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I want to see all bash commands that have been run on a Linux server across multiple user accounts. The specific distribution I'm using is CentOS 5.7. Is there a way to globally search .bash_history files on a server or would it be a more home-grown process of locate | cat | grep? (I shudder just typing that out).

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Use getent to enumerate the home directories.

getent passwd |
cut -d : -f 6 |
sed 's:$:/.bash_history:' |
xargs -d '\n' grep -H -e "$pattern" 

If your home directories are in a well-known location, it could be as simple as

grep -e "$pattern" /home/*/.bash_history

Of course, if a user uses a different shell or a different value of HISTFILE, this won't tell you much. Nor will this tell you about commands that weren't executed through a shell, or about aliases and functions and now-removed external commands that were in some user directory early in the user's $PATH. If what you want to know is what commands users have run, you need process accounting or some fancier auditing system; see monitoring activity on my computer, How to check how long a process ran after it finished?.

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+1 for suggesting process accounting instead. History files are really for user convenience and there are no simple ways to make them fool-proof enough for any sort of logging purposes. – jw013 Feb 15 '12 at 7:45
@jw013 Yes, I've already had my fill of how easy it is to edit / modify and otherwise muck with shell history. =| – Wesley Feb 15 '12 at 16:45

You could do

find /home | grep bash_history | xargs grep "whatever"

But I don't really think that is much better then what you were thinking.

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find /home -name .bash_history | xargs grep <string>


grep string $(find /home -name .bash_history)

Note that this covers home directories in default locations. It would be better to parse /etc/passwd or invoke getent, and parse the output of that.

for i in $(getent passwd | cut -d: -f6 ); do grep string ${i}/.bash_history; done
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