On the bash command-line, gives me the previous command. On the command-lines in ipython or matlab, when I type a few characters, gives me the previously entered command starting with those characters. How can I enable exactly this behaviour in bash?

I am aware of more advanced ways of searching through the command-line history, but sometimes a simple way is more convenient.

3 Answers 3


The readline commands that you are looking for are the history-search-* commands:

Search forward through the history for the string of characters between the start of the current line and the current cursor position (the point). This is a non-incremental search.
Search backward through the history for the string of characters between the start of the current line and the point. This is a non-incremental search.

Binding these in your .inputrc, like so:

"\e[A": history-search-backward            # arrow up
"\e[B": history-search-forward             # arrow down

will allow you to enter the first characters of a command, and then use the Up and Down keys to move through only those commands in your .bash_history that begin with that string.

For example, entering vi and the Up would take you to the first previous command beginning with vi, like vim somefile. Entering Up would take you to the next previous instance, and so on.

You can read more about all of the readline bindings here: http://linux.about.com/library/cmd/blcmdl3_readline.htm


Add the following to your .inputrc in ~/, to do what you suggested:

"\e[B": history-search-forward
"\e[A": history-search-backward

Perhaps you might also want to add the following to your .bash_profile :

export INPUTRC=~/.inputrc
  • Can you elaborate on why doing this "export"?
    – texnic
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 11:01

Prepend a "!" to the command you are looking for. If you wish to replace the functionality of the up and down arrows, modifying the inputrc file (like the other answers suggest) is the way to go.

If "command" is the command you are searching for, enter this:


You should get "command" as the output.

Likewise, if you want to find a command that includes (but might not start with) part of the command, press ctrl+r and then type in part of the command.

You can also type in "tab" to auto complete your entered text (this includes files too). This is useful if you're looking for a command not in your history (or you don't have a history file)

You can read more about "mastering" the history file here: http://www.thegeekstuff.com/2008/08/15-examples-to-master-linux-command-line-history/

This is a possible duplicate of https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1030182/how-do-i-change-bash-history-completion-to-complete-whats-already-on-the-line


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