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What is the difference between on the command line and at the command line?

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I would say that, when the command line is in front of you, you are at the command line. (Or you are at a command prompt, or in a terminal window. Etc.)

Whatever you type is on the command line.

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I don't think there is any difference in meaning or "correctness" between the two forms. Personally I use at the command line, and until just now I assumed most people did the same. But apparently I'm in the minority...

enter image description here

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There may be an interaction here between "on the command line" and "at the command prompt". In the situation in which these expressions are typically used, namely when explaining to someone what to type into a command shell window, they effectively mean the same thing. People may be mixing them up. This is supported by the almost identical frequencies of "at the command prompt" and "at the command line":


Google ngram histogram

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  • After reading your answer I have no idea what your point is :) Oct 21 '11 at 16:20
  • @Piotr: Ah, sorry about that! My point is that "on the command line" makes more sense and "at the command line" is probably a version that came about through confusion with "at the command prompt"; I don't it's intended to mean anything other than "on the command line".
    – joriki
    Oct 21 '11 at 16:35

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