One of the habits I’ve kept from my brief stint as a programmer is that I love CLI apps, particularly Homebrew apps. They’re simple, fun to use, are capable of things that some GUI apps aren’t, and are just great for tweaking and safely modifying your Mac.
If you don’t know anything about CLI apps or Homebrew, then you might want to spend a bit more time researching CLI apps before installing the ones listed in this article. I will cover a brief explanation of Homebrew at the start of this article and will try to post more Homebrew/Terminal articles in the future, but for now, I recommend passing over this post if you don’t feel ready to experiment with CLI apps.
Introductions out of the way, let’s get into it!
What are Homebrew apps?
I’m using the term “Homebrew apps” to refer to apps that are installed through Homebrew. Homebrew is what’s known as a package manager. All this means is that you can install packages (i.e., apps) using Homebrew. Think of it as the App Store but for your Mac’s terminal.
The majority of Homebrew apps are completely free and safe. There are some security procedures in place to prevent malware from being downloaded from Homebrew. For instance, the
sudo command can’t be used by Homebrew, which prevents access to certain levels of your computer.
Unlike the App Store, however, this isn’t monitored by Apple, so you’ll want to get some confirmation that the apps you’re downloading are safe (every app in this post is verified to be safe).
It should also be noted that Homebrew is a third-party package manager. It doesn’t come with your Mac and it isn’t created by Apple. So if you don’t already have it installed, you’ll need to install it before installing any of the apps in this article. There are tons of easy tutorials online to help you through this process.
The best Homebrew apps for Mac
If you have Homebrew installed and your Terminal open on Mac, you’re ready to start trying out these Homebrew apps. Some of these are going to be more technical than others. That’s because CLI apps are generally geared towards developers.
However, I’ve also tried to include apps that everyone can use, such as a task manager, a safe YouTube video downloader, and a tool that lets you browse the web from the Terminal.
Without further ado, here are some of the best (and my personal favorite) Homebrew apps on Mac.
1. cask: Download GUI applications through your Mac terminal
By default, Homebrew only allows you to download CLI programs. CLI programs, or Command Line Interface programs, are apps that you interact with by typing out lines of code into the terminal window. They typically don’t respond to mouse clicks or have any other graphics besides plain text in the terminal.
A GUI program, or Graphical User Interface program, are the apps we most often use these days. Microsoft Word, Safari, YouTube, Slack – any app that has buttons, smooth graphics, videos, animations, and more is a GUI app. Since these apps are simpler to use, nearly all of the apps that come out today are GUI.
For Homebrew users who still want to install GUI apps via the terminal,
cask is a must. You can install apps like Google Chrome, Adobe Creative Cloud, Fantastical, and more.
cask to your list of Homebrew app, paste this into your terminal and hit return:
brew install cask
2. htop: The best resource manager for your Mac terminal
htopis one of the most popular Homebrew apps, and for good reason. It’s a resource manager that builds on the familiar
top CLI app with a better interface and additional features.
If you’ve ever used Activity Monitor on your Mac, then you’re familiar with what a resource manager does. It just shows how different apps are using up your computer’s RAM, CPU, and GPU. This makes it a great Activity Monitor alternative for those who are constantly working out of their terminal.
htop, paste the following code into your terminal:
brew install htop
3. wget: Download files and websites in an instant
wget is another of the Homebrew apps that every terminal user should have installed on their Mac. It’s a package that allows users to download anything attached to an HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, or FTPS protocol. Since these are the most popular protocols, this means you can essentially download anything you want from the web.
That includes downloading files, directories, and even entire websites right from the command line. It’s one of the fastest and simplest ways to move web-based files onto your computer.
You can also change the names of files as you’re downloading them, that way the websites and files you save using
wget are organized exactly how you like. You can limit download speed, too, which is super helpful when downloading huge files that you don’t want to destroy your bandwidth with.
wget using Homebrew, paste the following into your terminal:
brew install wget
links is one of the more niche terminal apps. I don’t think the average user will ever have much use for it. That said, it’s one of the coolest Homebrew apps I’ve come across.
links is a CLI app that allows you to run a web browser in your terminal. The version of the website displayed to you is incredibly simple. It will be text-based, of course, and just a list of the links and text listed on the website.
There’s still a lot of interactivity and navigation available, however, which makes it a lean way to navigate the web. Helpful for when you want to visit websites on a slow data connection, impress your friends, or… well, I’m sure there are some other uses.
It should be noted that there are several versions of
To install the version described in this post, paste this into your terminal:
brew install links
5. youtube-dl: Download YouTube videos with safety and ease
Truthfully, I’ve used
youtube-dl far more than any other of the Homebrew apps on this list. If you’ve ever tried to download a YouTube video, you know that it can be pretty tricky. YouTube doesn’t allow you to download videos from its website, and many third-party websites will download your video along with a nasty virus.
This is why I was super pleased to find
youtube-dl. Not only does it make downloading YouTube videos super easy and free, but it’s safe, too. I’ve been using it on my Mac for years now and have never had a single problem. It takes just a few seconds and a really simple command to download your YouTube video of choice.
