Mathematica on the command-line (invoked by running 'wolfram' on bash shell) seems bereft of all modern usability features. I'd like a list of the best third-party packages available (if any exist) for command line work.

At a bare minimum, I'm looking for a way get a textual Monitor or ProgressIndicator to inspect non-instantaneous computation:

n = 1; Monitor[While[True, n++], n]

command line Mathematica

This trick from python of years ago might help: using the carriage return ('\r') character to return to the start of the line without advancing to the next line to achieve "dynamic" updates in the shell prompt:

for x in range(10):
    print '{0}\r'.format(x),


Perhaps something similar for Mathematica is possible?


  • I'm using Ubuntu 18 Linux MMA 11.3
  • I'd like to see an exhaustive list of symbols that require front end
  • In Python (or iPython) there are many ergonomic tools for the command line REPL like auto-completion or textual progress bars (tqmd):


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You need to realize that what you're are asking is not an "ergonomic command line kernel", what you want is a textual frontend. Even the most basic Dynamic features are completely handled by the front end which has several links to the kernel exactly for the reason to be able to "ask dynamically for values" while the kernel is doing something. If you start a simple cmd kernel, you have one and only one link. If you run something, this link is blocked. So an enhanced command line kernel means that you (a) have to set up additional links to the kernel that you can use for inspection and (b) $\endgroup$
    – halirutan
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 15:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ you need to re-implement at least some basic features of Dynamic. This however goes far beyond what an answer here can provide. There might be some hacky ways that provide simple feedback. E.g. you could print things during a loop like "$$$progress 12/100" and let you command line library interpret this and convert it into a progress bar instead of printing it line by line. My point is, "doing it right" is a lot of work. $\endgroup$
    – halirutan
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 15:08

2 Answers 2


As I said in my comments, it is hard to implement this correctly if you aim for some advanced Dynamic features that work in the command line. However, you can surely use the carriage-return trick on the command line.

The only obstacle here is that Print puts everything on a new line. However, if you write directly to stdout, you don't have this problem. Consider the following small example:

progress[n_, max_] := WriteString["stdout", 
  "\r[" <> StringJoin@Table["#", n] <> 
  StringJoin@Table[" ", max - n] <> "]"

n=0; While[n++<20, Pause[0.2];progress[n,20]]

enter image description here


Is there any way to make this sensitive to the terminals window size?

Hmm, it's difficult, because you would need feedback from your window how large it is. I don't see a way to do this from the top of my head.

Would be nice to show additional information! Like ETA, Time Taken Already, Percentage

One downside of using \r is that it doesn't delete the line and you have to ensure that your output is either of the same size or longer. Or you use another function to delete the line after an iteration.

Beside this obstacle, running time, ETA, or percentage can be implemented using a closure because you need to remember the starting time and other things.

An implementation for ETA could look like this

Module[{start = Missing, eta, iter = 0},
 ETA[max_Integer] := Module[{},
   If[start === Missing, start = AbsoluteTime[]];
   eta = (AbsoluteTime[] - start)/iter;
    "\r" <> ToString[Round[max*eta - iter*eta]] <> " Seconds left"]

and is then used like this

n = 0; While[n++ < 100, ETA[100]; Pause[.1]] 

As you can see, on the first call it initializes the starting time and then, on each iteration, it updates the ETA.

An implementation for a sine-perculator can also be created but it requires that you have many, short iterations so that the display is updated often. However, I don't recommend something like this because it's hard to ensure that the progress display doesn't slow down your overall loop too much.

enter image description here

ProgressBar[] := With[{initTime = AbsoluteTime[]},
   Module[{curr = AbsoluteTime[] - initTime, percolate},
    percolate = Round[10*Cos[2*curr] + 10];
    percolate = Append[ConstantArray[" ", percolate], "#"];
    percolate = 
      Join[percolate, ConstantArray[" ", 21 - Length[percolate]]];
      "[`perc`] `time` Seconds",
       "perc" -> percolate,
       "time" -> Round[curr, 0.1]

pbar=ProgressBar[]; n=0; While[n++<12^4, pbar[]] 
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is there anyway to make this sensitive to the terminals window size? $\endgroup$
    – M.R.
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 6:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Would be nice to show additional information! Like ETA, Time Taken Already, Percentage ... $\endgroup$
    – user5601
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 17:05

I have implemented a relatively bare-bones textual frontend for Mathematica called MathLine. It offers Readline-like text input (uses linenoise), which means command history and emacs-style editing. Symbol completion would be easy to implement and is not affected by the same technical challenges of dynamic monitoring mentioned by others. The ergonomic advantage to Mathematica's textual frontend is the Readline features, but I wrote it for very different motivations.

Jim Radford wrote JMath which is similar to MathLine but already has symbol name completion and awareness of window size changes.

It would be nice to have a textual front end with a fuller feature set, including some kind of support for dynamic content. At the very east, non-blocking evaluation is possible without running into the technical issues described by others on this thread. It should be relatively simple to add this feature to existing implementations. I would also like to see syntax highlighting, moving between "cells" for re-evaluation, etc. These more advanced features would probably be better implemented with IPython/PTPython/prompt_toolkit. But alas, nobody has implemented any of this.


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