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I typed cd - in terminal by mistake today, and I got an error saying:

bash: cd: OLDPWD not set

And unfortunately, man cd doesn't exist.

No manual entry for cd

What does it actually do?

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cd is a Bash builtin. It is therefore documented in man bash-builtins, instead of its own page. This holds true for all other Bash builtins. You can tell it's a builtin because of the bash: in front of the error message. – minerz029 Mar 15 '14 at 11:26
up vote 5 down vote accepted

cd - switches between the old and new present working directories.

avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~$ cd -
bash: cd: OLDPWD not set
avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~$ cd ~/Desktop
avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~/Desktop$ pwd
avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~/Desktop$ cd -

See also,

avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~$ echo $OLDPWD

avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~$ cd ~/Desktop
avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~/Desktop$ echo $OLDPWD
avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~/Desktop$ cd d
avinash@avinash-Lenovo-IdeaPad-Z500:~/Desktop/d$ echo $OLDPWD

The $OLDPWD variable stores the path of previous present working directory.

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Avinash Raj's answer is completely correct but as for the manual entry, you can get the POSIX manual pages and then man cd will work:

sudo apt-get install manpages-posix
man cd

The bit that tells you all this is the OPERANDS section:

-      When a hyphen is used as the operand, this shall be equivalent to the command:

       cd "$OLDPWD" && pwd

which changes to the previous working directory and then writes its name.
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Cool, didn't know they weren't installed by default. Should have searched the online Ubuntu manpages. – Dan Jan 22 '14 at 12:06

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