c0d3 :: j0rg3

A collection of tips, tricks and snips. A proud Blosxom weblog. All code. No cruft.

Thu, 06 Jun 2013

Managing to use man pages through simple CLI tips

Recently, an author I admire and time-honored spinner of the Interwebs, Tony Lawrence emphasized the value of using man pagesmanual pagesDocumentation available from the command line.
> man ls
as a sanity check before getting carried away with powerful commands. I didn’t know about this one but he has written about a situation in which killall could produce some shocking, and potentially quite unpleasant, results.

Personally, I often quickly check man pages to be certain that I am using the correct flags or, as in the above case, anticipating results that bear some resemblance to what is actually likely to happen. Yet, it seems many people flock toward SERPSearch Engine Results Page A tasteful replacement for mentioning any particular search-engine by name.
Also useful as a verb:
I dunno. You’ll have to SERP it.
s for this information.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to head for the web is leaving the cursor amid the line you’re working on, without disturbing the command. SERPing the command however, could easily lead you to information about a variant that is more common than the one available to you. More importantly, the information retrieved from the search engine is almost certainly written by someone who did read the man page — and may even come with the admonishment that you RTFMRead The F#!$!*#’n Manual as a testament to the importance of developing this habit.

This can be made easier with just a few CLI shortcuts.

<CTRL+u> to cut what you have typed so far and <CTRL+y> to paste it back.

That is, you press <CTRL+u> and the line will be cleared, so you can then type man {command} and read the documentation. Don’t hesitate to jot quick notes of which flags you intend to use, if needed. Then exit the man page, press <CTRL+y> and finish typing right where you left off.

This is another good use for screen or tmux but let’s face it. There are times when you don’t want the overhead of opening another window for a quick look-up and even instances when these tools aren’t available.

A few other tips to make life easier when building complex commands:

Use the command fc to open up an editor in which you can build your complex command and, optionally, even save it as a shell script for future reuse.

Repeat the last word from the previous command (often a filename) with <ALT+.> or use an item from the last command by position, in reverse order:
> ls -lahtr *archive*
<ALT+1+.> : *archive*
<ALT+2+.> : -lahtr
<ALT+3+.> : ls

You can also use Word Designators to use items from history, such as adding sudo to the last command typed by:
sudo !!

This allows for tricks like replacing bits of a previous command:
!:s/misspelled/corrected/

Lastly, if you need a command that was typed earlier, you can search history by pressing <CTRL+r> and start typing an identifying portion of the command.

(Note: I have used these in Zsh and Bash, specifically. They can, however, be missing or overwritten — if a feature you want isn’t working, you can bind keys in a configuration file. Don’t just write it off, once you’ve solved the problem it will never again be an intimidating one.)

Happy hacking!


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