How to List Every Terminal Command on Mac OS

Feb 6, 2017 - 19 Comments

List all terminal commands available

Have you ever wanted to know what every single possible terminal command was on a Mac? You can list every terminal command available by turning to the command line. What you’ll see is a significant list of terminal commands with over 1400 possible commands to investigate and use, many of which are either helpful or powerful as we regularly cover with our command line guides. Of course many of the commands listed will have no relevance to the average user, but it can still be helpful to be able to navigate through the list and investigate each command and its respective purpose.

We’ll show you how to list every single terminal command available on a Mac, as well as how to get an explanation and details on each specific command that is shown.

How to Show Every Terminal Command Available in Mac OS

This trick will reveal every single possible terminal command available to Mac OS and Mac OS X. It works in all versions of Mac OS X system software as long as you are using the bash shell, which is the default in all modern releases.

  1. Open the Terminal app found in /Applications/Utilities/
  2. At a fresh bash prompt, hit the Escape key twice
  3. You will see a message stating “Display all 1460 possibilities? (y or n)” type “y” key to start showing every command available
  4. Listing every possible terminal command on the Mac

  5. Hit the Return key to scroll through the huge list of commands available
  6. Showing all terminal commands on Mac

  7. Hit the “Delete” or backspace key to escape the command listing when finished

You’ll see a truly exhaustive list of commands available, some of which may be familiar to advanced users and many commands which even pro users likely have never seen or used before.

Of course you’re now probably wondering what each command might do, or how to investigate what the shown commands do. That’s easy as well.

Getting Info & Explanation for Each Terminal Command

You can easily retrieve information and an explanation on any of the shown commands by using the handy open man page trick, which will launch a manual for the chosen command into a new terminal window. Here’s how it works in the context of the all inclusive commands list on Mac OS:

  1. Right-click on any command listed you wish to investigate and explain further
  2. Choose “Open man page”
  3. Show info about a specific terminal command

  4. The manual page for the selected command will open in a new terminal window to explain the command
  5. Man page explains the terminal command

You can also use the Terminal app “Help” menu to quickly launch manual pages by searching for a specific command there. Additionally, if you want to find related commands or related instructions, you can use this trick to search manual pages for matches containing a specific keyword or command.

The command line has literally thousands of commands available to use, if you’re interested in learning about specific terminal tricks be sure to read through out command line posts.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Command Line, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

19 Comments

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  1. Dan Uff says:

    Awesome. Thank you!!!

  2. cashxx says:

    Always new the command as hitting tab twice, not esc.

  3. TM says:

    YES!! tab, tab. ESC did nothing for me, thanks!

  4. Robert says:

    Can the output be saved into a file?

  5. Sebby says:

    This will show you commands accessible to the shell, but there are more binaries for which documentation is available in other places, e.g. /usr/libexec. Moreover the manual page indexes are not always complete (the “apropos” command won’t always help you find what you need), and the documentation for many daemons is so utterly useless as to be completely absent (as, indeed, it often is).

    But it’s a nice trick, all the same.

  6. Floris says:

    esc twice does work, but you have to do it really fast! Too slow with the second one and nothing happens.

    Much easier is just pressing tab (once! twice is not necessary!).

  7. Jon says:

    Yes, the published approach does not work – I typed ESC twice as fast as I could and nothing happened (on ElCap).

    But the single TAB is perfect! Thanks for the help getting this to work for me; nice!

    • Jon says:

      And I just found out that in any terminal window — even one open for a long time — pressing TAB TAB also shows you the command list. FYI… I’m using Homebrew bash which is at version 4.4.12; must better than the default bash which is still at version 3.x.

  8. Russell says:

    I suppose the count is different depending on what you have installed. Mine clocked in at 2260 entries. I never knew about that man page feature. NEAT.

  9. Jeff says:

    Tab for bash is command/path completion. It’s most useful if you only know a part of the command or path. For example typing “ca” then tab produces all the commands that start with “ca”

    $ ca
    caffeinate calendar cancel captoinfo cat
    cal caller cap_mkdb case

    Or for example, typing “Do” then tab lists all the directories starting with “Do”

    $ ls Do
    Documents/ Downloads/

  10. Christopher says:

    For the love of God, it’s not Mac OS. It’s macOS. “Mac OS” hasn’t been around for a good 20 years.

    • Doug Hewitt says:

      Actually, Mac OS is the name of the operating system that has been around since the Mac debuted, though for a while they called it System.

      For the modern era, and according to the Terminal command sw_vers, it’s called “Mac OS X” but I wouldn’t expect a newbie like Christopher who doesn’t know Macs or the command line and instead goes on the latest whims of a marketing team to know that. Oh I’m sorry, it’s not Christopher it’s christophER, obviously.

    • SJW Machine says:

      Uh Oh Christopher, did you need a trigger warning before reading about Mac OS? Poor little Christopher! Do you want a safe space to cry about your Mac OS capitalization scheme? Poor little baby!

    • Jeff says:

      Actually he’s right, Apple hasn’t used “Mac OS” since 2001, the final release of Mac OS 9.

      The revision history is;

      Mac OS X (10.0-10.6)
      OS X (10-7-10.11)
      macOS 10.12 is current

      BTW, the Macintosh used “System” when it debuted until System 7.6 when they changed to Mac OS.

      One other thing, ‘sw_vers’ needs to be updated, that’s the only reference to Mac OS X and its an error. Of course it was written in 2003. Use the System Information Utility for accurate software information.

      • Christopher says:

        Thank you so much Jeff, for not lambasting me as to hurt me badly. Thank you for presenting the fact that I was trying to lay out there.

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