I love Ubuntu Linux - especially the commmand line. But I have to admit that, at least for now, Windows is more user-friendly - there's more software for it, more drivers, and more stuff just works.

Knowing that Mac is built on Unix makes me wonder if it's the sweet spot between them. But I wonder: how similar is the Mac command line to Linux's bash? Could I pick right up with using vim and bash scripting and git, etc? Would common commands like changing directories be different? Does anybody know an online "compare and contrast" resource?

  • Dude - VmWare. I run an Ubuntu 18.04.4 virtual machine on top of Windows 10 on cheap but beefy server hardware. Everywhere I work hands me a four thousand dollar Macbook that I try to work on for a couple weeks until I want to throw it out a window due to shell differences. Then it becomes a nice paperweight. Mar 9, 2020 at 17:13
  • They are different command lines, macOS has programs that linux doesn't have an vice versa. Sometimes even for the same programs the syntax/options are different. This is why I tell people that getting a mac in order to have the same terminal as on linux but with better user experience may be a disappointment. lol. I'd rather use windows with pure linux through WSL. Dec 3, 2022 at 5:17

6 Answers 6


Bash is bash so the shell and its built-ins are the same. But be aware that the behavior of some tools like ps or head can differ in the details thus your scripts might fail.

  • 6
    Bear in mind that this isn't so much a Mac vs. Linux problem, rather than a various flavors of unix do things slightly different problem. You would find the same (actually more differences) between Linux and, for example, HP-UX.
    – KeithB
    Aug 23, 2010 at 13:08
  • 2
    You can standardize on the gnu binutils toolset across linux and OSX. Macports and homebrew will both install on OSX. This will at least standardize things like ls/tar/etc. ps is still OS dependent.
    – skarface
    Feb 17, 2015 at 22:19
  • also file: file -i on linux while file -I in osx ☹️ Jun 7, 2019 at 23:14

Mac OS X is a Unix OS and its command line is 99.9% the same as any Linux distribution. bash is your default shell and you can compile all of the same programs and utilities. There's no notable difference. You can also find various projects like MacPorts which provide package management for Mac.

  • 1
    +1: the above is true. You may need to bear in mind weather your mac uses an intel or a powerpc processor when it comes to compiling code or using pre-built packages, i understand new macs are only intel but i may be wrong. typo @ w0rm: package* management. :-)
    – Sirex
    Aug 23, 2010 at 10:54
  • 2
    Although your scripts will probably work for both Mac and Linux, it's always wise to test them on both platforms. I've seen quite some (subtle) differences between linux distributions and even between different versions of the same linux version.
    – Roalt
    Aug 23, 2010 at 11:07
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    @digit, that must be the BSD version they charge for? s/F/Fr/ ;)
    – user1931
    Aug 23, 2010 at 18:30
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    99.9% is not correct. OS X is a BSD variant and does not have GNU utilities. You can always install them but an a lot of commands have different options. It's Unix but not Linux.
    – Matteo
    May 10, 2013 at 18:50
  • 3
    Indeed, this is an example of 100% bogus statistics. Depending on your use case the range is off the cuff something like 70%-100% but attempting to quantify this as a percentage is really just silly.
    – tripleee
    Mar 26, 2018 at 7:53

A couple things - it really depends on what you mean by command line.

  1. You'll probably run bash, which will be the same as bash on any other UNIX. The bash programming language will be the same too - as long as it's the same version. Bash versions have slight differences in the language, but this has nothing to do with MacOSX vs. Linux per se.

You may actually bump into this - /bin/bash on a Mac is pinned to 3.x for licensing reasons. You may find minor compatibility issues if you’re used to 4 or even 5.

  1. bash by itself is a small subset of 'command line'. To be useful you typically use some other common UNIX utilities such as awk, or ls, or cut. Because of its history (it's descended from BSD, not Linux or SystemV), the Mac versions of utilities will be different than the ones you're used to on Linux (a.k.a. GNU versions). These will have at least some flag differences, and some output and functionality differences than Linux. Scripts that use these will have to be changed to compensate. BSD awk vs GNU gawk is pretty different. OR, you can get these GNU versions from macports or home brew, and set your PATH so that these are the defaults (over the built in versions).

  2. MacOS X also has some new cool tools. open is nice, it will open the object as if you double clicked it. defaults allows you to set some preferences, some not even in the GUI preferences panels. textutil can be useful and say can be fun.


It's very similar, but if you know of any BSD v. Linux differences, expect the Mac to have the BSD behavior.


The command line functionality on Mac and Linux are indeed similar as OS X has a flavour of UNIX (called Darwin) underneath the GUI that you see.

The default shell on OS X is bash, so if you're familiar with that you will adjust nicely.

On a Mac, the default command line application is Terminal. There are also a number of other emulators out there but overall Terminal provides a very similar look and feel to the shell you are used to in Linux.

The primary source of differences though are:

  • Different command line arguments at times (i.e. see du for example). The primary commands like cd or ls etc. are similar.
  • There are more parts of OS X that shouldn't be edited by hand as you might do in Linux. This is a topic of its own, but just be aware that running a Mac is not exactly like running a Linux box in terms of configuration and upkeep.

That being said there are also a lot of cool hacks available from the command line in OS X (e.g. open commnand). There are lots of previous threads and blog posts out there with more info.

You can also get your hands on a bunch of opensource packages (i.e. git, hg, etc.) via MacPorts, Fink or a few other package management systems for OS X. You can also build other source packages intended for UNIX/Linux like systems as necessary.


Here is one difference. Try this command in both Mac and Linux bash shell

find /etc -name "*.conf"

Mac displays nothing, even though there are lot of .conf file inside /etc.

  • 7
    Maybe you could tell people why this is.
    – Mads
    Aug 28, 2012 at 13:58
  • 1
    Not sure, maybe it has got to do with the pathname expansions in POSIX. This command works find /etc/* -name "*.conf" . Nevertheless, that was provided as an example to contrast MAC command line to LINUX command line. Cannot reason a -ve vote. Aug 29, 2012 at 4:42
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    That's because /etc on OSX is a symbolic link. If you try find /etc/ -name "*.conf" it indicates /etc is a directory instead of a file. Does find in Linux treat symbolic links to directories as directories by default?
    – MechEthan
    Nov 8, 2012 at 17:13
  • touch works differently on macOS. touch haystack/folder{1..500}/file{1..100} works on linux but not on macOS. Sep 1, 2022 at 1:40

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