Linux Admin Basics 1 of 3 – Bash

This article summarized my time-saving Linux tips, mostly with CentOS environment.

Bash Shortcuts

Bash shortcut illustration

These shortcuts save a lot of arrow keystrokes. Some of them may require some tweaking to work on MacOS.

ctrl – wdelete word
ctrl – acursor to end of line
ctrl – ecursor to beginning of line
ctrl – kdelete to end of line
ctrl – udelete to beginning of line
ctrl – lclear screen
cd – change to previous directory
alt – bmove cursor back by a word
alt – fmove cursor forward by a word
alt – .type last parameter of previous command

Job Control

We need to first understand the following job states:

Actively runningDisplayed in Active Session
foreground jobYesYes
suspended jobNoNo
background jobYesNo

These states can be managed by the following shortcut keys:

ctrl – zsend active job to suspended
ctrl – csend SIGINT to active job to kill it
jobslist jobs with id
bgbring a job to background. the current shell still “owns” the job
fgbring a job to foreground (by id)
disownremove job from current shell’s job table. the job is still running and can be found by ps command
killkill a job by id. the job is no longer running and won’t be found by ps command
  • Note 1: running a command with ampersand(&) at the end starts the process and pushes it to the background, so you can continue typing;
  • Note 2: an example is to start vim with a file, ctrl-z to push to background, jobs to view, fg + job id to bring it back

Share Screen

Different persons may share screen on Linux shell and interact with each other. To do so, everyone need to log on the same server as the same linux user. Then the first person runs:

screen -S screen_name

Then the second (and third, etc) person runs:

screen -x screen_name

Now everyone can collaborate by seeing what each other is doing and type at the same time.

I/O redirection

file descriptorinput or output expression
stdin0to read file: 0< or < for short
to read a single line: <<<
to read multiple lines: <<
stdout1to overwrite: 1> or > for short
to append: 1>> or >> for short
stderr2to overwrite: 2>
to append: 2>>

For example, here is how you display all lines between “ANYWORD” (aka “here document”):


In addition, to redirect between commands, pipe (|) is used. You may also redirect stdout into stderr or the other way round. Below are several examples:

command1 | command2redirect stdout of command1 to stdin of command2
command3 > /dev/nullget rid of stdout from command3
command4 2> file1redirect stderr of command4 to file1
command5 | tee file2redirect stdout of command5 to stdin for tee command, which display stdout and write to file2 at the same time
command6 2>&1redirect command6’s stderr into stdout.
command7 1>&2redirect command7’s stdout into stderr

Note: in the last two examples, the ampersand just indicates the following number is file descriptor instead of file name.

For example, in the first command below, stderr is redirected to stdout, and stdout goes to file. The second and third commands are just two forms of shortcut for the first:

command > file 2>&1
command >& file
command &> file

Here is an advanced example to compare two files from two different servers:

diff <(ssh user@host1 'cat /tmp/file1.txt') <(ssh user@host2 'cat /tmp/file2.txt')

With the knowledge of I/O redirection, let’s compare the efficiency of the following two commands in dealing with a huge file:

  • cat huge.file | mycmd
  • mycmd < huge.file

In the first command, cat first causes an I/O read of huge.file, then stdout gets written into pipe buffer. Lastly, the mycmd reads it from its stdin. This is an example of inefficiency.

In the second command, huge.file is provided as stdin to mycmd. Only one read is involved as compared with two read and one write in the previous command. The second command is expected to be three times as fast as the first.

This page does a much better job illustrating command and I/O redirection. Here I just steal a diagram for a single command:

Check out the page for more scenarios.


