What is CLI? A Beginner’s Guide

Understanding the Command Line Interface (CLI) is a crucial step towards becoming a proficient developer.

CLI may seem intimidating at first, but don’t worry—it’s a powerful tool that will significantly enhance your development workflow.

In essence, a Command Line Interface is a text-based way to interact with your computer. While Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) provide a visual experience, the CLI relies on commands typed into a terminal to perform tasks.

It’s like speaking the language of your computer, giving you direct control and efficiency in your work.

Importance of CLI for Full-Stack Web Developers

Why should you bother with the command line?

Well, imagine you’re building a web application, and you need to create, organize, and deploy files.

CLI makes these tasks more straightforward and faster than clicking through folders in a graphical interface.

Overview of CLI’s Role in Development Workflow

CLI is the behind-the-scenes magician that helps you navigate your computer, manage files, collaborate with version control, and automate repetitive tasks.

It’s a skill set that distinguishes a proficient developer from the rest.

What is a Command Line Interface?

At its core, a Command Line Interface (CLI) is your keyboard’s gateway to commanding your computer. It’s a text-based interface where you type commands to perform various tasks. Unlike Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), which rely on mouse clicks, the CLI lets you harness the power of words to get things done.

  • To list all files in the current directory, you’d type ls and hit Enter.


  • Creating a new folder using a GUI might involve right-clicking and selecting “New Folder.” In the CLI, you’d simply type mkdir folder_name.

Terminal vs. Shell

  • On a Mac, Terminal is a common emulator, while on Windows, PowerShell or Command Prompt serve the same purpose.
  • Bash (Bourne Again SHell) is a popular shell, and you’ll often encounter it in Linux environments. Different shells may have variations in syntax and features.

Getting comfortable with these fundamentals sets the stage for a smoother development experience.

Key CLI Commands for Web Development

Navigating the File System

cd, ls, pwd:

  • The cd command changes the current directory.
    • Example: cd Documents navigates to the “Documents” folder.
  • ls lists the contents of the current directory.
    • Example: ls -l shows detailed information about files.
  • pwd displays the present working directory.
    • Example: pwd might output something like /Users/YourUsername/Documents.

File and Directory Manipulation

mkdir, touch, cp, mv, rm:

  • mkdir creates a new directory.
    • Example: mkdir project establishes a “project” folder.
  • touch creates an empty file.
    • Example: touch index.html generates a new HTML file.
  • cp copies files or directories.
    • Example: cp file.txt backup/ duplicates “file.txt” into the “backup” folder.
  • mv moves or renames files.
    • Example: mv oldfile.txt newfile.txt renames a file.
  • rm removes files or directories.
    • Example: rm unwanted.txt deletes the “unwanted.txt” file.

Working with Text Files

cat, nano, vim:

  • cat displays the content of a file.
    • Example: cat README.md shows the content of the README file.
  • nano and vim are text editors for creating or editing files.
    • Example: nano newfile.txt opens a simple text editor to create “newfile.txt.”

Version Control with Git

git init, git clone, git add, git commit:

  • git init initializes a new Git repository.
    • Example: git init sets up version control for your project.
  • git clone copies a Git repository.
    • Example: git clone https://github.com/example/repo.git clones a repository.
  • git add stages changes for commit.
    • Example: git add index.html prepares the HTML file for a commit.
  • git commit saves changes to the repository.
    • Example: git commit -m "Initial commit" records the first set of changes.

Package Management

npm, yarn:

  • npm (Node Package Manager) and yarn manage project dependencies.
    • Example: npm install package-name installs a package in your project.

Mastering these commands lays the foundation for efficient file management, version control, and package handling in your development journey.

CLI Tools for Web Development

Now that you’ve got a handle on fundamental commands, let’s explore some powerful CLI tools that will supercharge your web development experience.

Task Runners

Gulp, Grunt:

  • Task runners automate repetitive tasks in your workflow.
    • Example: Using Gulp, you can set up a task to minify and concatenate your CSS and JavaScript files with a simple command.

Package Managers

npm, yarn:

  • Package managers streamline the process of installing, updating, and managing project dependencies.
    • Example: With npm or yarn, adding a new library to your project is as easy as running npm install package-name or yarn add package-name.

Server Management

pm2, nodemon:

  • Tools like pm2 and nodemon ensure your server keeps running smoothly during development.
    • Example: Nodemon automatically restarts your Node.js server whenever you make changes to your code, saving you from manual restarts.

Database Interaction

mongo shell, psql:

  • Command-line interfaces for databases allow you to interact with databases directly from the terminal.
    • Example: Using the MongoDB shell (mongo), you can query and manipulate data in your MongoDB database without a graphical interface.

These tools enhance your efficiency by automating tasks, managing dependencies, and simplifying server and database interactions.

