Learn How to Shell with Explain Shell


January 8th, 2018

ExplainShell.com is an online tool built by Idan Kamara that visually explains each part of a Unix command by matching command-line arguments to their help text.

You can paste some code, and the site will break down each piece of the command. For example, take the following find command:

find . -type f -print0

The command will produce the following explanation that allows you to filter and navigate each part of the command:

Here’s the background of the material and technologies used to create explainshell.com:

This site contains 29761 parsed manpages from sections 1 and 8 found in Ubuntu’s manpage repository. A lot of heuristics were used to extract the arguments of each program, and there are errors here and there, especially in manpages that have a non-standard layout.

It is written in Python and uses bashlex, a bit of NLTK (to find the interesting parts of the manpage), a little d3.js (for the connecting lines graphic) and Flask. It is served with uwsgi and nginx. Source code is available on github.

You can try it out at explainshell.com. The source code is also available on GitHub.

Another manpage tool we’ve covered is the excellent TLDR Pages and accompanying command line tool.

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Paul Redmond

Full stack web developer. Author of Lumen Programming Guide and Docker for PHP Developers.