Better Directory Handling in Bash

April 10, 2020

When dealing with directories in bash, some obvious things seem like too much work…

Here are 2 quick tips for easier handling of directories in bash.


When dealing with long directory names, you can usually complete forward by pressing TAB. But going backward? … that usually means pressing BACKSPACE repeatedly.

There is a better way: unix-filename-rubout. Add this to your ~/.inputrc:

"\C-f": unix-filename-rubout

What does it do?

moving back and forth between directories

(TAB forward, ctrl-f backward)

Every time you hit ctrl-f, it deletes backward until the previous /: useful!

Why ctrl-f?

By default, in bash, it’s not mapped to anything. And it’s easy to type. You can check your bindings with bind -P:

> bind -P | grep rubout
unix-filename-rubout is not bound to any keys
# rest snipped out

(detour: use bind -P to see what is bound to each ctrl keys)

cd to filename

What usually happens if you try to cd to a filename?

> cd /etc/hosts
-bash: cd: /etc/hosts: Not a directory
# what do you think I meant?! ... 🤬

(this happens often when copying-pasting path)

For years, I swore at bash, manually deleted the last part of the path, and tried again. In fact, that’s what drove me to find unix-filename-rubout in the first place.

There’s no built-in fix for this, but it’s not too complicated to wrap the cd in a function and add some extra quality-of-life logic in there:

# to add to your bash dotfiles

# wraps `cd`, other behaviors can be added
cd() {
  local dest="${@:-"$HOME"}"
  if [ -f "$dest" ]; then
    dest=$(dirname "$dest")
  builtin cd "$dest"
  return $?

in short: if the path is a filename, use the directory containing the file instead!

> cd /etc/hosts
> pwd


When using a shell, it’s often the “little things” that turn chores into seamless experiences.

Give those a try and let me know about your own tweaks.

Discuss on Twitter