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The Command Line API for Fun and Profit

The Command Line API is a collection of aliases, convenience functions, and shortcuts to interact with your web page right from within the JavaScript console. In this article, we will have a look at some of those helpers and how you can leverage them for a better developing and debugging experience.

You can access your browser’s javaScript console in a variety of ways. Usually pressing F12 and clicking the Console tab works best.

Before we dive in, let me ask you a little quiz question: Do you know what it takes to visualize the outline of your CSS layout in the browser?

Exactly 108 bytes.

[]$$("*"),function(a){"1px solid #"+(~~(Math.random()*(1<<24))).toString(16)})

A tweet-sized debugger as Addy Osmani, the creator of this smart one-liner, put it. Go ahead and try it out right now. Just copy the line and paste it into the JavaScript console of your favorite developer tools, like Chrome’s DevTools, Firefox’s Firebug, Opera’s Dragonfly, Safari’s Web Inspector, or even IE’s F12 tools (although IE only supports the $ family and the console object).

Using the Command Line API to outline every DOM element with CSS

While the creation of the color hex value is impressive, I want to draw your attention to the peculiar $$. This is an alias for document.querySelectorAll and one of many clever bits in the Command Line API. Let’s see what else the API has to offer.

The Command Line API is only accessible in the JavaScript console. You cannot make the API available to your scripts on the page. On the bright side, this gives you the unique opportunity to try all the code snippets in the remainder of this article right here in the browser window. Simply open your JavaScript console and experiment.

Exploring the DOM


If you are familiar with the jQuery library you can probably guess what $ does. As an alias for document.querySelector it returns a reference to the first DOM element matching the given CSS selector.

Let’s see how we can use this in the famous Cookie Clicker game. In case you never stumbled upon this monotonous but weirdly addictive game: You basically click on a big cookie to produce more of those baked goods and buy all sorts of cookie-baking devices. These then produce even more cookies… you get the picture.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could give our hand and mouse a break and let the console take care of the cookie clicking? With a little bit of JavaScript and our new friend $ this can be achieved in a neat one-liner:

setInterval(function() { $("#bigCookie").click(); }, 10);

As entertaining as this is, there are also scenarios where the DOM selecting functions of the Command Line API are of actual value. You already learned about the power of $$ in the introduction of this article. As an alias for document.querySelectorAll it returns an array of all the DOM elements that match the given CSS selector.

For example, we can use this function to extract all the image sources of a web site:

var pics = $$("img");
for (pic in pics) {

Using the Command Line API to scrape all image sources from an Instagram page

If you are looking for a specific element and want to examine it closer, use inspect. inspect(document.body), for example, will bring you directly to the body element in the Elements tab of your developer tools. (inspect also works if you pass a JavaScript function to it — it will take you to the Sources panel.)

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