Accounting from the command line

Ledger

© Lead Image © Olaf Speier, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Olaf Speier, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 211/2018
Author(s):

By learning a few basic functions, you can take your accounting to the command line.

At first, an accounting program run from the command line may seem a needless complication. Surely, a desktop application like GnuCash [1], in which information is available at a glance, is easier to understand – especially if you are one of those whose brain freezes at the thought of bookkeeping? Yet perhaps the fact that Ledger [2] shows only a limited amount of information at a time is actually a point in its favor. Because it runs from a command line, Ledger shows only the information requested. Probably, it helps, too, that while Ledger functions like a database, it is a stripped down one, storing and writing information in plain text files, and generally just the essentials. If you need extras, you can write shell scripts to extend functionality. As the project's website suggests, Ledger offers a "fat-free" version of accounting. And, if you need additional information – including an introduction to basic accounting – Ledger's documentation is concise, clear, and complete.

Nor does this bare essentials approach result in oversimplification. Ledger is complete enough that a large non-profit like the Software Freedom Conservancy has used it for years to manage its financial affairs. Over the 15 years of its existence, Ledger has developed a thorough, no-nonsense approach that makes it unique among accounting software.

In fact, Ledger is such a mature application that it has dozens of options – far too many to mention here. Mercifully, though, users can generally get started with only a few options, or even none at all. To start using Ledger, users need to understand only two things: how to set up a journal, and how to generate reports to evaluate a journal. Almost everything else is a simple elaboration on these two tasks.

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