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Master the Bash History Command for Efficient Command-Line Work

Mastering Bash History: Everything You Need to Know

As a computer user with even a modicum of familiarity with command-line interfaces, you may have come across the Bash shell’s history command. This command affords one the ability to see which commands they have previously executed, making accessing previously used commands faster and easier.

However, the history command offers more than merely listing your previous commands. With a few simple adjustments, you can customize the way you interact with your shell history, making things more comfortable and speedy.

In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of the Bash history command and how to display them, as well as environmental variables that can be used to customize your shell history.

Bash History Command Basic Functionality

The Bash history command is used to display, manipulate, and execute previous commands entered into your shell. The command displaces a numbered list of past commands that were entered.

The numbering begins at the most recently executed command and gets smaller as it counts up to the maximum number of commands specified, usually bringing up to around 1000 previously executed commands. By typing history at the shell prompt, it will display the recently executed commands on your shell history.

Event Number

The history command generates a numbered list of the user’s previously executed commands. As a result, you can access previous commands by referring to their number, also known as the “event number.” You can execute the command line associated with that number using the syntax “!” Immediately followed by the event number.

For instance, executing the command “!481” would execute the 481st command in your shell history. .bash_history File

Bash also stores shell history in a file known as “.bash_history.” The history command reads and displays the command history stored in this file.

This file’s location is determined by the $

HISTFILE environmental variable, which is typically located at the user’s home directory. The historical entries are saved in this file only after you log out of the system or close your shell, so it is essential to do this to ensure the shell history is saved and can be referenced later.

Bash History Command Environmental Variables

You can customize the behavior of the bash history command by setting several environmental variables. This section describes three of the most commonly used environmental variables when working with bash history.


As mentioned earlier, the

HISTFILE environmental variable determines where the shell saves the list of previously entered commands. The default file is typically “.bash_history” located at the user’s home directory.

You can change the default location by setting the variable to any file name or path.


By default, bash stores up to 1000 previously executed commands in its history file. To set a limit on the maximum number of commands that bash history will save, you can set the

HISTFILESIZE environmental variable. If

HISTFILESIZE is set to zero, then no command history will be saved in the history file.



HISTSIZE environmental variable sets the maximum number of entries to be saved in your in-memory history buffer. When the number of executed commands is greater than

HISTSIZE, the older commands are discarded from the memory buffer.

By default, the value for

HISTSIZE is 1000.

Displaying Bash History

Now that we’ve explained some basics and reviewed environmental variables let’s discuss how to display the history command. Here are some different ways you can view your shell history.

Displaying All History

The most straightforward means of capturing all your bash commands history is using the command history, as already explained earlier. However, if you need to search for specific commands, using grep to filter the results could be more convenient.

In this instance, the terminal displays the full command lines executed, along with their recorded numbers.

Displaying the First n Commands

Let’s say you’d like to display a subset of the total number of previous commands executed. This requirement could arise for several reasons, such as identifying the most frequent commands or checking for a specific command that was recently used.

To accomplish this, the most effective command is head. For instance, by entering “history | head -n,” you will view the first n commands executed.

Displaying the Last n Commands

Similarly, to displaying the first n commands using head, displaying the last n commands uses a permutation of the tail command. By entering the “history | tail -n” command, the recent n commands in the shell history will be displayed.

In conclusion, mastering Bash shell’s history command is critical in maintaining an efficient shell environment. The history command displays the last command, and using environmental variables like


HISTFILESIZE, you can customize the behavior of your command line history. Additionally, with the head and tail commands, you can efficiently analyze your shell history, which can be helpful when developing scripts, administering your system, or troubleshooting your commands.

By incorporating these techniques, you’ll have a better understanding of your system’s history and a better workflow.

Searching and Removing from Bash History

The bash history command is an excellent way to save time and increase productivity while functioning through a command-line interface. The ability to reference previously executed commands and use them with prefixes such as “!” or delete them from the history reduces the effort required to enter complex commands or sequences of commands continuously.

This article provides an in-depth guide on how to search, remove, and manage bash history using regular expressions, event numbers, and specific options built into the bash history command.

Searching in History

A convenient feature of bash history is its searchability, allowing users to quickly and accurately find the commands they need. This feature is particularly useful for users who frequently use the terminal for repetitive tasks or navigating deep into directories.

By default, the bash history command itself does not have an in-built search function. However, with the help of grep’s command and regular expressions, you can search executed commands in the bash history.

Using the grep command in combination with the pipe (|) operator is an effective method for searching for specific commands in the history file. For example, you can use the following command to find all instances of the “sudo” command:

history | grep sudo

The grep command searches for all instances of the word “sudo” within the bash history file output by the history command.

This search function is particularly helpful when looking for more complex commands that you may have forgotten.

Removing a Specific Command

Suppose a previously entered command contains sensitive information, or you have simply decided you no longer want to be saved in your bash history. In that case, you can delete a specific command from your shell history.

Deleting a specific line from your bash history prevents a command from being executed accidentally. There is more than one way to delete a command from your bash history, including both referencing the event number or deleting through a built-in option.

To delete a particular line in the bash history file, first, determine the event number of the command or command set you want to delete. Then use the following command:

history -d eventnumber

The -d option specifies deletion, and “eventnumber” is the numeric value associated with the command to delete. For example, to delete the 5th command entered into your shell history, you would execute the following command:

history -d 5

Note that deleted history is a permanent deletion and cannot be restored once deleted.

Clearing Whole History

If you’re logged into your shell on a shared computer and would like to remove your entire bash history, you can use the following command:

history -c

Executing this command clears your entire shell history, deleting all previously saved commands from the shell history file.

Bash History Size

The size of your bash history is determined by two main environmental variables:


HISTSIZE. These variables are used to manage the maximum number of commands recorded in the history file and the maximum number of commands retained in a session.

Size of .bash_history File


HISTFILESIZE variable controls the maximum number of commands allowed in the bash history file. Bash writes command history to a file called “.bash_history” stored in the user’s home directory; the maximum number of records that the file size can support is determined by the

HISTFILESIZE environmental variable. To ensure maximum efficiency, it is essential to find an optimal balance between space limitations and the desired record keeping time frame.

Size of Cached Commands

The maximum number of commands stored in the current shell session is controlled by the

HISTSIZE environmental variable. This variable determines the maximum number of recorded commands stored in the shell’s memory at any given time.

Similar to the

HISTFILESIZE variable, it is necessary to strike an optimal balance between the number of commands retained in a session and available memory resources.


Learning the ins and outs of the bash history command is instrumental in managing, manipulating, and executing commands within a shell environment. This article has provided a comprehensive guide to the most common bash history features and environmental variables.

Understanding how these features work together and in isolation ensures a streamlined workflow while enabling power users to customize their experience seamlessly. In conclusion, mastering the bash history command in a command-line interface is essential to save time and increase productivity.

This article provided a comprehensive guide on how to search, remove, and manage bash history using regular expressions, event numbers, and specific options built into the bash history command. Additionally, we’ve discussed how the two critical environmental variables,


HISTSIZE, work together to manage the maximum number of commands recorded in the history file and the maximum number of commands retained in a session. Understanding these features ensures a streamlined workflow and enables power users to customize their experience seamlessly.

It is imperative to understand how to manipulate bash history efficiently, enhance productivity, and speed up your workflow.

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