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Pressing the up button is tedious and I might miss the command I was looking for. So when typing history at the terminal gives me all the commands I have entered before, indexed to a number. Is there any way I could just call the number associated with the command?

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4 Answers 4

The bash history can do many helpful things, and the search with Strg-r that Terry Wang mentioned is an important one among them. But it is also possible to do exactly what you asked for.

You can re-do the previous command with !!. With this, you can also edit the previous command. If for example you forgot to get root privileges for a command

apt-get install a-long-list-of-packages

you don't have to retype all of that again. Instead just call

sudo !!

If you want to re-execute the command at a specific position from your history, you can also use !, for example


to re-execute the command at position 3. Be aware that this counts from the top. So if you're storing 500 commands in your history, !1 would be "500 commands ago". You can also use negative numbers. For example


would re-execute the second last command.

You can also re-execute the last command that started with a string like


which would re-do the last line that started with "apt-". If you want the last command where the string appeared anywhere in the line, you can use something like


There are more interesting things the bash history can do. Just to give an impression of the wide range of possibilities, you can specifically access a parameter of a command from history. So


would print the third parameter to the fifth from last command.

EDIT: Regarding Rudie's comment below, with the standard settings this bash history expansions are indeed executed directly. It's probably best described like this: A call like !-3 is replaced by the shell with the third last command from your history and then your input (with the replacement) executed. So if you type !-3 and press ENTER and your third last command was ls ~, it's in effect the same as if you typed ls ~ again and pressed ENTER "on your own".

If you don't want that, you can set the shell option histverify. For setting and unsetting shell options, you might want to read up on the shopt command. With histverify set, a call like !-3 only writes the replacement from your history to your command line, but doesn't execute it directly. You have, so to speek, press the crucial ENTER yourself - or refrain from it, if you choose to.

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So ! is pretty damn dangerous... I'd want to know what !-4 did exactly before running it. Or does it show you first? Cool summary! –  Rudie Feb 19 at 20:55
@Rudie That's a good point, I updated my answer. The history features are mostly meant to speed up your work and save you keystrokes. So a standard "Do you really, really mean that?" would at least partially defeat that purpose. And even though you could, normally you won't call a "far back" command like !-238. It shouldn't be too hard to remember your second last, third last, maybe fith last command ;) As often with Linux (and, actually, with computing in general), it's expected that you know what you're doing. And if you really want the additional safety net, it's one shopt away ;) –  Henning Kockerbeck Feb 21 at 11:05

Yes, there is. If, for example, you want to execute the command that has number 1234 next to it, do:


Other useful stuff:

  • If you want to run the last command you ran, do:

  • If you want to run the last ls command you ran, do:

  • If you just ran ls /some/long/path, and you want to cd to it, do:

    cd !$

For more information:

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Use Key combination Ctrl - r, you will be able to use keyword to search bash history.

A quick bash key binding reference: http://ss64.com/bash/syntax-keyboard.html

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If you've found the history number of a command and you want to execute it again, type ! followed by the number, e.g. !1234 and press Enter. This is part of history expansion; you can tack modifiers onto it.

If you want to edit the command before running it, fc 1234 invokes an external editor.

But as Terry Wang already mentioned there are usually faster ways of locating a command in the history than determining its history number, including Ctrl+R to invoke incremental search (press Enter when you've found the command you want to execute), or fc PREFIX to execute the previous command beginning with PREFIX.

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