Getting Help in the Terminal


Unix is not beginner friendly. It was designed by some of the best computer scientists in the world when it was hard to tell if ordinary people would ever use a computer. So beginner-friendliness was not a priority.

I also suspect being able to ask the creator of a utility why it works that way makes people lazy about writing clear documentation.

So here’s some ways to get help in the command line.

I don’t know if this applies to Windows.

  • -h or --help flags
    • e.g. python -h
    • e.g. python --help
  • StackOverflow
    • It’s sad that this is so high on my list, but it’s a great resource. Make sure to look for the question before you ask one.
  • Google
    • If StackOverflow fails. This is rare.
  • man pages
  • I can’t honestly recommend this over StackOverflow for learning how a command works. Man pages are references for people who already know how to use a command.
  • apropos
  • Use StackOverflow/Google instead. That has better inference for what you’re trying to find.
  • info
    • For GNU utilities. If you don’t like emacs, this will be annoying.
  • help
    • for bash builtins
  • run-help
    • for zsh builtins
  • running command with no arguments
    • I don’t recommend this. Google it instead. This can be dangerous as it may just execute the command.

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