I have this alias set in my system /etc/bashrc file:

alias root="sudo !!"

The intention of this being to run the last used command using sudo of course. When used, it of course appears to substitute the last command in history to the bashrc file upon shell initialization, and not the actual command that you would get if you were to run sudo !! in an interactive shell. I've also tried alias root="sudo fc -s" to no avail.

I realize this is probably something to do with how the BASH does command substitutions, but can someone explain why this is, and provide a usable substitute?

I'm running BASH version 3.2.51(1)-release (x86_64-apple-darwin13).

  • What OS are you using? – Sepahrad Salour Dec 5 '13 at 11:46
  • I use GNU bash, version 4.1.2(1)-release (x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu) and ls;sudo !! works well! – Sepahrad Salour Dec 5 '13 at 11:51
  • (x86_64-apple-darwin13) - Mac Os X :) – xanadu Dec 5 '13 at 12:09
  • This doesn't work for me either, when in an alias. I do not believe Sepahrad tried this as an alias, if you try ls; sudo !! that will work by itself in a shell. – slm Dec 5 '13 at 12:28
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    When using double quotes, the !! is actually expanded when defining the alias, so the alias will sudo-execute the command last used before the definition instead of the command used before calling the alias. – crater2150 Dec 6 '13 at 9:18

The key part in this behavior is explained by 2 bits in the bash manpage:


History expansion is performed immediately after a complete line is read, before the shell breaks it into words.

In the ALIASES section:

The first word of each simple command, if unquoted, is checked to see if it has an alias.

So basically history expansion occurs before word splitting. Alias expansion occurs after.

Alternate solution

The best way I can think of doing this is the following:

alias root='sudo $(fc -ln -1)'

This will work for simple commands, but for more complex ones we need to tweak it.

alias root='sudo sh -c "$(fc -ln -1)"'

The reason for the change is because of something like this:

# alias root='sudo $(fc -ln -1)'
# echo "I AM $(whoami)"
I AM patrick
# root
"I AM $(whoami)"

As you can see no shell parsing is done. By changing it to use sh -c "..." instead, it does shell interpretation.

# alias root='sudo sh -c "$(fc -ln -1)"'
# echo "I AM $(whoami)"
I AM patrick
# root
I AM root

Another way (I thought of this one first, so keeping it in the answer, but it's not as nice as the one above):

alias root='fc -e "sed -i -e \"s/^/sudo /\""'

The fc -e command will run the specified command passing it a file containing the previously executed command. We just run sed on that file to prefix the command with sudo.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks, never even noticed the fc command before. – slm Dec 5 '13 at 13:54
  • +1 Thanks, I never heard fc command before. – Sepahrad Salour Dec 5 '13 at 15:05
  • So, in that case, why does alias root="sudo fc -s" not work then? – xanadu Dec 6 '13 at 9:10
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    @slm fc is really neat for a range of commands more than a single one (at least to me). – Bernhard Dec 6 '13 at 10:07
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    @xanadu because 1) it's a shell builtin, not a normal command 2) it uses the history of the current shell. Once you use sudo, you don't necessarily get a shell, and if you do, it's a new shell with new history. – Patrick Dec 6 '13 at 13:16

You cannot use an alias in this way. Aliases cannot be passed parameters such as !!. To achieve what you want you could use a function instead.

function root() {
  sudo $(history | tail -2 | head -1 | awk '{$1=$2=$3=""; print $0}');

This is a rough idea though and may have some problems. My output from the history command looks like this:

$ history
1081  20131205 08:00:12  ls
1082  20131205 08:00:13  history

So I need to parse this output. In the above I'm running history taking the last 2 commands, then taking the first of the last 2 This is the previously run command. I then use awk to get rid of the first 4 columns, leaving us with the command line that was previously run.

As an alias?

Given we're using the output from history, there's really no longer any reason to use a Bash function. This is needed if you're attempting to pass the previous command in as an argument, but we're getting it via the history command now.

$ alias root="sudo \$(history | tail -2 | head -1 | awk '{\$1=\$2=\$3=\"\"; print \$0}')"

Beyond the trickier escaping required to get this into an alias, the above works, similar to the function.

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  • There are no parameters here, so an alias would be fine. It's what you put in the command substitution that matters. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 5 '13 at 23:01
  • @Gilles - are you saying what I've created could've been put into an alias as well? – slm Dec 5 '13 at 23:05
  • Yes (with careful quoting). It's more complex than I would put in an alias, and doesn't usefully take arguments at the end unlike an alias, but it could be an alias. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 5 '13 at 23:11
  • Of course that a !! could be an alias or an alias parameter (just deactivate History). Example: Try: set +H; alias r='echo !!'; r. – Isaac Jul 10 '19 at 19:36

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