My favorite bash tricks

Hello everyone.
This post is about bash, the shell providing so many users easy access to the underlying power of their system.
(not bash the quote database, although i really like that website too ;-) )
Most people know the basics, but getting to know it better can really increase your productivity. And when that happens, you might start loving bash as much as I do ;-)

I assume you have a basic knowledge of bash, the history mechanism, and ~/.bash* files.
So here they are, my favorite tricks, key combo's and some bonus stuff:


  • "cd -" takes you back to the previous directory, wherever that was. Press again to cycle back.
  • putting arguments between braces {like,so} will execute the command multiple times, once for each "argument". Bash will make the cartesian product when doing it multiple times in 1 expression. Some less-obvious tricks with this method are mentioned here
  • HISTIGNORE : with this variable you have control over which things are being saved in your history. Here is a nice explication. Especially the space trick is very useful imho.
  • CD_PATH : Here is a great explanation ;-)
  • readline (library used by bash) trick: put this in your ~/.inputrc (or /etc/inputrc) :
    "\e[5~": history-search-backward
    "\e[6~": history-search-forward

    This way you can do *something*+pageup/pagedown to cycle through your history for commands starting with *something*
    You can use the up/down arrows too, their codes are "\e[A" and "\e[B"

  • for more "natural" history saving behavior (when having several terminals open): put this in .bash_profile:

    PROMPT_COMMAND='history -a'

    (write each command separately in a new entry, instead of all at shell exit).
    And type

    shopt -s histappend

    to append instead of overwrite. (this might be default on some distro's. I think it was on Gentoo)


  • ctrl+r : search through your history. Repeatedly press ctrl+r to cycle through hits.
  • ctrl-u : cut everything on the current line before the cursor.
  • ctrl-y : paste text that was cut using ctrl-u. (starting at the cursor)
  • !$: equals the last word of the previous command. (great when performing several operations on the same file)

Bonus material

  • Bash completion, an add-on for bash which adds completion for arguments of your commands. It's pretty smart and configurable. (it's in portage, and probably in repos of all popular distros out there)
  • This script provides you an interface to the rafb pastebin!
  • Recursively delete all .svn folders in this folder, and in folders below. "find . -name .svn -print0 | xargs -0 rm -rf"
  • Recursively count number of files in a directory: "find -not -type d | wc -l"


Those were all important tricks I'm currently using. On the web you'll find lots more useful tips :-).
If that still isn't enough, there is also man bash :o

With aliases and scripts (and involving tools like sed or awk) the possibilities become pretty much endless. But for that I refer to and your favorite web search engine.