I see many of my colleagues still using arrow keys (, , , ) to navigate and Ctrl + C/D to do copy/paste in the bash shell environment, which is slow. In fact, you could boost your productivity in just a few minitues by mastering the following key bindings. I summarized them from many years of experience, and here I try to show you the most handy ones.

Note: In the Mac OS X Terminal.app, the alt key doesn’t work by default. You need to open the terminal setting (Command-,), and in the Keyboard tab, tick Use Option as Meta key, and then you’re good to go.

Navigation by line, word or letter offers different levels of granularity.

  • Ctrl-a: Go to the beginning of line, replacing Home key. Think a as in ahead.
  • Ctrl-e: Go to the end of line, replacing End key. Think e as in end.

  • Alt-f: Skip one word forward. Think f as in forward.
  • Alt-b: Skip one word backward. Think b as in backward.

  • Ctrl-f: Skip one letter forward, replacing key.
  • Ctrl-b: Skip one letter backward, replacing key.


Deletion by line, word or letter also offers different levels of granularity.

  • Ctrl-u: delete to the beginning of line
  • Ctrl-k: delete to the end of line

  • Alt-d: delete to the next word
  • Alt-Delete: delete to the previous word

  • Ctrl-d: delete to the next letter
  • Delete: delete to the previous letter


  • Ctrl-u, Ctrl-k, Alt-d and Alt-Delete: as introduced in the Delete section above not only delete the targeted content, but also store the deleted content in memory for later use, so they’re more like a typical Cut operation.
  • Ctrl-y: paste the cutted content. Think y as in yank. Yank is related to paste or copy for some reason I am not sure of. If you happen to know why, please drop me a message.
  • Alt-y: paste the previously cutted content in reverse order.

I don’t know any straightforward copy operation in the shell environment, but it could be easily accomplished with 1 cut and 2 paste operations. e.g. Ctrl-d-Ctrl-y-Ctrl-y.

History commands management:

  • Ctrl-p: Go back to a previous command, replacing key. Think p as in previous.
  • Ctrl-n: Go to the next command letter forward, replacing key. Think n as in next.

  • Ctrl-r: Reverse search history commands containing certain key word.
  • Ctrl-s: Forward search history commands containing certain key word. This is the opposite of Ctrl-r, if it doesn’t work. Try executing stty -ixon first, then if it works, put stty -ixon in your ~/.bashrc.

Case manipulation:

  • Alt-c: Capitalize a word
  • Alt-u: Uppercase a word
  • Alt-l: Lowercase a word

Space manipulation:

  • Alt-\: Remove all continuous spaces starting from the current position of the marker on both sides.


  • Ctrl-Shift--: this can do both do & undo. For exmaple, you’ve done some editing and get into the state of s4: s1-s2-s3-s4. You want to go back to s2, then you type the key binding twice, ending up at s2. If you type the key binding a third time, you’ll go back to s1. However, assume for some reason, actually you want to go forward to s3. To reverse the order of undo, you need to do some temprary editing (e.g. just type a space), and then type the key-binding twice, you now should get to s3. Hopefully, this little example demonstrates how do/undo works.

I think that’s all what you need, with a bit more practise, you’re well on your way to become an expert in the shell environment.


If you happens to use Emacs as your favorite editor, most of the above commands (except Ctrl-u as far as I am aware of) applies to navigation and operations in the Emacs buffer, too. So that’s killing two birds with one stone!

Of course, in Emacs, you will need to navigate more than a single line, e.g. paragraphs, pages, or the whole file. These commands are all available online, but may be a bit scattered. I will summarize those most handy ones to me in a later post.