommand aliases and shortcuts
.bashrcloads .profile and loads .bash_profile and non login shell stuff
.profileenv variables, path variables