You can even choose from options that allow you to download playlists, thumbnails, videos based on view count, control your download speed, and way more. It’s got everything you need and then some.
youtube-dl, paste this into your Mac terminal:
brew install youtube-dl
6. speedtest-cli: Quickly check your internet speed from your terminal
For now, internet speed is still a bit sporadic, regardless of how much you pay or where you live. This is why you might find yourself checking your internet speed often. It can be especially helpful when checking how optimized a website is – you can see how its optimization might be being affected by your network speeds.
speedtest-cli comes in. It’s a package that allows you to instantly check your internet speed from the terminal. No visiting shady websites that will struggle to load when your internet is running slowly.
You can even use different options in
speedtest-cli to change the information you’re seeing.
--bytes, for example, will show your speed in bytes, while
--simple will give you the basic information you’re looking for (ping, download, and upload speeds).
The one catch is that
speedtest-cli requires you to install
pip first, which is just a Python package manager. To install it
pip, paste this into your terminal:
brew install python
sudo easy_install pip
And lastly, to install
pip install speedtest-cli
7. tree: Instantly view your folders and files in a visual tree
If you know how to navigate your Mac terminal using commands like
.., you know that it’s not too hard to navigate simple file structures. When you have tons of files and directories to dig through, however, it can be hard to find the file you’re looking for.
To save you from digging through each folder to find what you need, you can just use the
tree is a simple command (just type
tree in the terminal after installing it) that instantly gives you a view of every file and folder on your computer, as well as how they’re nested in one another.
You can get a folder tree for a specific folder by navigating into that folder and calling the command. You can also control how many levels of the tree there are by entering
tree -L 1, with one being the number of levels deep you want to be.
tree, just paste this into your Mac terminal:
brew install tree
8. taskwarrior: A to-do list for your terminal
Next up on our list of Homebrew apps is
taskwarrior is one of the neatest Homebrew apps that anyone can use at any time. No need to be a developer or even a techie. It’s such a simple CLI app that I think it’s a great tool for those getting comfortable with the terminal to play around with.
taskwarrior is a to-do app that you can easily add to, organize, and check items off of right from your terminal. You can organize your tasks by date, priority, or even project.
If you don’t work in the terminal often,
taskwarrior might seem a little redundant. After all, tons of GUI apps do this for you (e.g., Reminders). But I find it to be a nifty thing to have, especially if you play in the terminal a lot.
taskwarrior on your Mac, paste this into your terminal:
brew install task
Since this app is a bit more robust than most listed so far, you can click here to learn how to use it. Also, you can usually get help for each of these packages in your terminal by typing their command (
wget, etc.) followed by
-help. Almost every CLI program will provide you with syntax, examples, and more with one of these commands.
9. tmux: Run multiple terminal sessions simultaneously
tmux is one of those Homebrew apps that some users won’t be able to live without and one that others won’t understand why you would need it in the first place.
tmux allows you to run multiple terminal sessions within the same window on your Mac. Your terminal will be divided up into multiple sections, each running a different terminal instance. You can customize where each instance is placed, how much of the screen it takes up, and how many different instances you want to run.
While this is mostly just for convenience, there are times when it can be a big help. For example, you can use it to SSH into another server and end the sessions without ending the process. Plus, it’s good for productivity if you want to avoid opening social media while you work.
tmux, paste this into your Mac terminal:
brew install tmux
This is another complicated CLI app, so here’s the documentation to help you figure it out. Scroll to the bottom of that page for the READ ME.
10. mas: Install apps on the Mac App Store from your terminal
mas is on the list of Homebrew apps that you probably will never need. But that doesn’t make it any less cool.
mas allows you to install App Store apps from your terminal. Just run the command, type the name of the app you want to install, and run the command.
This package is that it includes a few extra features that might encourage you to install it if you weren’t convinced before. That includes being able to check for the version number of an App Store app, installing all of your App Store updates at once, and using the
lucky command to download the first search result following a keyword.
mas from Homebrew, paste this into your Mac terminal:
brew install mas
11. midnight-commander: Use the terminal as if it were Finder
Last up on our list of Homebrew apps is
midnight-commander. It’s one of the most powerful apps on this list, turning your terminal window into a Finder-like file explorer.
Once installed, you can run
midnight-commander with the
mc command. Doing so will bring up a directory structure that you can navigate using your mouse or keyboard arrows. You’ll be able to see file sizes, dates, and more using this view.
midnight-commander shows you two sections mirroring whatever directory you’re currently in. You can then navigate through your files in each of these sections separately, comparing files and folders as you go.
This is a great tool for those who find
ls to be too tedious.
midnight-commander, paste this into your terminal:
brew install midnight-commander
Become a power user and start using these Homebrew apps
In addition to being safe and useful, Homebrew apps are one of the best ways to start pushing even more power and functionality out of your Mac. And if you’re new to the terminal, they can be a fun way to learn the basics without doing any harm to your machine.
For more tips, lists, guides, and reviews, check out the rest of the content here at AppleToolBox.