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The Unix(like) command line interface (CLI) is a powerful, mature, stable interface to interact with modern computers.

The CLI provides a standardized, text-based interface, generally accessed through a terminal emulator (or virtual console), usually running a shell. It maintains notable advantages over graphically based usage which make it the tool of choice for many professionals.

The CLI has a rich history that predates even CRT screen technology, beginning on teleprinters. This long history has resulted in a sophisticated system, which developed many of it's characteristics along with the UNIX OS. Today, text is almost always entered with a keyboard, and output presented on a screen.

Though the learning curve may be steeper than for GUIs, once the minimum skill is acquired from habitual use, the CLI provides all the commands available on a system right under the user's fingertips - without having to read and navigate menus.

CLI tools tend to aim to provide simple, easily memorizable interfaces, who's options can be combined to achieve the desired functionality. The CLI provides all functionality through a standard interface, to allow tight interaction between tools, and even provides help and manuals via options such as --help, and Man pages.

Modern shells provide powerful constructs, such as pipes, allowing diverse tools to interact. Many utilities provide filtering and sorting of output.

Some CLI utilities may be interactive, either asking for basic input, or effectively opening a command-specific sub-shell. Most utilities will take input from the command line, standard input, files, devices or the network and can output to the command line, or have their output redirected to a file or piped to other commands.

See also