2.5. The fc Command

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fc is a built-in shell command that provides a superset of the C shell history mechanism. You can use it to examine the most recent commands you entered, to edit one or more commands with your favorite "real" editor, and to run old commands with changes without having to type the entire command in again. We'll look at each of these uses in turn.

The -l option to fc lists previous commands. It takes arguments that refer to commands in the history list. Arguments can be numbers or alphanumeric strings; numbers refer to the commands in the history list, while strings refer to the most recent command beginning with the string. fc treats arguments in a rather complex way:

  • If you give two arguments, they serve as the first and last commands to be shown.

  • If you specify one number argument, only the command with that number is shown.

  • With a single string argument, it searches for the most recent command starting with that string and shows you everything from that command to the most recent command.

  • If you specify no arguments, you will see the last 16 commands you entered. bash also has a built-in command for displaying the history: history.

A few examples should make these options clearer. Let's say you logged in and entered these commands:

ls -l more myfile vi myfile wc -l myfile pr myfile | lp -h

If you type fc -l with no arguments, you will see the above list with command numbers, as in:

1        ls -l 2        more myfile 3        vi myfile 4        wc -l myfile 5        pr myfile | lp -h

Adding another option, -n, suppresses the line numbers. If you want to see only commands 2 through 4, type fc -l 2 4. If you want to see only the vi command, type fc -l 3. To see everything from the vi command up to the present, type fc -l v. Finally, if you want to see commands between more and wc, you can type fc -l m w, fc -l m 4, fc -l 2 4, etc.

The other important option to fc is -e for "edit." This is useful as an "escape hatch" from vi- and emacs-modes if you aren't used to either of those editors. You can specify the pathname of your favorite editor and edit commands from your history list; then when you have made the changes, the shell will actually execute the new lines.

Let's say your favorite editor is a little home-brew gem called zed. You could edit your commands by typing:

$ fc -e /usr/local/bin/zed

This seems like a lot of work just to fix a typo in your previous command; fortunately, there is a better way. You can set the environment variable FCEDIT to the pathname of the editor you want fc to use. If you put a line in your .bash_profile or environment file saying:[9]

[9] See Chapter 3 for information on the bash startup file .bash_profile.


you will get zed when you invoke fc. If FCEDIT isn't set, then bash uses whatever the variable EDITOR is set to. If that's also not set, then bash defaults to vi.

fc is usually used to fix a recent command. When used without options, it handles arguments a bit differently than it does for the fc -l variation discussed earlier:

  • With no arguments, fc loads the editor with the most recent command.

  • With a numeric argument, fc loads the editor with the command with that number.

  • With a string argument, fc loads the most recent command starting with that string.

  • With two arguments to fc, the arguments specify the beginning and end of a range of commands, as above.

Remember that fc actually runs the command(s) after you edit them. Therefore, the last-named choice can be dangerous. bash will attempt to execute all commands in the range you specify when you exit your editor. If you have typed in any multi-line constructs (like those we will cover in Chapter 5), the results could be even more dangerous. Although these might seem like valid ways of generating "instant shell programs," a far better strategy would be to direct the output of fc -ln with the same arguments to a file; then edit that file and execute the commands when you're satisfied with them:

$ fc -l cp > lastcommands$ vi lastcommands$ source lastcommands

In this case, the shell will not try to execute the file when you leave the editor!

There is one final option with fc. fc -s allows you to rerun a command. With an argument, fc will rerun the last command starting with the given string. Without an argument, it will rerun the previous command. The -s option also allows you to provide a pattern and replacement. For example, if you typed:

$ cs prog.c

You could correct it with fc -s cs=cc. This can be combined with the string search: fc -s cs=cc cs. The last occurence of cs will be found and replaced with cc.

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    Learning the bash Shell
    Learning the bash Shell: Unix Shell Programming (In a Nutshell (OReilly))
    ISBN: 0596009658
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2005
    Pages: 139

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