It’s OK to fear the command line

In the command line, anything is possible. It's scary but with the right tool, it's also empowering.

WP-CLI logo on a watercolor background

I’m not a command line expert. Something about the blank screen and glowing cursor of a terminal window still freezes my experienced developer hands. What’s behind that cursor? What commands can I even type? Could I hit the wrong key and bring down an entire server? I don’t worry about this stuff when I’m in the backend of my WordPress site, managing content or updating settings. But in the command line, anything is possible, and that scares me.

The internet is full of generational gaps. The years you first “went online” set the tone for how you like to interact with the online world. My earliest childhood experience of the internet was my dad bringing home an extra computer and setting up America Online, installed from a free disc and initiated via our 14.4k modem. In other words, it was already the era of the graphical user interface. Bright message boards and chatroom conversations initiated with “a/s/l” were the norm, not telnets or listservs (those are things, right?). The path from the walled garden to the open browser took a few years.

A career of web development – and especially the rise of Node.js-based build tools becoming ubiquitous for many of us- has brought me closer to the command line. I can npm install like the best of them. But like everything WordPress- my comfort level started at zero because I didn’t have the foundational understanding or deep experience in the terminal. I didn’t grow up using command line tools.

WordPress is an internet sandbox. It’s a playground for new developers with a nice spongy floor and a bright red plastic swirly slide. That’s not to say it doesn’t have hidden powers, but it’s definitely a place to turn non-developers into developers. The path from modifying a little code to building a custom theme is paved with amazing tools that help you learn new skills as you progress.

WordPress developers may spend years using only jQuery (JavaScript with training wheels and super powers) and that’s OK. That’s what I did, and I still believe WordPress developers are real developers. A time eventually comes when you’re ready to start digging deeper into the core concepts that power the websites you’re building. In the meantime, however, WordPress can let you start growing your skills from where you already are.

The WordPress Command Line Interface is great for anyone who is curious about using powerful command line tools, but isn’t fully confident around the command line. It’s another amazing playground- accessible yet powerful. Like WordPress itself, it is used by everyone from beginner developers to high-end enterprise development agencies. Populating your site, debugging errors, generating code- these are just a few of the tasks made simple by WP-CLI.

If that sounds like you- you’re not a terminal-using, command-line-claiming WordPress pro just yet- then I’d like to personally invite you to our next MasterWP Workshop: The Power of WP-CLI. This workshop will not be a deep dive into setting up your terminal, explaining the logic SSH, or spending hours debugging your local PHP version. Instead, we’ll take a bird’s eye view of the command line, and look at simple, practical use-cases of WP-CLI for WordPress developers and agencies.

I’m fairly new to using WP-CLI, but it’s become an indispensable part of my workflow. I’m hoping it can be the same for you, and take some of the mystery away from that blinking cursor in your terminal window.

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Brian is the Technology Director at Understrap and Howard Development & Consulting. Located in Southern California, Brian is a former college instructor and full-stack developer who brings his unique academic perspective to Understrap Academy. Brian is a graduate of California State Polytechnic University Pomona and California State University Fullerton. His work has included projects for Harvard University, The World Bank, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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