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Bash Command Lookup (\!)

I’ve recently found something relatively interesting that you can do in a bash terminal. I recently sent out an email talking about how to implement git completion’s wonderful self to work on macs.

Part of that endeavor meant diving into the way that the terminal displays its information to you on your prompt. Some of the things I found out were using the escape codes like \h to stand for host, \W for working directory w/o the path, etc.

So I set out to find out what some more of those escape characters were, and I found: \!

I’ve learned from Paul that doing a !! will repeat the last command that you put in. This \! will actually list a sequential number (to the last) on your prompt. So now when I’ve added it to my PS1 as before from the git completion tutorial, my prompt now displays:

(527)iMac:~ chase$ _

And when I put in a command, lets say I emptily type grep<enter>

(527)iMac:~ chase$ grep<enter>
Usage: grep [OPTION]... PATTERN [FILE]...
(528)iMac:~ chase$ _

Lets pretend that was some crucially complex command (you know the kind… that escapes you how to do it again later when you really need it) instead of an empty grep, and lets say that through the course of working I’ve since entered dozens or hundreds of other commands into the prompt. I have a few options available:

  • hit the up arrow repeatedly until I find the command (which it doesn’t list with the number next to it)
  • use the <ctrl>+R command and type in parts of the command I remember
  • grep the history
  • lots of things

or, if I’ve remembered that 527 was the line for that crucial command, I can simply type:

(8901)iMac:~ chase$ !527<enter>

And it will repeat the command from that line. The only downside to this, is that eventually if you come to rely on it for remembering several different sets of complex commands… you’ll have to end up remembering several different sets of numbers that corresponds to those lines. Also, this function doesn’t give you any type of “Are you sure?” type of moment to let you know what you’re about to do… so one transposed number or dropped digit could potentially mean catastrophe if you’ve ever run some iffy commands (rm -Rf) .

About This Article…

I pilfered this from “The List”, thanks Chase…
- Lobby

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1 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. lcleveland
    April 6, 2012 at 3:59 PM #

    There is another inherent danger here besides just giving the wrong number by accident: as you enter more commands than `$HISTSIZE` Bash will start getting rid of old ones, which changes the number associated with a command. So all of a sudden one day `!527` may be `rm -rf /something`.

    But there is a useful safety measure for this. In your Bash profile add this line:

    shopt -s histverify

    This will cause comands like Ctrl-R, `!!`, and `!#` to place the
    command on the prompt but *not* execute it. That gives you a chance to verify that it is the command you actually want to run before pressing enter.