If I have several directories, like:

afoo abar

sometimes my terminal will refuse autocomplete when I press tab (e.g. "cd a" then tab), and print the list of directories instead. Sometimes it even throws a noisy, annoying sound. Any idea how to make it autocomplete in cases like this? E.g it can show abar first, and then afoo if I press tab again. I saw this is the case in windows, or some applciation in Ubuntu


Something that is a life-saver for me is to have bash cycle through the possibilities instead of showing a dumb list.

As bash is using readline for its auto-completion, add the following lines to ~/.inputrc

Once you're satisfied and have thoroughly tested below solution for a few days/weeks, cut and paste (don't copy!) the same settings from ~/.inputrc to /etc/inputrc which contains the system-wide settings, making this available to all users on your system (including guest).

The codez:

# mappings to have up and down arrow searching through history:
"\e[A": history-search-backward
"\e[B": history-search-forward
# mappings to have left and right arrow go left and right: 
"\e[C": forward-char
"\e[D": backward-char

# mapping to have [Tab] and [Shift]+[Tab] to cycle through all the possible completions:
"\t": menu-complete
"\e[Z": menu-complete-backward

then exit your terminal (or remote terminal like putty) and open it again...


  1. When you have 3 files: file1, file2 and file3 and you type:

    e fTabTabTab

    it'll cycle through:

    e file1
    e file2
    e file3

    and when you want to cycle backwards, just hit Shift+Tab

  2. When you type:

    very-complicated-command with lots of command line parameters

    and next time you need the same command, you just type:


    and it'll type for you:

    very-complicated-command with lots of command line parameters

This will save you a ton of time in bash! ;-)

  • 2
    +1, interesting, but: 1. ~/.inputrc might be preferable over /etc/inputrc, and 2. I think you can set this in bash directly: unix.stackexchange.com/q/55203/70524, unix.stackexchange.com/a/16926/70524
    – muru
    Apr 11 '15 at 7:45
  • This is quite nice, thanks (and have my upvote). Is there a universal way to show the options it'll loop through, which combines the best of both worlds? I like the tab+tab possibility with folders and subcommands, etc. so I don't have to remember them all (e.g. git branch <tab through branches>. However, if I could see a list and tab through its items, that would be great! For directories and files ls is an option to see what items are available. However, for subcommands it is not that easy or obvious, unfortunately.
    – Erik
    Dec 21 '16 at 8:39
  • This works also on PuTTy! Just had to restart it once :)
    – np8
    Nov 5 '17 at 20:33
  • @Erik: Apparently, what you asked for is possible but not going to edit my answer to keep things simple here. (deleted old comment that it is not possible)
    – Fabby
    Sep 4 '18 at 16:14
  • How to put this TAB markdown? @Fabby
    – sh.3.ll
    Jun 12 '20 at 8:52

After the 1st tab you need to insert more letters. So if you type

cd a

and hit tab you get nothing and after a second tab (immediately following) you get a list of the names starting with a and then need to insert an f to have it auto complete the remainder so

cd atabtabftabtab

will result in

cd afoo
  • 2
    IMHO: This is the right way. I personally find the windows behavior very annoying. Consider the case where you have a lot of files starting with a and you need the last one. When you accidentally press tab after a you have to cycle through the list of all possible completions to get to the right one.
    – Tobias
    May 4 '18 at 7:59
  • @Tobias: when you accidentally hit [Tab] too early using the other system, there is still [Ctrl][K]... ;-)
    – Fabby
    Sep 4 '18 at 16:17

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