Ever wonder if there are ways to be more efficient in our terminal and shell? Feeling a little clunky? Here are a few good-to-knows for those of us that have never dabbled in sys-admin or dev-ops work
problem : Do I have to push up (arrow) multiple times to find a previous command that I need to run? What if I just want to run the last command again?
solution : Please, for the love of anything, stop (pressing up multiple times and eyeballing)! This is ridiculously inefficient! Three things!
-- FIRST -- To simply run the previous command without moving off our keyboard's home row:
ctrl-p (mnemonic for "previous") followed by the
<Enter> key. Went past our command?
ctrl-n (mnemonic for "next").
-- SECOND -- If we know it's not the last command, the following is probably the utility that I rely on most:
reverse-i-search. This utility treats our (command)
history like a stack and (fuzzy) finds the most recent match for any term/keyword that exists in our history. To initialize it, hit
ctrl-r. Once we've typed something it should arrive at our first match. If the first match isn't what we're looking for, then hit
ctrl-r again and it'll go to the next previous match. And if we've gone past it, use
<Shift>-ctrl-r (depending on our operating system). To exit the search, use
ctrl-g. This has almost completely eliminated all my use of aliases.
Let's say that our history looks like this. NOTE: the numbers on the left correspond to the line number in my bash history
$ history 2311 ls -l 2312 rg --files | fzf 2313 vim reverse_singly_linked_list.py 2314 python -m unittest reverse_singly_linked_list.py 2315 ping google.com 2317 mix routes 2318 mix phx.routes 2319 git branch 2320 git log -3 --reverse 2322 htop 2326 jobs 2327 git status 2328 git diff -w 2329 ./deploy.sh 2330 less README.md 2331 man awk
Now, I'm at my prompt and I'm searching for the last command that contained the following characters:
test. If we eyeball above, we'll notice that it's command number
2314 that corresponds with a unit test that I ran with Python for a linked list. What most people do is press up twelve, I repeat, TWELVE, times! When hitting
ctrl-r, followed by entering the characters,
test, will find that command in its entirety. We can just hit
<Enter> to invoke (run) it
👇 # what we type will display here $ (reverse-i-search)`test': python -m unittest reverse_singly_linked_list.py 👆 # match begins here
-- LASTLY (third) -- we can "pipe" our
grep (without the angle brackets). This will pull up ALL matches of a command that contains the given term. This is useful if we can only remember some fragments of a command AND to avoid having to hit
ctrl-r many times when there are multiple matches.
$ history | grep <term/keyword(s)>
problem : What are the options for this thing? (some Unix utility) Do I have to go to Google every time?
solution : built-in Unix utilities (i.e.
ps) typically have many options. One of the quickest references available is the manual, also known as man-pages, that can simply be invoked with
$ man <utility>, (e.g.
$ man ls). I've found
ls -l (long format),
ls -la (long with directories), and
ls -lt (long ordered by time) to be particularly useful.
problem : Okay, so I'm now using man-pages, but how do I navigate this thing or find what I'm searching for? This thing is massive!
solution : man-pages typically adopt vi movements (popular text editor found on almost all Unix/Linux-based machines including macOS). They can simply be searched by first hitting the
/ (forward slash) to initiate a search, followed by some keyword or option (e.g.
/-a) will search for
-a within the page.
problem : Okay, so that search only takes me to the first matching instance. How do I find the next one? Or go back to the previous one?
solution : We can use
n (lowercase and mnemonic for "next") to go to the next instance, and
<Shift>-n (capital) to go back (to the previous instance)
problem : Is there a way to make a new directory and switch into it immediately?
$ mkdir foo && cd $_. The last command argument is captured in the
_ (underscore) variable. To access variables, we use the
problem : Is there an easier way to switch back and forth between directories?
solution : Use
$ pwd /Users/me/Desktop $ cd foo foo $ $ pwd /Users/me/Desktop/foo $ cd - /Users/me/Desktop $ cd - /Users/me/Desktop/foo
problem : How do I move around the text for a command that I've already typed or edit a previous command? How do I go to the beginning of the line or the end of the line?
solution : readline shortcuts - allow us to navigate within a line and perform edits. This is a huge efficiency gain. Surprisingly, most of our tools are built with readline, so these typically work in any place that allow us to type text (i.e. Chrome or Firefox address bar, Google Doc, etc) so they are worth learning even outside of a shell
Try these out. NOTE: on macOS, we must configure the meta keys for the option-key-based commands to work (how-to after the commands below). If we care about ergonomics a common key re-map is changing our caps-lock key to
ctrl. This can be done through our system keyboard preferences' modifier keys (on macOS):
alt-b / option-b (macOS): move cursor back one word alt-f / option-f (macOS): move cursor forward one word ctrl-a: move cursor to the beginning of line ctrl-b: move cursor backward (←) ctrl-d: delete a character ctrl-e: move cursor to the end of line ctrl-f: move cursor forward (→) ctrl-k: kill the line after the cursor, add to clipboard ctrl-n: next line, next command in history (↓) ctrl-p: previous line, previous command in history (↑) ctrl-u: kill the line before the cursor, add to clipboard ctrl-w: delete a word ctrl-y: undo / paste from the clipboard
HOW-TO set up meta keys for forward and backward using option keys in iTerm2 on macOS:
- Go to Profile > Keys
- Load Preset > Natural Text Editing
- Switch Left/Right Option from Normal > Esc+