Terminal Basics: Mac

If you are using a Mac, you have a few options for Terminals.

In this class, we will set up and show only how to use the Terminal program provided by Apple. You’ll find this program under Applications/Utilities.

The terminal opens and begins with a prompt.

Open the Terminal for the first time and you will see.

Your first Terminal window.

The very first thing to do is to type pwd and hit enter, which you won’t even really learn until the next lesson.

When you type pwd, the terminal responds with something like:

This tells you “where you are” in your hard drive. Specifically, this is called the working directory.

The working directory is the point where you currently are browsing right there in the terminal session. It is unique to this terminal session. If you start new terminal window (tab or another window), it will have its own working directory. If you ask for the parent directory (..), you’ll get the parent of the working directory.

We will soon learn how to navigate around the working directory. But first, lets discuss the two keyboard modifier keys you need to know in Unix:

Control Key — On the mac, the control key is marked Control or Ctrl

Meta Key — On the Mac Terminal, you must turn on the Meta key in the Terminal Preferences to continue.

If you miss this step, you won’t be able to use Meta keystrokes.

Enable the Meta Key for macOS Terminal

Go to Preferences > Profiles.

Here you will see several windows — these define the default font size, background color, and foreground color (text color).

There is a setting for “Use Option as Meta key” that you must enable. Unfortunately, you must enable it for every profile you’ll use— Apple hs provided 10 default profiles here for your use.

I typically go through each profile here and check “Use Option as Meta key” to enable and then set my font size to a comfortable level. It’s important to have a good working environment to read the terminal window comfortably.

But what are Ctrl and Meta keys?

For that, let’s go to the next lesson. If you are on a Mac, this lesson is sufficient to get setup. You can skip the next lesson which is for WIndows users.

One final setting to pay attention to here is your cursor: The actually little marker on the screen that tells you where your next keystroke will be input at: You an choose a block, underline, or vertical cursor, and you can choose whether or not to have it blink:


The block cursor is the easiest to see and is the recommended default.


The underline cursor is very elegant but can be difficult to spot on the screen. Try it out to see if you like it.


The vertical cursor is very sexy but can also be hard to spot on the screen. Play around with different options and make sure you can see your cursor on the terminal window easily, no matter where it is.

Blinking Cursor

The blinking cursor the the best way to see your cursor, but some programmers find it distracting. You can have any of the 3 different styles (block, underline, vertical) blink.

Take some time now to try out different ones and pick one that you like.