Three useful workflow tips for OS X Terminal users

NewTerminalIconXWhether you are a seasoned Terminal user or just getting your feet wet, you may find yourself somewhat limited by the text based interface of the Terminal. Though powerful, the single line entry point, fixed font size, and scrolling history behavior of the Terminal’s output may have you squinting, scrolling, and otherwise jumping through some hoops to see what you are working on. However, there are a few built-in tricks in the OS X Terminal that may help you overcome these frustrations.

Zooming in on what you’re seeing

OS X supports a screen zooming feature where by holding the Control key and scrolling, you can zoom in on your entire display. This can be configured in the Zoom section of the Accessibility system preferences. However, this will apply to your entire screen. If you instead only want to zoom in on your Terminal, then you can do so by using the following hotkeys:

  • Command-plus — Increase the font size
  • Command-minus — Decrease the font size
  • Command-0 — Return to the same size

Since the Terminal uses a fixed font by default, by simply changing the font size in this way you will uniformly scale your display and make what you see more legible. This should work for any Terminal-based program that uses the Terminal’s row and column layout for displaying information.

Terminal Zooming in OS X

The window in the background has been zoomed in using Command-plus, making all of the contents proportionally larger.

Scroll through history

If you regularly need to repeat commands that you performed perhaps a few commands ago, then you can do so by pressing the up arrow key, but in addition, you can scroll to move rapidly through your previous commands. Scrolling in more modern versions of the Terminal will move your cursor up and down, which can be practical for viewing manual pages, and paging up and down in some programs; however,  by holding the Shift key when scrolling at the command prompt, you will scan through all of your previous commands rather rapidly.

Granted, there sometimes may be not more convenient way than to simply list your previous commands, in which case the “history” command will likely be the more helpful. From here you can copy and paste a prior listed command for quick access.

Split-pane view

A final Terminal tip is its split pane view, which will place a separator in the active window that will allow you to scroll to various parts of this window differently. To do this, press Command-D (to undo, press Shift-Command-D), and when the separator appears, you can continue typing commands in one of the views while scrolling up or down in the other view. These views should scroll and update independently, so if you have typed a command or otherwise displayed information previously, then you can use split-panes to preserve what you are seeing on screen while you continue your work on the command prompt.

Terminal split pane view in OS X

Split pane view allows you to have multiple views into the same Terminal session, so you can view previous Terminal output while working on new commands and editing files. This may be particularly useful for remote sessions where GUI-based editors are not available.

This approach beats having to open multiple Terminal windows to maintain a view while continuing your work, and also only continues the one Terminal session as opposed to having multiple ones open at the same time.


4 thoughts on “Three useful workflow tips for OS X Terminal users

  1. mrmogimagoo

    is there a ” terminal ” type application for ” humans ” since i am not a terminal geek

    1. Rico

      Terminal is just that. You can’t get any closer than Terminal. You should read up on what a terminal does.

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