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Command-line Interface (CLI) Introduction

What is a CLI?

A command-line interface (CLI) was the original way everyone interacted with computers, before the rise of 'Graphical User Interfaces' (GUI). With a CLI everything is done with text - you type commands in with your keyboard and the responses are all textual. For more on what a command-line is see this article.

Why would I use Planet’s CLI?

Planet offers a number of ways to interact with its API’s, from Planet Explorer, which is a full web-based GUI, to plug-ins for QGIS and ArcGIS Pro for those who want to stay in their desktop GIS environment.

The Planet CLI offers more direct interaction with the API’s, as its commands more directly reflect what the API’s can do. Thus it can be a great way for developers to explore what is possible. There are also many people who do lots of their day to day work on a command-line and find it to be faster overall, so the Planet CLI will fit right in with their workflow.

If you’re normally a GUI user but are curious about the command-line it does offer some advantages. Once you’re comfortable with it, the CLI can be much faster for searching and ordering lots of data. Many workflows that take lots of clicking in a UI can be just a few keyboard commands. And you can further 'script' together many commands, so several operations can be customized as one or two commands. So using a CLI can be a nice halfway point between a full programming language and a GUI, offering a lot of power but without having to become a programmer.

With Planet most new capabilities start in the API, and then the CLI often gets updated before things are available in the UI’s.

How do I get started?

There are a couple main ways to get started, depending on how you like to learn. One way is to just jump from here into all the examples in the CLI for Data API Tutorial and then the CLI for Orders API Tutorial. You’ll quickly be able to get some results and start to get a feel for how things work, even if the exact commands make less sense. Or you can continue in this document, and learn a bit more of the background to understand what’s going on in the text you’re typing in. Or feel free to jump around between the two.

Complete Beginners

If you have never used a command-line interface before, we recommend learning some of the basics before diving in here. One great place to start is the Learn Enough Command Line to Be Dangerous, but there are other options as well. Just be sure you are comfortable navigating through different directories and modifying files, and the rest of this guide should teach you enough to understand Planet’s CLI.

Core Unix Concepts

There are a few key CLI concepts that are worth understanding in order to get the most out of Planet’s CLI. These are all built into any unix command-line, including Linux and the Mac terminal. If you’re on Windows you can use Windows Subsytem for Linux or Cygwin.

Piping & Redirection

Several commands in the Planet CLI are used to create files that are used as input to other commands. The default of these commands is to just print the output on your screen. Seeing it on the screen can be useful for making sure it’s right, but you’ll most likely want to make use of it. This is where the concept of ’redirection' comes in. If you use the > character and then specify a file name the command-line will save its output to that file. So if you say:

 planet data filter --range cloud_percent lt 10 > filter.json

Then the output will be saved. This output is referred to as STDOUT, or 'standard output'. There is much more in this vein that you can do, like use >> to append to an existing file, or < to send what’s in the file as input for a command.

One of the most powerful concepts that we use extensively in the Planet CLI is 'piping'. The | is the pipe symbol, and it’s a special command that lets you pass the output from one command to be the input for the next one. So instead of having to save to a file and then referring to it you can just do it all in one call:

planet data filter --range cloud_percent lt 10 | planet data search PSScene --filter -

The pipe says to take the output of the first command and pass it to the input of the second. You’ll notice that the planet command has a dash (-), this is a convention that is often used by different CLI programs to explicitly say ’read from standard out'. Using the dash to mean ’read from standard out' is a general convention used by many programs, but it’s not universal, so check the docs of the program you’re using as to how it reads from piped input. For example GDAL/OGR uses a specific /vsistdin/ convention to read from a pipe.

If you'd like to learn more about these topics then check out this tutorial. And if you'd like to learn more about the dash (-) see this tutorial.

Logical AND operator

Another command that is used in common Planet CLI is the && command, which you put between two commands to say that the second command should only execute when the first one is complete. It is used in orders to wait and download, so that the CLI doesn't call the download command until the order is actually ready.


One of the more powerful constructs you can do in command-line environments is to set and retrieve 'variables'. This starts you to get into true programming, where you are saving values that you can retrieve at any time. This is often useful with Planet’s CLI, especially in workflows that move between multiple different commands. You can find an introduction to variables and some powerful constructs in this tutorial.

Running a command within another

While piping can take you quite far, there are some situations where it doesn't quite handle exactly what you want. In many command-lines you can use the ` characters to wrap a set of commands that run. This is commonly done to set variables like

orderid=`planet orders list --limit 1 | jq -r .id`


All of Planet’s API’s use JSON as their main interchange format. So one of the most useful command-line tools is jq, which is a 'lightweight and flexible command-line JSON processor.' This allows you to easily manipulate the output, searching through results and transforming them. You can see it used in the example above to extract just the order ID from the full orders API JSON response. It also makes the default CLI output of any JSON much prettier, so throwing | jq at the end of any command returning JSON will be much more readable.

Check out for a decent tutorial - suggestions for any betters ones appreciated!


Another incredibly powerful and useful tool is cURL. It’s the key tool to make any HTTP request from the command-line. There’s a good hands-on introduction from freeCodeCamp.


One final tool worth mentioning is sed which lets you edit any text stream. While jq is focused on JSON, sed can handle any string, and its used a few times to help further process piped output.

Collecting Results with planet collect

The final tool worth mentioning is part of the planet CLI, but is fairly generic functionality that can be used with any command-line JSON output.

Some API calls, such as searching for imagery and listing orders, return a varying, and potentially large, number of results. These API responses are paged. The SDK manages paging internally and the associated CLI commands output the results as a sequence. These results can be converted to a JSON blob using the collect command. When the results represent GeoJSON features, the JSON blob is a GeoJSON FeatureCollection. Otherwise, the JSON blob is a list of the individual results.

planet data search PSScene | planet collect -

This gives you a fully compliant GeoJSON FeatureCollection, which is understood by many more programs than the default newline-delimited GeoJSON.

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