History Lesson

Other Ways to Search

The history file can also be used in other ways. For example, you can pipe history through the grep command, searching for a string with history | grep SEARCH (Figure 4). Another use of the history file is sometimes called a reverse -i search. To use this function, press Ctrl+R and begin entering letters. As in tab completion, each letter entered narrows down the match. When you find the command you want, press Enter to activate it (Figure 5).

Figure 4: Sometimes, an ordinary grep on the history file can be useful.
Figure 5: A reverse search is a type of autocomplete.

As this overview shows, the history command has a greater ability to search than many users realize. It will take practice to find what features fit into your work habits, but learning the ones that work best for you will add just enough sophistication to make working at the command line easier – especially when you have the environmental variables set up to your satisfaction.


  1. Bash history man page: https://ss64.com/bash/history.html

The Author

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist and a freelance writer and editor specializing in free and open source software. In addition to his writing projects, he also teaches live and e-learning courses. In his spare time, Bruce writes about Northwest Coast art. You can read more of his work at http://brucebyfield.wordpress.com

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