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Speed up your Terminal workflow with aliases on macOS

18 December, 2018

Posted in code

Whether your just starting out on your development journey or you’re a seasoned pro, chances are you’ll be reaching for the Terminal app on a regular basis.

I for one don’t particularly enjoy using the Terminal but seeing as it’s inevitable, you can make the whole process a little easier by setting up some simple time-saving aliases.

Creating aliases

An aliases is simply a custom shortcut or abbreviation to a more verbose Terminal command.

Let’s create a temporary alias in the command line for ls -l (list of the current directory contents using a long listing format). Open Terminal and run the following command:

alias ll="ls -l"

Note: There must not be any spaces before or after the equal sign otherwise the alias will not work.

Now if you type ll in your Terminal you should see something like this.

drwx------@  5 user  staff   160B 19 Jan 14:55 Applications/
drwx------+ 5 user staff 160B 12 Jun 17:12 Desktop/
drwx------+ 14 user staff 448B 30 Apr 12:48 Documents/
drwx------+ 12 user staff 384B 14 Jun 15:35 Downloads/
drwx------@ 25 user staff 800B 11 Jun 10:06 Dropbox/
drwx------@ 19 user staff 608B 8 Jun 09:27 Google Drive/
drwx------@ 71 user staff 2.2K 24 May 12:41 Library/
drwx------+ 4 user staff 128B 29 Mar 14:36 Movies/
drwx------+ 5 user staff 160B 29 Mar 17:40 Music/

As previously mentioned, this is just a temporary alias. It will be removed when you quit the current Terminal session.

Creating permanent aliases

To make aliases permanent, we have to set them in a ~/.bash_profile file which is read when you open Terminal.

Use the command ls -al to check if you already have a .bash_profile file.

If not, you can create one by typing

touch .bash_profile

Open to edit the file by running the following:

nano ~/.bash_profile

You can also open and edit it with your code editor. I use Visual Studio Code with the command code ~/.bash_profile.

Add the following lines, save the file and then restart Terminal.

# -------
# Aliases
# -------
alias ll="ls -l"

You can also tell Terminal to reload the ~/.bash_profile file using the source command:

source ~/.bash_profile

Useful Aliases

Here are some of the aliases I have set up which you may also find useful.

alias ..="cd .."          # Up 1 directory
alias ...="cd ../.." # Up 2 directories
alias ....="cd ../../.." # Up 3 directories
alias cd..="cd .." # Because typing the space is for amateurs!

alias ls="ls -GFh" # A nicer looking list
alias ll="ls -l" # List current directory contents
alias la="ls -la" # List all, including dotfiles

alias o="open ." # Open the current directory in Finder

alias ip="dig +short" # Public IP

Other ideas

This website is built using Jekyll and while I’m doing local development I always need to change to my project directory and run bundle exec jekyll serve --watch. This is a perfect candidate for an alias which I’ve set up as

alias jw="bundle exec jekyll serve --watch" ## Run the Jekyll serve and watch

I could go one step further and chain the cd command in there too so I can change directory and start up Jekyll all in one alias, e.g.

alias sitedev="cd ~/dev/sites/ajaykarwal-com/ && bundle exec jekyll serve --watch"

Notice the use of && to chain a second command on.


Aliases are a great way to save a few keystrokes as you ramp up your Terminal commands usage. Give it a go and take a step closer to becoming a command line power user!