December 12, 2005

CLI Magic: Daily aliases

Author: Keith Winston

If you spend any time working at the shell, you probably use many GNU utilities. One thing that distinguishes the GNU versions from the classic Unix versions is that the GNU programs are rife with additional options. Some of these options are so useful you may want to create an alias so you can use them all the time without needing to do all the extra typing.

A shell alias is a simple way to create your own custom command. To make your aliases available every time you open a bash shell, add them to your $HOME/.bashrc file. For other shells, place them in the associated run control file. Many distributions include a basic set of aliases for all users. When I start working on a new system or get a new account, I immediately add my favorite aliases to my .bashrc.

To create an alias, use the syntax alias name='value' where name is the name of the new command and value is the command string that is executed. If you create an alias with the same name as an existing executable program in your path, the shell will run the alias instead of the program.

To remove an alias from your current shell session, use unalias name where name is the existing alias.

To see all the current aliases known to your shell, run alias with no parameters.

I created and tested all of the following aliases on SUSE 10 with the bash shell.

List the most recently modified files and directories

alias lt='ls -alt | head -20'

Once it's loaded, typing lt lists the most recently modified contents of the current directory. The -a and -l options show all files including hidden files in a long listing format. Since I am usually interested in a file I have just changed, I limit the output to 20 lines by piping the output from ls -alt to the head command. This example also demonstrates that an alias may be a series of commands, rather than just a short name for a single utility and its options.

List only subdirectories

alias ld='ls -al -d * | egrep "^d"'

This alias shows only subdirectories of the current directory by using egrep to limit the listing to entries with the d (directory) attribute.

Show the inode number for files in the current directory

alias li='ls -ai1 | sort'

This alias prints the inode number for each file, sorted in ascending order. The last option to ls in this alias is the numeral one, not the letter L. You might need the inode number for file system repair, or to track down a file name referenced by inode in an Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) log file.

Show the SELinux security context of all processes

alias pss='ps --context ax'

As the SELinux code starts to appear in mainstream distributions, the security context of processes is something you may need to track. This alias displays the security context of all processes. The --context option tells ps to display the security context, while the a and x options combine to select all processes.

Fast directory navigation with pushd and popd

alias +='pushd .'
alias _='popd'

I tend to move around a lot on the command line. If I am working on code in a deeply nested directory, but need to go check some log files, I'll use the shell built-in pushd command to save my current directory location and popd to get back to the directory later.

These aliases simplify the process by entering + before changing directories, and _ to return to the directory later. You can push more than one directory on to the stack and pop them back off in reverse order. Note that I used the underscore instead of the minus sign for popd because the minus sign is a reserved symbol.

Find disk space abusers

alias dusk='du -s -k -c * | sort -rn'

The dusk alias shows disk usage of files and subdirectories in the current directory, sorted with the ones using the most disk space first. The report shows disk usage in 1K increments and the total for the directory at the top. Beware -- if you start this command from the root directory or at the top of a deeply nested directory, it could take a long time to run. The report from dusk will look something like this:

keithw@penguin:~/datacore/scripts$ dusk
2216    total
1160    irc
308     awk
252     learning-bash-examples
136     perl
76      new_script-1.1.0
36      bash-extras
16      python
12      restore
12      pipes
12      expect
12      download
12      bash-functions

If you want to make the output even easier to read, throw in the -h (human-readable) option, and du will print the file sizes in kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, and so on.

Show all programs connected or listening on a network port

alias nsl='netstat -alnp --protocol=inet | grep -v CLOSE_WAIT | cut -c-6,21-94 | tail +2'

The nsl alias uses netstat to show the process ID and program name of everything either connected or listening on a network port, including the sockets of the sending and receiving hosts. It uses grep to sort through the netstat output and remove lines that match CLOSE_WAIT, so you see only programs that are listening or connected.

This is a great way to make sure no unexpected services are running in the background. To see all available information, run this command as root. The output from nsl will be similar to this sample:

root@penguin:~# nsl
Proto Local Address       Foreign Address     State       PID/Program name
tcp*           LISTEN      3981/rpc.statd
tcp*           LISTEN      3830/smbd
tcp*           LISTEN      2908/portmap
tcp*           LISTEN      4036/apache
tcp*           LISTEN      3838/sshd
tcp*           LISTEN      3582/cupsd
tcp*           LISTEN      3761/exim4
tcp*           LISTEN      3875/xfs
tcp*           LISTEN      3830/smbd
tcp    ESTABLISHED 6585/firefox-bin

Quickly find packages in the RPM database

alias rpmq='rpm -qa | grep $1'

This alias takes one parameter that is used to query the RPM database, and returns all package names that contain the string. The usage is simply: rpmq string.

Combinations and permutations

If you want to dig deeper into any of the options used in these aliases, check out the man or info page for the command. There are so many permutations of options and commands that you can sometimes stumble across a cool solution by studying the more obscure options in the man and info pages. What are your favorite aliases?

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