First, let’s introduce some special shell variable and operators:

IFSA special variable indicating internal field separator
;The ; token just separates commands to run. Use it when you’d like to combine multiple lines of commands into a single line
&&Logical AND operator. When you run command1 && command2, command2 ONLY runs if command1 returns true (success, or exit status = 0).
||Logical OR operator. When you run command1 && command2, command2 ONLY runs if command1 does not return false (fail, or exit status != 0)
{}command combination operator. e.g. {command1;command2}
()precedence operator

Note the use of && and || are fairly common. && is used when you want to use the first command to provide a good status for the second. || is used when you want to report error about the first command. For example:

test -d "/tmp/newdir" || mkdir -p "/tmp/newdir"
test -f "/var/run/app/" || echo >&2 "ERROR: cannot detect pid"


If you can tell how many iterations, then use for loop. For example, you want to execute a command for each file in a directory:

for file in /tmp/*.hl7
  echo "Picking File $file" >> output.txt
  hl7snd -f "$file" -d destionatiohost:2398 >> output.txt
  sleep 2

or you may specify range and steps for a for loop:

for i in {1..11..2} {13..23..2}
   echo "hostmachine"$i
   scp local.file "hostmachine"$i:/tmp/

Note that the way we use step here is only available on Bash 4.x (check version through variable $BASH_VERSION, reference)

If it’s hard to tell how many iterations, then use while loop. Here are some examples

Example 1. You want to execute the same command multiple times, each with a line in a file as parameter:

while IFS= read -r var
   echo $(date +%Y%m%d:%H%M%S) displaying line "$var" >> resend.log
   sleep 2
done < list.txt

Example 2. One step further, if the input file is a CSV format like this:


And you want to repeat a command multiple times, each execution with a column 1 as parameter 1, column 2 as parameter 2, etc. Then you can run something like this:

IFS=,$(echo -en "\r\n\b"); while read -r f1 f2; 
echo processing $f1, $f2
curl -i -X PUT -H "Content-Type:application/json" -d '{"userId":"dhunch"}' --url http://localhost:9876/monitoring/document/$f1/$f2/publish;
done < input.txt >>out.txt

In this example IFS assignment is done before while loop. So it will take effect outside of while loop. This is why \r, \n and \b are specified in addition to comma. If this is not something you like, you may put IFS assignment after while and only specify comma as field separator.

Example 3. If you just want to repeat the same command every 5 seconds, apart from watch command, you can leverage while loop doing something like this:

while true; do df -Ph | grep "sda1"; sleep 10; done

In fact in all these examples while loop can be expressed in a single line, with semicolon to indicate where you would have typed enter.

find, with xargs and -exec {}

The find command offers flexibility searching files with certain conditions.

Example 1. Find files from within last 5 * 24 hours in current directory:

find -maxdepth 1 -type f -mtime -5

Example 2. Find tar files older than 6 * 24 hours:

find . -type f -name "*.tar" -mtime +6


  • the switch -iname is similiar to -name but case insensitive
  • the switch -mtime goes by modified datetime; -atime goes by access time
  • the switch -mmin measures in minutes
  • the swtich -daystart makes it measure time from the beginning of current day (instead of 24 hours from current time of current day)

Here are more information about find command, and more examples.

To execute command per result from find, we have the options of xargs and -exec {}. Both build command based on parameter input, instead of I/O redirection. xargs is considered more efficient and it also works with commands other than find. -exec {} only works with find command.

Here’s a basic example of -exec {}

find . -iname '*.dcm' -exec dcm2txt {} \;

On the other hand, xargs works with any command followed by a pipe. It takes input from previous command, split it by space or carriage return into a list, then build command with each item on the list. To help understand parameter passing with xargs, we examine two examples. The first example is a directory with three files in it: x.a, y.a, z.a

$ ls
x.a x.b x.c

If we want to prefix each file with pre, we can do the following:

ls | xargs -I aa echo "mv aa prefix_aa"

In the second example, suppose find command produces the following result:


Compare the following two commands:

find . -type d | xargs ls -l
find . -type d | xargs -n 1 ls -l	

In the first command, xargs invokes “ls -l firstdir seconddir” whereas in the second command, xargs invokes “ls -l firstdir” and then “ls -l seconddir”. The first command requires that the utility takes multiple parameters (in this case, ls does. Other commands such as wc, grep also do). The second command is particular helpful when the utility only takes one parameter. This is because the switch -n sets the maximum number of arguments taken from standard input for each invocation of utility.

Last but not least, operators are quite useful in Bash scripting. Here is a good reference.