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Last updated on 4/19/22

"Where am I?" in my computer

To start this chapter, you should open Terminal or the equivalent application you're using.

When you first launch Terminal, you'll likely have an empty window with not much going on. My Terminal window looks like this, but yours is probably a different color or set of text on the left (which is fine!)

I see a simple dollar sign and a blinking cursor, but you might see the name of your computer too or other symbols:

Terminal waiting for instructions
Terminal waiting for instructions

Rest assured that nothing is currently happening. Imagine that your computer is just sitting there, waiting for instructions!

Command line appearance preferences
Command line appearance preferences

Command line

Let's visually break down what you see upon opening the Terminal. The line is called the command line:

First line when opening Terminal
First line when opening Terminal

 On the left-hand side of your command line within Terminal, you have what's called a prompt. You might see $,%,>, or other symbols, or you might see the name of your computer. This will vary per computer and per operating system!

What is a terminal in general?

Imagine you're that you're using a microwave. You press "3," "0," and "Start" on a keypad in order to tell the microwave to heat something for 30 seconds. The command line on your computer is a similar communication interface; it's a portal in which you'll use your keyboard to type in a language the computer can read, and the computer will act out your instructions.

The prompt is the computer's way of saying "Hello, give me instructions!" 🖥💬 That's why, on the right-hand side, you have a cursor and space to type commands. 

Run your first command

First, let's talk about location.

Let's say I'm at Disney World. The things I can do depend on where I am in the park. For example, if I'm in Epcot, I can't ride the rides in Magic Kingdom. It's important to know where I am so I can plan my visit. That's why those red "You are here!" signs are so helpful. They help you figure out your location and therefore what's just around you.

The same is true on your computer. Depending on where you are in your system, you'll be able to do different things with Terminal. For example, I could give instructions to Terminal to modify all image files in my "Christmas party photos" folder. This means I need to be in my "Christmas party photos" folder within Terminal.

In order to see where you are at any time within your computer, you can type the command  pwd  .   pwd  stands for print working directory. Type it into your command line now:


and press the Enter key. You can do this anytime, and it's very safe!

Here's what my Terminal window looks like after running pwd:

Output from the pwd command
Output from the pwd command

My computer responds with/Users/emily.reese. This means that I'm:

  • In theemily.reesefolder, which is

  • In theUsersfolder on my computer

It's like Russian nesting dolls! My computer just told me exactly where I am within my computer's folders. Location -- where you are in your computer -- matters for almost everything you'll do in Terminal. It's the equivalent of a "You are here" sign so that you're never lost in your machine. You'll see why this is important as you move farther in the course.

Congrats on running your first command in Terminal! 🎉 That wasn't so scary, right? The rest of the commands we'll run in this course will be more action-oriented but equally safe.

In the next chapter, let's learn how to jump around our system by navigating different locations, thereby opening up a lot of fun, real-life technical examples!

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Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement