No matter how hard we try, we can’t escape the command line. It lurks beneath our modern operating systems, just waiting for the right moment to strike. But if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I say—how else to explain my latest pick for an iOS app I love, Panic’s Prompt.
Now, it may be that you have no need for Prompt. That’s okay, it can be a bit on the niche side. But should you ever have a need for using telnet or secure shell (SSH) from your iOS device, let it be known that Prompt is where it’s at. Me, I’ve used Prompt for everything from logging into my remote Web server to fix a problem on a personal website to connecting to my home computer while I’m thousands of miles away in order to locate a particular file.
Prompt shares much in common with other apps I tend to like. For one thing, it’s got plenty of features: It lets you store frequently used connections—including login information, initial commands, terminal types, and more. Not only does it support SSH, but it also lets you use the insecure version, telnet, just in case you feel the need to go watch ASCII Star Wars again. You can also maintain multiple connections at once, toggling back and forth by hitting the globe key in Prompt’s toolbar.
That toolbar is actually one of Prompt’s best features. In addition to quick access to frequently used command line keys like Escape, Control, and Tab, it also provides four slots that you can customize by tapping and holding the key, then selecting characters from the standard keyboard. Tapping the four-way arrow key next to them also gives you access to cursor keys, and another tap then gives you access to Function, Page Up, and Page Down keys. (On the iPad, you can actually swipe between the customizable special keys and function keys, while the cursor keys are always available.)
There’s further customization available by tapping the Settings icon on the main screen, which lets you choose between white-on-black and black-on-white color schemes, pick from one of three font sizes, activate a visual beep (in addition to the default audio one), and activate a passcode lock for the app.
If that’s not enough security for you, Prompt also supports SSH key pairs for remote connections—assuming you know how to set them up. Those keys can be imported via iTunes File Sharing or, perhaps more simply, via your iOS device’s clipboard.
For the most part, though, Prompt stays out of your way and lets you do what you’re there to do: work from the command line. Its design is simple and unobtrusive, even if it might be in need of a new coat of iOS 7-style paint.
About the only feature I’m missing in Prompt is the ability to sync connections (and thus passwords and keys) between my iPhone and iPad. Some of this is alleviated if you can take the time to set up Agent Forwarding, which Prompt supports, though that’s a pretty technical endeavor that most people won’t bother with.
At $8, Prompt is probably one of the more expensive SSH clients you can find on the App Store. But that extra cash buys you something: solid engineering; a simple, attractive interface; and great usability. In all the years I’ve used it, I’ve never had need to regret my purchase, and if you use SSH with any regularity, you won’t either.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.