Getting the bang (!) for your buck ($) from BASH

Most of the work I do is on systems who's primary interface is BASH. BASH is the shell that runs on most Linux distributions and Mac OS X when you open a terminal or SSH in. There are a few short cuts I have picked up along the way that are built into BASH but aren't all that obvious or in the man ( manual ) pages. One very powerful shortcut, ! ( refered to as bang ), is used in BASH to reference the prior command(s) in varius ways and can really speed up your work in the terminal.

The command that this post is named for is used to reference the last argument in the previous command. For example, let's say you set up a new directory for your client you would need to set the ownership and permissions on it.

mkdir /dir/made/for/client1
chown client1:client1 /dir/made/for/client1
chmod 750 /dir/made/for/client1

This can be shortened by using the !$ shortcut like this.
mkdir /dir/made/for/client1
chown client1:client1 !$
chmod 750 !$

The time savings here are minor but over time can help, by referencing the first command we also reduce the number of typos.

This command references the complete previous command. "Doesn't the up arrow do that?" you ask? The up arrow pulls the previous command up, allowing you to run it again or modify it. !! allows you to insert the previous command into what you are typing. Take the previous example, if you didn't have permission to make the directory the first time you tried you could try it again using sudo, like this.
mkdir /dir/made/for/client1 (returns an error about permission denied)
sudo mkdir /dir/made/for/client1 (works)

This can be shortened using the !! shortcut like this.
mkdir /dir/made/for/client1 (returns an error about permission denied)
sudo !! (works)

!number or !-number
BASH, in most configurations, keeps a history of your commands. You can see a list of those commands using the command history.
server01:~ j2$ history
26 command1
27 command2
28 command3
29 command4
30 command5
31 command6
32 command7
33 command8
34 command9
35 history

You can reference any of these commands using the number next to them and the ! shortcut. If I wanted to run command5 again I would do this.

You can also reference commands in reverse by negating them. If I remembered that I ran command5 six commands ago I could do this.

By putting a : and a number after the ! you can reference individual arguments in a previous command. Each "word" in a command gets assigned a number, starting with 0. For example, in the command chmod 750 /dir/made/for/client1 chmod = 0, 750 = 1, and /dir/made/for/client1 = 2. So if I had to change the permissions on a few directories it would look like this.
chmod 750 /dir/made/for/client1
chmod 750 /dir/made/for/client2
chmod 750 /dir/made/for/client3

Using the shortcut it would look like this.
chmod 750 /dir/made/for/client1
!:0 !:1 /dir/made/for/client2
!:0 !:1 /dir/made/for/client3

Finally, the last shortcut and this one can be combined to reference specific parts of a command in your history list. Say I just did all those chmod commands above but forgot to chown client1's dir. Using the combination I could do this.
chown client1:client1 !-3:2

You can now see why ! is one of my favorite tools while working in BASH. If you have any questions or know of another way to use !, please leave a comment.

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