As you progress in your web development journey, integrating these tools into your workflow will become second nature.

Scripting and Automation

Now that you’re comfortable navigating the CLI and using essential tools, it’s time to level up your skills with scripting and automation. These techniques not only save time but also make your development workflow more consistent and error-free.

Writing and Executing Shell Scripts

Shebang, Variables, Conditionals, Loops:

  • A shell script is a series of commands written in a file for execution. The shebang (#!/bin/bash) at the beginning tells the system which shell to use.
    • Example: A simple script could automate the process of creating a new project folder, initializing Git, and installing dependencies.

Task Automation with Cron Jobs

Scheduling Tasks:

  • Cron is a time-based job scheduler in Unix-like operating systems. It allows you to automate repetitive tasks by scheduling them to run at specific intervals.
    • Example: You can set up a cron job to regularly back up your database or perform routine maintenance tasks.

These scripting and automation techniques bring a new dimension to your development workflow, allowing you to standardize processes and focus on the creative aspects of building applications.

Troubleshooting and Debugging

Even the most seasoned developers encounter hiccups in their code. Knowing how to troubleshoot and debug effectively is an indispensable skill. Let’s explore some CLI-centric techniques to tackle common issues.

Reading Logs

Understanding log files is crucial for diagnosing errors and monitoring your applications.

  • Example: If your Node.js application is behaving unexpectedly, checking the logs with tail -f logs/error.log can provide real-time insights into errors.

Process Management

Managing running processes is essential for maintaining a healthy development environment.

ps, kill:

  • The ps command shows information about active processes, and kill is used to terminate a process.
    • Example: If a server is misbehaving, ps aux | grep node helps identify the process ID, and kill <processID> can gracefully stop it.

Error Handling and Debugging Techniques

Debugging Tools:

  • CLI offers various debugging tools. For instance, Node.js developers often use node inspect to debug their applications.
    • Example: Running node inspect app.js allows you to step through your code and identify issues.

By mastering these troubleshooting and debugging techniques, you’ll be well-equipped to handle the inevitable challenges that come with web development.

Best Practices for CLI Usage

As you continue to hone your command line skills, adopting best practices will contribute to a smoother and more efficient development experience. Let’s delve into some guidelines to optimize your CLI usage.

Creating Aliases

Creating aliases for commonly used commands can save you keystrokes and enhance productivity.

  • Example: Instead of typing cd ../../../.. every time, create an alias like alias ..='cd ../../../..' for quick navigation up multiple directories.

Scripting Etiquette

When writing scripts or automation tools, adhere to best practices for maintainability and collaboration.

  • Example: Include comments in your scripts to explain complex sections. This makes it easier for others (or your future self) to understand and modify the script.

Keeping the System Clean and Secure

Maintaining a tidy and secure environment is crucial for a stable development experience.

Regular Housekeeping:

  • Clean up unnecessary files and directories regularly to avoid clutter.
    • Example: Use rm judiciously to remove files and rmdir for empty directories.

Security Considerations:

  • Be cautious when running commands with elevated privileges (sudo) and avoid unnecessary risks.
    • Example: Instead of using sudo for every command, use it only when required, minimizing potential security vulnerabilities.

By incorporating these best practices into your CLI workflow, you not only become a more efficient developer but also contribute to a cleaner and more secure development environment.

Real-world Examples

Now that you’ve gained a solid foundation in CLI usage, let’s explore how these skills seamlessly integrate into the daily workflow of a full-stack web developer through real-world examples.

Integrating CLI into Daily Workflow

Streamlining Project Setup:

  • CLI commands like mkdir, git init, and npm install can swiftly set up a new project with version control and dependencies.
  • Example:
mkdir new-project
cd new-project
git init
npm init -y

Collaboration and Version Control in Teams:

  • Git commands such as git pull, git push, and git merge are essential for seamless collaboration within a development team.
  • Example:
git pull origin main
git add .
git commit -m "Feature update"
git push origin main

Deploying Applications with CLI

1. Automating Deployment:

  • CLI tools like rsync or deployment scripts automate the process of pushing your application to a server.
  • Example:
rsync -avz --exclude=node_modules/ ./ user@your-server:/path/to/destination

Continuous Integration and Deployment (CI/CD):

  • Services like Jenkins or GitHub Actions use CLI commands to automate testing and deployment pipelines.
  • Example:
npm test
npm run build

By incorporating these examples into your workflow, you’ll witness firsthand how CLI becomes an indispensable companion, saving time and ensuring a smooth development process.


In conclusion, CLI mastery is not just a skill; it’s a mindset that empowers you to navigate the complexities of web development with confidence and efficiency.

As you continue your journey, keep exploring and experimenting with CLI tools to discover new ways they can enhance your development experience.

Happy coding!