Bash tips and tricks

25 11 2007

This post is at my new blog at Interesting Things. Thanks.



102 responses

25 11 2007
Maarten Kooiker

Thanks for the tips. Though I use the terminal only once in a while, I (and many others with me I guess) prefer not to use it…. at least 90% percent of the persons that use computers panic if there is no mouse…….command line? what’s that?
But thanks anyway!

25 11 2007

Excellent info, the way history was handled was pretty annoying but I hadn’t got around to looking whether it could be changed in any way, you just saved me a job and for that I thank you :]

25 11 2007
Basic bash setup tips « 0ddn1x: tricks with *nix

[…] Basic bash setup tips Filed under: Linux, OSX — 0ddn1x @ 2007-11-25 23:39:10 +0000 […]

26 11 2007
Ryan Neufeld

I have been using linux now for about three years. This is a great set of tips!!

26 11 2007

The best set of bash tips:

* emerge zsh
* apt-get zsh
* yum zsh

Zsh does all this and more, like floating point math, for ((i=0; i<aval; i++) loops, “prog | read aval” (and aval is useable in rest of script), etc.

26 11 2007
Eliena Andrews

You rock man, thanks for the hot tips. U saved lot of time for us. Thanks

Eliena Andrews

26 11 2007
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26 11 2007
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26 11 2007

Same here … saved a job… was wanting to get to history overwriting for some time now. Thanks.

26 11 2007

Good bash tips. I’ve also got some miscellaneous bash tips at my site:

26 11 2007

Try this:
$ history | grep "foo"

Where “foo” is what you want to find in your recent history. Useful if it was a complicated command.

26 11 2007

Mice are for window management (focus-follows-mouse ftw!) and photo-editing only. Anything else, the terminal can do much faster. I’d feel right at home with no mouse as long as I had a nice bash shell (Windows’ big suckage point for me is its shitty shell).

The history cleaner-uppers look pretty useful. Thanks!

26 11 2007

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26 11 2007
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26 11 2007
David Thomas

I use Ctrl+R alot for a bash history search. Open a terminal, press Ctrl+R, start typing a recent command and it will find it for you 🙂

26 11 2007

Helpful tips. I love to customise the shell on my home system as much as I want, and while that is done both out of convenience and taste, it runs the risk of ruining my habits when I have to sit behind other shells or shells on other systems where my customisations are either not available.

26 11 2007
Sébastien Wains homepage » Bash tips and tricks

[…] Richard posted some nice tips about bash history.. […]

26 11 2007
26 11 2007

Just to pin point, bash is not the default shell on Ubuntu since 6.10

26 11 2007

I don’t have any tips for you but I do have a question. How does one go about getting un-hitched from the MS wagon without trashing all your computer stuff? I mean you practically MUST have a computer to pay bills and shop and things…Is there a good way to flip it?

Here’s a frame of reference for the question: I was thinking about this yesterday: the last Microsoft operating system I really liked was MS DOS 6.x–any suggestions?

26 11 2007

If you want to just copy paste here is the code compiled for this purpose.

# Bash tips and tricks for History related preferences
# see

# == 1 Lost bash history ==
# the bash history is only saved when you close the terminal, not after each command. fix it..
shopt -s histappend
PROMPT_COMMAND=’history -a’

# == 2. Stupid spelling mistakes ==
# This will make sure that spelling mistakes such as ect instead of etc are ignored.
shopt -s cdspell

# == 3. Duplicate entries in bash history ==
# This will ignore duplicates, as well as ls, bg, fg and exit as well, making for a cleaner bash history.
export HISTIGNORE="&:ls:[bf]g:exit"

# == 4 Multiple line commands split up in history ==
# this will change multiple line commands into single lines for easy editing.
shopt -s cmdhist

26 11 2007

Esc .! Typing this into the bash shell brings up the last “word” from the previous command. Often that’s the file or object you are dealing with. Note you can also use Esc and “_” but typing “_” requires a shift – “.” doesn’t. So then you can do stuff like:

$ ls file
$ more file
$ rm file

The object here is “file”. So you probably typed “ls file” or did filename completion. Then you say to youself “Hmmm what’s in file?” and type more. Just type Esc . and file will be filled in for you. Of course, file can be some real long path too. After looking at the contents of file you decide to get rid of it so you type rm then Esc . again recalling file.

