I'm editing my PS1 prompt and I don't want to keep sourcing my bashrc to update it (since my bashrc resets other things too). I also don't want to copy and paste it over and over. Is there a way to edit the variable interactively, like using nano (my default editor)?

The PS1 is mostly an example, because I want to do the same thing with other vars. The reason I want to do it interactively is that the variable is already quite long, and I just need to edit a few characters in it. And I only need to change it in the current shell.


This can be done. Type var=$var and then expand and edit it. To expand, use Esc+Ctrle (the default shortcut, check output of bind -p | grep shell-expand-line to confirm).


muru@muru-1604:~$ PS1=$PS1

will become:

muru@muru-1604:~$ PS1=${debian_chroot:+($debian_chroot)}\u@\h:\w\$

Which you can then edit in an editor with Ctrlx Ctrle (edit-and-execute-command in readline terms). When you save and quit, the saved content will be executed by the shell.

If you already have PS1=... in your history, you can just go back to that and Ctrlx Ctrle.

From the bash manual:

shell-expand-line (M-C-e)

Expand the line as the shell does. This performs alias and history expansion as well as all of the shell word expansions.

edit-and-execute-command (C-xC-e)

Invoke an editor on the current command line, and execute the result as shell commands. Bash attempts to invoke $VISUAL, $EDITOR, and emacs as the editor, in that order.

| improve this answer | |
  • Nice! Just Esc, Ctrl+E is exactly what I was looking for. Though when I typed PS1='$PS1', it deleted the quotes, but typing PS1=\'$PS1\' works perfectly. – wjandrea Dec 27 '17 at 2:04
  • And reading through bind -p, I also found out you can expand globs, tildes, and history lines. Neat! – wjandrea Dec 27 '17 at 2:07

Instead of sourcing the bashrc, source another file, which just contains the variable.

  1. Create it:

    echo "PS1='$PS1'" > /tmp/PS1
    • Note: If the variable contains single quotes, you will need to use a command that can escape them, e.g.:

      declare -p PS1 | cut -d' ' -f3- > /tmp/PS1
  2. Open it in an editor, e.g. nano /tmp/PS1.

    • To avoid running nano over and over, you could run it in another terminal/TTY, or use a graphical editor.
  3. Make your changes and save.

  4. Source it:

    source /tmp/PS1
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as needed.

| improve this answer | |

Zsh has a builtin called vared that lets you edit a variable inline. I wrote my own version, originally posted on Super User:

    # Based on the zsh builtin of the same name.
    IFS= read -rei "${!1}" "$1"

Note this has some subtle differences from the Zsh builtin, e.g:

  • Won't error if the variable is unset
  • Checks the validity of the variable name before printing its value (e.g. vared $)
  • Truncates multi-line variables.

Then to edit the PS1, just run vared PS1.

| improve this answer | |
  • Accepting this answer cause it's what I use most day-to-day – wjandrea Aug 25 '18 at 5:49

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