Ghost in the Shell – Part 1

I wanted to post this earlier, but the busy daily life does not help πŸ˜‰

This will be first article in the series about efficient working in the shell environment. There are actually a lot articles and blog posts about efficient working in the terminal, but a lot of them are biased towards very specific uses, like hints only for Bash shell or only for specific terminal emulator. For example Moving efficiently in the CLI.

These series are about universal knowledge that would work on most shells and environments. Lets start with hint that I use many times a day that saves a lot time for not having to type …

You may want to check earlier articles in the series.

Recall last argument of previous command.

Imagine most simple scenario, creating directory and entering it. Typically its like that:

% mkdir clear-place-for-new-work
% cd clear-place-for-new-work
%

The longer the name, the bigger the chance that You would type mkdir, then hit the [UP] arrow, then [HOME] or [CTRL]+[A] keys and then put cd in the place of mkdir.

With the use of !$ You can recall last argument of the precious command, so it will now look like that.

% mkdir clear-place-for-new-work
% cd !$
cd clear-place-for-new-work
%

Faster isn’t it?

Swap first occurrence of a word.

The upper example can be used for the next advice as well. By typing ^fromwhat^towhat in the terminal You will swap the first occurence of word fromwhat word to towhat word in the previous command, lets see how its working.

% mkdir clear-place-for-new-work
% ^mkdir^cd
cd clear-place-for-new-work
%

It still takes more time to write then using the !$ so its useful mostly when there are short things to swap, like numbers, for example ^3^4 to ‘move’ from one target to another. … or also if You can not recall to the last argument of previous command.

There and back again.

A lot people does not know, that You can go back to previous working directory with dash. Lets assume that You need to get to /tmp directory for one command and get back to where You were to continue the work. Here is an example.

% pwd
/usr/local/etc/bareos/bareos-dir.d/jobdefs
% cd /tmp
% pwd
/tmp% (do needed work in /tmp dir)
% cd -
/usr/local/etc/bareos/bareos-dir.d/jobdefs
% pwd
/usr/local/etc/bareos/bareos-dir.d/jobdefs

You can even create entire directory stack with pushd/popd commands if needed, check Wikipedia article on that for more information. You can also use ${OLDPWD} variable. Useful with umount command for example.

% pwd
/media/backup-pendrive-key
% cd ~
% umount $OLDPWD
% pwd
/home/vermaden

Repeat command from history.

With exclamation mark (!) You can re-invoke the command from history with all its arguments (which sometimes can be risky). For example.

% !pkg
pkg update -f
(runs actual command)
%

Its better to first check what arguments have been used in that command, that is where :p comes handy. Here is its example usage.

% !pkg:p
pkg update -f
(just prints command without running it)
% !pkg
pkg update -f
(runs actual command)
%

Now, as arguments are known its safe to re-invoke the command with arguments. When this can be dangerous? Can ls command can be dangerous, that depends what You have on Your history, check the example below.

% ls | while read I; do rm -f ${I}; done

This command first lists the contents of the current working directory with ls command, then the output is piped to the while loop which invokes rm -f command for each item listed by ls command, which efficiently removes all non-hidden files in current working directory … which probably is not what we mean by typing !ls on the command prompt ;). That is why its valuable to first check what arguments were used with !ls:p syntax.

Enough for now, I will write more parts with more hints on how to efficiently work in the shell/terminal environment.

UPDATE 1

The Ghost in the Shell – Part 1 article was included in the BSD Now 241 – Bowling in the LimeLight episode.

Thanks for mentioning!

UPDATE 2

About Recall last argument of previous command section … there is also $_ that does similar thing as !$ but there is little difference. The !$ is ‘line oriented’ while $_ is ‘previous command oriented’. Below is an example that shows the difference in the behavior.

The $! takes value from last command in ‘previous line’ which means that '-l' value will be used from line 001 and not 'asd' from the current line 002 from previously executed command.

001 % ls -l
002 % echo asd; ls !$ | tail -2
echo asd; ls -l | tail -2
asd
// ls output //

The $_ takes value from last executed command, thus it points at 'asd' used on line 002 and not at '-l' used at previous 001 line.

001 % ls -l
002 % echo asd; ls $_ | tail -2
asd
ls: asd: No such file or directory

On BASH shell there is also [ALT]-[.] shortcut that switches between $! from previous lines. To achieve the same shortcut on ZSH use this line below in ZSH config.

bindkey '\e.' insert-last-word

Thank you Zachery Purnell for pointing that out.

EOF
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9 thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell – Part 1

  1. Jehops

    “With the use of $! You can recall last argument of the precious command…”

    SH(1) on FreeBSD 11.1 says,
    “$! Expands to the process ID of the most recent background command executed from the current shell. For a pipeline, the process ID is that of the last command in the pipeline. If this parameter is referenced, the shell will remember the process ID and its exit status until the wait built-in command reports completion of the process.”

    Do you mean !$ ?

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  2. Pingback: Bowling in the LimeLight | BSD Now 241 | Jupiter Broadcasting

  3. Pingback: Home | vermaden

  4. Pingback: Ghost in the Shell – Part 2 | vermaden

  5. Pingback: Ghost in the Shell – Part 3 | vermaden

  6. Zachery Purnell

    In a lot of cases where you would use !$, you could simple type `alt+period` instead. This will also pull the last argument from the previously run command. Repeating the shortcut will grab the last argument from the command before that, and so on. Typed a long directory name 3 commands ago? Hit alt+period 3 times.

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    1. vermaden Post author

      Thanks for sharing but on my ZSH shell with [ALT]-[PERIOD] does nothing (left ALT) or puts these β‰₯ ≀ chars instead (right ALT).

      … but I tried it in BASH and there it worked πŸ˜‰

      Regards,
      vermaden

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