I like to save every history in bash to a kind of logfiles, and made an extra directory ~/lib/hists/ for that purpose.

Writing such a logfile in the shell is easy:

history -w /home/stefan/lib/hists/bash-hist-$(date +%F_%T_%N)

Now, if I shutdown, all closing xterms shall write their logfile, which is, why I include the nanotime in the filename, to avoid collision.

So I put that command into ~/.bash_logout

Unfortunately, closing an xterm didn't generate such a logfile. I thought, maybe because it's because I closed the window. So startet bash in bash:


but again, no history written.

Most of the time I have 4 to 6 open terminals but only one history file for which I don't know, which commands are ending there - from the first opened shell, from the last closed shell? While working, the histories don't interfere, so I guess it is only bound to one shell instance.

I'm interested in explanation, why my approach fails, how I can fix it, including very different approaches.

  • 1
    This might be helpful: superuser.com/a/410534 In my testing, the shells running in xterms have not been login shells. Feb 14, 2018 at 16:59
  • Are you sure you're running a login shell? Try running shopt login_shell. Edit: See Andy's link above. Feb 14, 2018 at 17:00
  • @aliceinpalth: To be honest, I never understood, what a login shell is. If I hit Ctrl-Alt-F1...6, I get a shell where I have to login - are these considered login-shells? Well - with shopt I can confirm, login_shell is OFF. And I can confirm, that Andy Daltons link solved indeed my problem. Feb 14, 2018 at 17:28
  • See unix.stackexchange.com/a/49240/7696 for an example of doing something similar using /etc/bash.bash_logout. Note the caveats - in particular, it is not a secure audit log, and is not intended to be. Also, it has been some time since i wrote/used this and it may have suffered from bit-rot.
    – cas
    Feb 15, 2018 at 0:44
  • @cas: Thanks. I already adopted Andy Daltons link. It needn't be secure, it's mostly for statistical purpose, and to not be worried, to close a xterm, because it might contain valueable stuff in the history. :) If I get in trouble with that solution, I know where to return to. :) Feb 15, 2018 at 1:28

1 Answer 1


Bash will execute the commands in .bash_logout only if the shell is a login shell.

# .bash_logout will print "hi"
$ cat .bash_logout
echo hi

# Start a new shell that is not a login shell
$ bash
$ shopt login_shell
login_shell     off

# On exit, it will not print "hi"
$ exit

# Start a login shell
$ bash -l
$ shopt login_shell
login_shell     on

# On exit it will execute .bash_logout, and will print "hi"
$ exit

See this answer on superuser.com for more details, along with an alternative solution to the problem you're trying to solve.

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