Sunday, August 11, 2013

Share your Bash history across terminals in Terminator

As many developers I spent lots of time working with a command line shell. My operating system of choice is Fedora (currently 18) and I am using the excellent Terminator as a more powerful replacement for the basic default shell that comes with Gnome 3.

The typical workflow with Terminator is to use its very intuitive key shortcuts to split the current working window, maximize it, start working, resize when finish and jump back to any other window of interest.

It's a very fast workflow and I cannot see myself going back to anything different.

But this high productive usage has a drawback:

the commands history is not shared across the different windows!

This is often annoying since one of the reasons I am spawning a new shell is to do some "temporary" work without moving away from my current position. And this usually involves redoing some already executed step, so the lack of history is quite annoying.

I will describe here a way to address this problem.

The first thing to know is that the command history is not present because by default bash history is flushed to .bash_history only when you terminate a session.

A way to force a more frequent flush is to play with the environment variable PROMPT_COMMAND

If we modify one of our bash configuration files, .bashrc for instance.

#save history after every command
#use 'history -r' to reload history

What we are saying here is to invoke history -a with every new command prompt line. This flush the history to file every time we see a new command prompt. You can verify this if you monitory you .bash_history file.

Have we reached what we were hoping for?

Not yet.

Even if the history is now persisted, you will notice that you running shell do not see this history. This is because the history is loaded only at the beginning of a new session.

The only thing left is to manually force a reload of the history with the command

history -r

Done. We have now access to other shells history.

The last question:

why don't we add the reload of the history directly in the PROMPT_COMMAND variable?

Because you probably don't want that. Having all your shells always sharing a global history will break the most obvious behavior of the shell that is to show you the previous command you typed in that very shell.