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I know what

  program > /dev/null 2>&1 

does. It redirects the output to /dev/null and 2>&1 means to redirect the error output in the same place where the output is sent.

My problem is I always have to google it because I never remember it.

So, I try &2>1, 1>2&, 1>&2... I try every combination until I google it...

What's the trick to remember it easily?

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Output is better than error so it comes first (1 vs 2).

> is shorthand for 'goes to'. On the left is what I want to send and on the right is where I want to send it. Since 'where' is (almost) always a file, something like

program > /dev/null 2>1

would redirect to a file named 1. Thus, the ampersand modifies the file to file descriptor.

Unfortunately, I haven't come across nor developed my own mnemonic, but when I was first learning *nix, I found this logical way to work well. After a few run-throughs, it becomes second nature.

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Your first sentence doesn't make sense to me. stdout is file descriptor 1, stderr is 2. So, "error" comes before "output". – Warren Young Aug 19 '10 at 13:15
That sentence is a mnemonic to remember which file descriptor stdout and stderr refer. – gvkv Aug 19 '10 at 13:53
Okay, but it still seems confusing, since the original question is about trying to remember the order of the characters in the "2>&1" incantation. – Warren Young Aug 19 '10 at 13:56

Actually, it depends on what shell you're using. Bash is usually very forgiving and you can just do:

program &> file
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Seeing the & as a knot might help : think about what you want to do as taking the output of 2, so 2>, and tying it together with 1, so 2>&1

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I just memorized the phrase "two out and one". Whether your mnemonic is a phrase or a knot, having one will really help. – Tim Kennedy Oct 8 '11 at 15:56

One trick is just to remember that 1 = standard output, 2 = standard error. So:

2>&1 = standard error stream goes into standard output stream.
1>&2 = vice versa.

If you have ever programmed in a C-like language, it's easy to remember the ampersand (&). I choose to think of it as referring to the "address of" existing file descriptor, so that you don't change the file itself or create a new one.

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Let us consider these three options:

program  2>1
program  2>1& 
program  2>&1

The first sends stderr to a file names "1": after all, bash expects to redirect to a file.

The second also redirects to the same file but runs program in the background: that is what a trailing & is supposed to mean.

That leaves the third possibility as the only one that makes sense in the bash universe for redirecting to a file handle.

How to remember which is which among 0, 1, 2? Think about running a computer from the console. First, you have to type something (0=stdin). Then, you see output (1=stdout). Lastly and only if something goes wrong do you see stderr (2).

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Draw it in your wallpaper.

Now, seriously, this and other basic stuff I kept forgetting, so I added a quick tips menu to an app I developed and that I use daily. You might want to give it a try or use something like gnote to keep a note.

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