Selected Features of the bash Shell

A shell does much more than simply run commands. It also has powerful features to make this task easier: wildcards for matching filenames, a “command history” to recall previous commands quickly, pipes for making the output of one command become the input of another, variables for storing values for use by the shell, and more. Take the time to learn these features, and you will become faster and more productive with Linux. Let’s skim the surface and introduce you to these useful tools. (For full documentation, run info bash.)


Wildcards are a shorthand for sets of files with similar names. For example, a* means all files whose names begin with lowercase “a”. Wildcards are “expanded” by the shell into the actual set of filenames they match. So if you type:

$ ls a*

the shell first expands a* into the filenames that begin with “a” in your current directory, as if you had typed:

$ ls aardvark adamantium apple

ls never knows you used a wildcard: it sees only the final list of filenames after the shell expands the wildcard. Importantly, this means every Linux command, regardless of its origin, works with wildcards and other shell features.

Wildcards never match two characters: a leading period, and the directory slash (/). These must be given literally, as in .pro* to match .profile, or /etc/*conf to match all filenames ending in conf in the /etc directory.

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