radio free coyote Archive Pages Categories Tags

bash readline shortcuts

06 May 2019

Bash key combinations and shortcuts

Over the last few years I spent a lot of time at the bash CLI, often on systems without my .dotfiles loaded. I wanted to get faster but I couldn’t rely on heavy customization. I put together this cheat sheet of bash keyboard shortcuts to help me power through issues on all sorts of systems. Largely this was an exercise in learning them but I still do occasionally refer back to this page.

The bash shell uses a library called GNU Readline that provides easy and quick CLI key combination access to bash history, screen movement and line editing commands. I’ve collected some of these here along with some builtin bash shortcuts for history and other functions.

Note: If you get stuck and need to know a Readline key combination, the command bind -p will list all the keybindings and the Readline functions they call.

Cursor Movement

command description
ctl + a Goto beginning of command line
ctl + e Goto end of command line
ctl + b Move back one character
ctl + f Move forward one character
alt + f Move cursor forward one word
alt + b Move cursor back one word
ctl + l Clear the screen (same as clear command)
ctl + ] <char> Move forward to next occurrence of <char>
alt + ctrl + [ <char> Move backwards to previous occurrence of <char>

Line Editing

command description
alt + . Print the last argument (i.e. vim file1.txt file2.txt will yield file2.txt)
esc + t Swap last two words before the cursor
ctl + d Delete the character under the cursor
ctl + h Delete character before the cursor
ctl + u Delete everything before cursor
ctl + k Delete everything after cursor
alt + backspace Delete previous word
ctl + w Delete the word before the cursor
ctl + t Swap the last two characters before the cursor
ctl + y Paste (if you used a previous command to delete)
ctl + z Place current process in background
ctl + _ Undo
ctl + x + ctl + e Open current line in $EDITOR


command description
!! Run previous command (e.g. sudo !!)
!cmd Run previous command that begins with cmd
!cmd:p Print last command in history beginning with cmd
!n Execute nth command in history
!$ Last argument of last command
!^ First argument of last command
alt + < Move to the first line in the history
alt + > Move to the end of the input history, i.e., the current line
ctl + r Search backward starting at the current line and moving ‘up’ through the history as necessary
crl + s Search forward starting at the current line and moving ‘down’ through the history as necessary
ctl + p Fetch the previous command from the history list, moving back in the list (same as up arrow)
ctl + n Fetch the next command from the history list, moving forward in the list (same as down arrow)

Job Control Shortcuts

command description
ctl + c Kill current process
ctl + d Exit shell (same as exit command)

Other Misc. Keystrokes

command description
~[TAB][TAB] List all users
$[TAB][TAB] List all system variables
@[TAB][TAB] List all entries in your /etc/hosts file
[TAB] Auto complete
cd - Change to previous working directory
ctl + x + ctl + v Return the shell version


  1. Readline Documentation
  2. Bash Documentation
  3. bind command
  4. GNU Readline (Wikipedia)