Monthly Archives: March 2015

Why I don’t Copy and Paste Commands into a Terminal

Years ago I was doing customer support for a company that rented virtual private servers. There wasn’t enough technical staff so I started googling the answers to the customers problems, and following tutorials and instructions to fix their servers.

During this time, my brother gave me a lot of good advice for which I am very grateful, but perhaps the single most valuable thing he said to me – the thing that cemented all my other sysadmin learning – was:
“I found that typing out the commands rather than copy-pasting them helps me remember them.”
So I started forcing myself to type out the commands I was seeing in tutorials/instructions and in my notes, and I found my brother was very right. (Note, nothing wrong with copy-pasting commands from your terminal into your notes if you’re a note taker.)

Moreover, I found it’s not just about the ability to remember commands and their options. A large portion of the command line knowledge and confidence I’ve gained over the years was via mistyping commands. When you mistype a command, or type it from memory, if forces you to think about what the command is doing and what it’s options are said to be. It also gives you confidence about the safety and danger of various mistypings, (when you should be extremely careful, and when it’s ok to trial-and-error it.)

P.S. On note taking:

For me, “man grep” is where I keep my notes on grep-ing things, “man awk” is where I keep my notes on awk-ing things, et al. – This has a primary and secondary advantage:
  1. My notes remain precisely coupled to changes in the command’s options – my notes are never out of date for one second.
  2. My notes can always be found in the time it takes to type “man command” – no searching through stacks of paperwork or electronic notes.