What Is a Command-Line Interface?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

All computers, regardless of the operating system, features a command-line interface that enables user-computer interactions. Learn how it differs from a graphical user interface and the benefits of interacting directly with the command line.

[Featued image] A learner is outside researching about the different command-line interfaces

A command-line interface is a text-based way to communicate with your computer and access its programs. Typically, people who are not programmers interact with their computers through the graphical user interface or GUI. The GUI is the element that allows you to move your cursor over your screen and click on different buttons or items in a menu to navigate your programs. A GUI is easier for people with a non-technical background to use. However, a command-line interface offers programmers and developers faster and more powerful control of the computer. 

Every operating system has a command line. The three most popular operating systems and their command-line interface names are: 

  • Windows: Command Prompt

  • Linux: Bash (Bourne Again Shell) 

  • MacOs: Terminal

Differences in command-line interfaces 

The command-line interface in each operating system has similar capabilities, but the syntaxes have differences. For example, if you wanted to copy a file, you would use the command “copy” in Windows Command Prompt, but you would use the command “Cp” in Linux. 


Command line vs GUI

The average computer user can use a GUI to accomplish tasks with their machine, but a command-line interface gives programmers more tools to interact with their computer. To open a program using a GUI, you would likely move your cursor to a menu and navigate through a drop-down menu of options to find the desired program. In contrast, you only need a few keystrokes to accomplish the same task using a command-line interface. 

A command-line interface also allows a programmer to access commands that’s inaccessible through a GUI, such as accessing system-protected files. A command-line interface also helps save time by automating tasks using a batch program, a sequence of commands that will run automatically. Another benefit of the command-line interface is that it doesn’t require as many computing resources as a GUI. 

Learn more about command-line interface

Are you ready to learn more about working with the command line? Consider earning the  Google IT Support Professional Certificate on Coursera. This beginner-level, five-course series can help you learn skills in network protocols, debugging, encryption algorithms, and more. Upon completion, gain exclusive access to career resources like resume review, interview prep, and more. 

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