Enter a very long command at shell. Now continue to up-arrow into history, tweak it, and make it a lot longer. At some point you're thinking: "I should have made this a multi-line command when I started". Well, now that the command is all just one line, is there a way to break it up?


foo | grep "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" | grep "bbbbbbbbbbbbbb" | more

Now to make that easier to continue editing:

foo |\    << enter some control character here to split the line
grep "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" |\
grep "bbbbbbbbbbbbbb" |\

In the above example, it wouldn't work to position the cursor after the pipe, enter backslash, then Ctrl+Enter. Nor Shift+Enter, Ctrl+N, etc. Depending on the keystroke a new line does open with >, but it appears to be waiting for text which would follow the last character ( more above, rather than foo |).

The old fashioned way to get out of this situation is to copy the line (using the mouse or from .history), paste it into an editor, break it up and add the \ EOL on each line, then copy/paste it back into the CLI. That's ugly-primitive.

Is there an easier way to break up a long line of multiple commands in the terminal?


1 Answer 1


Multiline commands always will be archived in the command history as a single line. On the terminal prompt, you cannot edit a line to appear on multiple lines.

The approach to go about this is, is to open the command in your default editor. With the cursor sowewhere in your command, hit Ctrl+XE. This opens the command in your default editor (nano on Ubuntu), where you can do all your edits, including splitting the lines. In nano, hit Ctrl+SX to save the changes and close the editor: your command will immediately be executed.

  • Tried it, works perfectly. Re-editing a multi-line command also works. TYVM
    – TonyG
    May 3, 2021 at 16:45
  • Thanks, this is useful :-)
    – sudodus
    Jun 8, 2021 at 9:21

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