26 11 2007

thanks for the tips.

Alternatively to the ctrl+R, a simple way to recall a command you’ve done earlier is :


where “xxx” are the first few letters of the command.

26 11 2007
Planet Malaysia

Thanks for the tips. Never use before.

26 11 2007

Cool tips mate, I think I’ll try some. Check out my blog at

26 11 2007
Basic bash setup tips « 0ddn1x: tricks with *nix

[…] Basic bash setup tips Filed under: Linux, OSX — 0ddn1x @ 2007-11-26 15:49:53 +0000 […]

26 11 2007
26 11 2007
BASH history preferences « Brave Dave’s Musings

[…] history preferences See this blogpost for tips on modifying BASH command line history […]

26 11 2007

Ctrl+R is part of series of shortcuts that come from emacs, so just learn emacs and you learn to better manipulate the bash shell. Like Ctrl+w, Ctrl+d, Alt+d, Ctrl+y, Ctrl+a, Alt+a, Ctrl+e, Alt+e, etc. etc….hell it evens supports undo try Ctrl+_
Or if your more a vi person just do set -o vi and follow the same principle.
Another nice tip: ^foo^bar to substitute foo by bar in the previous command

26 11 2007

I entered these commands and later when I started terminal which was after I rebooted the system I got the following error.

bash: -a’: command not found
rungss@rungss-ubuntu:~$ gedit ~/.bashrc &

this I suppose was because of the line

PROMPT_COMMAND=’history -a’

any idea why this is happening??

26 11 2007

For getting the last object referred to, another way to do (that’s slightly quicker/easier to type than ESC + .) is:

Alt + . (I find it a lot easier to hit alt + . as to get escape requires moving hands quite a bit from the home row)

By far the coolest bash trick, (that I only learnt about last year) is repeating multiple parts of the commant with curly brackets {}. Ie, if you are in home and need to quickly make a backup copy of /etc/apache2/httpd.conf (to pick a file at random), instead of typing
cp /etc/apache2/httpd.conf /etc/apache2/httpd.conf.bak
you can type
cp /etc/apache2/httpd.conf{,.bak}

I use that trick a *lot*.

26 11 2007

@rungss: make sure you use a normal ' not a ‘ – I’ve changed the text above to make it work properly now.

26 11 2007
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26 11 2007

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27 11 2007
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27 11 2007

Great tips, mate!

27 11 2007

when trying to track down a file(s) that are hogging up disk space, I use:

for each in `ls -1`;do du -sh $each;done
528M cache
39M lib
8.0K local
32K lock
262M log
16K lost+found
4.0K mail

and then cd and follow the big directories to the big files

26 10 2011

Why not type
du -sh * | sort -n
it will list the hoggers at the bottom

27 11 2007
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27 11 2007
Pádraig Brady

Jason, have a look at dutop.
Also baobab presents disk usage is a nice graphical way

27 11 2007

Very nice tips.

Using ctrl-R to search history is way better than “cat .bash_history | grep foo” which I’ve been using.

27 11 2007

I’ll definitely have to try some of these. I’ve been getting myself more and more comfortable in a shell. I find there are certain things I can do faster from the command line and certain things I still do faster from the GUI. But I’m learning.


27 11 2007

Very useful article indeed. Thanks!

