Introduction to Bash

Before we begin…

Command Line

The command line is a way to operate your computer without a graphical user interface. Know how search, copy and move files from a finder window on your desktop? You can do all of that with written commands from the command line. Today we’ll learn how.


Where does Bash fit in? Well, it’s one version of a command line. There are many. Why learn Bash then? Bash is commonly found on machines operating Unix based systems. Many of these machines are great for doing geo-stuff, building websides, webservices and processing data.

During the session today, we’ll learn how to:

  1. Access the command line
  2. Help!
  3. Navigation
  4. Make things
  5. Move things
  6. Get from the Internet
  7. Look at data
  8. Analyze data
  9. Alter data


Go to where you search for software on your computer. On a mac this will be spotlight. In windows this is the start menu. Search terminal. Pop that open.


The Internet is chock full of advice on how to get the job done with Bash. Half the struggle is learning how to formulate the question. Stick with it.

As you get comfortable on the command line, add --help as an argument to your command or do man <command> to see what’s possible.

If you leave today wanting more, checkout BASH Programming - Introduction HOW-TO and Bash Guide for Beginners for logical next steps.


This is really important. Master a few simple commands and you’ll know how to see what is around you and move from one filesystem location to another. This will be the foundation of what you do on the command line.

Before we dive head first, let’s spend a moment discussing file paths. Paths define the structure of your filesystem, you’ll use them extensively in your quest for command line Fu. Conceptually, they are very similar to a tree. Each filesystem has a root, you can think of directories as branches, and files as leaves.

The root of your filesystem is /

~/ is your users home, and is short for /home/you/

As you’ll come to see, things branch indefinitely from here.


ls shows you the contents of your current directory. When you first open your terminal, you’re in your home directory, let’s see what’s there.


That’s great, but there’s actually a lot of information available to us. Let’s try:

ls -lh

What’s the deal with -lh? Those are options that we pass to the ls command that change the output.

l - use long listing format h - human readable

There’s a lot of information that we don’t have time to get into right now. Try man ls if you feel like going down the rabbit hole.

Note: you can list the contents of any directory by including the path in your ls command. For instance, ls -lh /home/you/Desktop


You can’t sit still forever, at some point you’ll want to move. cd will get you there:

cd Desktop

Note: many commands only require relative paths. In this case, the only path that matters is the one that takes you from where you are to where you’re going. Contrast them to absolute paths which are defined from the root of the files system, for example /home/you/Desktop

Make things

Here at Maptime we’re all about making things.


Let’s start by making a directory to hold our work during the tutorial.

mkdir bash-tutorial

Let’s move into there:

cd bash-tutorial

What’s in here?


Nothing, we just made it. HELLO-helLO-HEllo…


Vessels were made to be filled…

touch original_file.txt
ls -lh

Hey! Touch creates an empty file, I hate empty files. Let’s make a file another way:

echo "this file will never be empty again" >original_file.txt


Let’s move this with a relative path…

mv original_file.txt ../

That moves it up one directory…

ls ../

See it there? Let’s move it Back

mv ../original_file.txt .

Get Things From the Internet

Let’s look at [Seattle Cultural Space Inventory]

We could just download the data from the website, or we could grab via the command line with curl.



Whoa, that’s a lot of information. Let’s put that into a file.

curl >culture-space.csv

Look at Data

Before we start, let’s do some research. We need to know what we’re looking at.

head culture-space.csv

This is a pretty good place to start. It shows you the first ten lines of the file, which in most cases is readable. As we can see, that first line is a header.

head -n1 culture-space.csv

That gives us just the first line. This is a pretty good place to start as we hone in to specific lines.


head -n1 culture-space.csv | tr -s , \\t

Whoops, we just used our first pipe. | allows you to direct the stdout of one command to the stdin of another command. We get the first line of culture-space.csv then send it to tr which replaces commas with tabs. Commas hurt my eyes, this makes the header more readable for me. We can assume that all subsequent lines will be split on the same columns.


tail -n +1 culture-space.csv | wc -l

This is a lot like head except it starts from the end of the file. The +1 tells it to read the last n +1 lines of the file. Then we pipe to wc -l, which outputs the number of lines.

So now we know what the columns are. We also know the number of records. 866 is more that we can realistically read.

Analyze Data

So, let’s say we’re interested in neighborhoods. Which neighborhood has the most cultural centers?


head culture-space.csv | cut -d, -f5

We isolate the output to column -f5. As we can see, we got neighborhoods. -d, tells cut to use commas as the column delimiter.


head culture-space.csv | cut -d, -f5 | sort

This reorders stdin alphabetically. See the two Greenwoods? Pretty hard to spot.


head culture-space.csv | cut -d, -f5 | sort | uniq -c

We send in our sorted neighborhoods, and uniq -c outputs count-value pairs. From here we can that Greenwood is the only neighborhood with 2 cultural centers… But wait…

tail -n +1 culture-space.csv | cut -d, -f5 | sort | uniq -c

This runs the count over the full set of records… But that’s not that useful either.

 tail -n +1 culture-space.csv | tr -s , \\t | cut -f5 | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr | head

This adds sort -nr, which sorts as numbers in reverse. head closes it off to show us the top ten.

Alter Output

Let’s say we want to take a closer look at the centers in Belltown…


tail -n +1 culture-space.csv | grep Belltown

This only outputs lines that contain the string “Belltown”. That pretty good.

```tail -n +1 culture-space.csv | grep Belltown >belltown.csv

Now we have the Belltown records in their own file.

## awk

tail -n +1 culture-space.csv | awk -F , ‘$5 == “Belltown”’ ```

This only matches on records where the fifth column equals “Belltown”.


We can go a lot of places from here. Most of these tools have a long list of arguments that can be passed to alter their behavior.