To refer to the last parameter in the previous command you can use $_
(a specific instance of an object)

ls /tmp
echo $_ # prints /tmp

On a bash shell, you can navigate with these commands
* ALT f – one word forward
* ALT b – one word back
(in case you are typing a loooooong command)
* CTRL a – beginning of current command line
* CTRL e – end of the current line

Further, to toggle cases of the command/arguments,
* ALT l (it is eL small case) to change the next word to all smallcase letters
* ALT u to change the next word to all uppercase letters

* CTRL w deletes a word backwords (more like backspace, but for an entire word)
* CTRL k deletes the rest of the line after cursor

27 11 2007
27 11 2007

Thanks for everyone’s comments – there’s more useful info in the comments than in the article now!

27 11 2007

Great tips, thanks alot!

28 11 2007
Tech interview questions » Blog Archive » Bash history tips

[…] Bradshaw posted some useful bash tips – making bash remember your history, making the shell forget your spelling mistakes, removing […]

29 11 2007
links for 2007-11-29 « J.Uma Shankar Ladha

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30 11 2007

Maybe Maarten should reconsider Windowz.
How can you be using linux and avoid the terminal.

30 11 2007

VERY nice article (and comments!) for those trying to convert from the dark ways of the M$.

4 12 2007

Richard, you wrote “make sure you use a normal ‘ not a ‘ – I’ve changed the text above to make it work properly now.”

I copied and pasted but I still get “bash: -a’: command not found” (also on an Ubuntu machine)

4 12 2007

Richard, you wrote “make sure you use a normal ‘ not a ‘ – I’ve changed the text above to make it work properly now.”

I copied and pasted but I still get “bash: -a’: command not found” (also on an Ubuntu machine)

4 12 2007

Doh – you are right. Just make sure you use real apostrophes then. After pasting it change both to a normal apostrophe – damn blog template!

5 12 2007

Spot on …. that fixes it, thank you 🙂

6 12 2007

I am using linux since last three years and history allawys annoyed me…thnaks for your tips, it did a great work for me

7 12 2007

I have another good suggestion to improve your bash history control, i recommend to use it: Extended Bash History like in Gentoo

12 12 2007
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13 12 2007
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14 12 2007
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18 12 2007
R.J. Mote

Re: Ecelis’ comment: “Just to pin point, bash is not the default shell on Ubuntu since 6.10”:

This is true, but also false. Gnome-terminal is the default terminal emulator, but by default it operates in a bash shell environment, and bash is part of the default install from 6.10 straight through to the current 7.10 (and before, and likely after, though the zsh lobby is still fairly strong on the Ubuntu forums, and I can see the advantages of zsh myself). I added most of these tips to my .bashrc, tweaked a few other settings, cranked up the terminal, and they all worked and applied. If you have a ~$ at your prompt, odds are you are running a bash shell in your terminal, too.

22 12 2007
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21 01 2008
Richard Sheppard

Excellent stuff. Most all of these work with OS X as well.

If you don’t have a .bashrc file in the terminal, then it could be the .profile file instead. It was the case for me, and after adding the mods to it, they functioned just as they would if I were using linux.


23 02 2008

If you are using multiple terminals and want to share the history between them as you are working, you should instead use:

PROMPT_COMMAND=’history -a && history -n’

You’ll need to press enter once before you get the history from the other bash shell(s) though.

3 04 2008

Nice, thanks!

15 04 2008

Very nice article indeed and superb comments, I am especially fond of Pavan’s contribution.

5 05 2008
Of bash, history and you

[…] Editing your .bashrc file so that you could keep your commands appended to the history instead of overwriting the history. What to write in .bashrc? This: […]

18 07 2008

Take a look at this page right here:

It shows you how to add timestamps to your history. This is a great article and I’ll do a followup with some of the tricks from here. Keep up the good work.

18 07 2008
BASH Shortcuts « Random Musings

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2 09 2008

Some useful Bash hints also here:

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nice post and nice blog

23 10 2008

I use zsh, but bash is compatible.

21 11 2008
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