Streamlining Your Workflow: How to Reuse Arguments in Bash

I. Introduction

Welcome, tech enthusiast! Whether you're a seasoned programmer or just starting out, working with Bash—the Bourne Again SHell—is an essential skill that can enhance your productivity and open new doors in your coding journey. Today, we'll take a deep dive into a lesser-known yet powerful aspect of Bash: reusing arguments.

Command line arguments are those inputs we provide after the command name when we execute a script or a command. They allow for flexibility and dynamism in our scripting. Learning how to efficiently reuse these arguments will streamline your workflow and make your command-line experience a breeze.

II. Basics of Bash Arguments

Before we dive into the techniques of argument reuse, let's cover the basics.

Understanding positional parameters

When you run a script in Bash, you often pass inputs known as positional parameters. For example, in the command cp source.txt destination.txt, "source.txt" and "destination.txt" are the positional parameters.

In your script, you can refer to these parameters with dollar sign variables: $0, $1, $2, and so forth. $0 refers to the name of the script itself. $1 to $n corresponds to the arguments in the order they were passed in.

Discussion on special variables

There are several special variables in Bash that can help with argument handling:

  • $# gives the number of arguments.
  • $* and $@ list all arguments. The difference between them becomes apparent when you're dealing with arguments that have spaces.
  • $? provides the exit status of the last command executed.

Understanding the shift command

The shift command in Bash shifts the positional parameters to the left, effectively discarding $1 and reassigning $2 to $1, $3 to $2, and so on. This is a handy tool for managing arguments, particularly in loops.

III. Reusing Arguments in Bash

Now that we've covered the basics, let's look at some methods for reusing arguments in Bash.

Use of $_

The $_ special variable holds the last argument of the previous command. Here's an example:

mkdir my_folder
cd $_

In the second command, $_ would be replaced by "my_folder", changing directories into the newly created folder.

Use of Alt + . or Esc + .

This keyboard shortcut inserts the last argument from the previous command into your current command line. It's identical in function to $_, but works directly on the command line.

Use of !$

This is another shortcut that recalls the last argument from the previous command. For example:

touch newfile.txt
nano !$

The nano command would open "newfile.txt", the argument recalled by !$.

Use of !!

The !! shortcut repeats the entire previous command, including all its arguments. If you've just executed a long, complex command and want to run it again, !! will be your best friend.

Use of Brace Expansion

This feature of Bash can save you time when executing commands that take similar arguments. For example, if you're copying a file to a new location and then want to rename the original:

cp my_file.txt{,.backup}

This command creates a copy of "my_file.txt" as "my_file.txt.backup". The {} reuses the "my_file.txt" argument.

IV. Advanced Concepts

Ready to level up? Let's go!

Use of command substitution and variable substitution

Bash allows for command substitution, where the output of a command is substituted in place. It also supports variable substitution, replacing a variable with its value. Here's an example:

today=$(date +%Y-%m-%d)
echo "Today's date is $today"

Here, $(date +%Y-%m-%d) executes the date command and substitutes the output.

Usage of xargs for argument reuse

xargs is a powerful command used for building and executing commands from standard input. It can be used for argument reuse in various scenarios:

ls *.txt | xargs -I {} cp {} {}.backup

This command finds all .txt files and makes a backup for each.

V. Tips and Tricks for Argument Reuse

Efficient usage of history commands

Bash stores a history of commands you've executed. With the history command, you can view these past commands and rerun them, saving time and effort.

Argument designators with the fc command

The fc command in Bash lists, edits, or re-executes commands previously entered to an interactive shell. You can use it with argument designators to select specific arguments from the history list.

Customizing your Bash environment

You can customize your Bash environment to make argument reuse easier. This could include setting up aliases, functions, or adjusting your Bash prompt.

VI. Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Dealing with special characters and whitespace

Bash treats spaces as argument separators. If you have arguments that contain spaces, ensure to quote them to prevent unexpected behavior.

Misuse of command substitution

Command substitution can be powerful, but misuse can lead to unexpected results. Always test your commands thoroughly.

Handling unexpected behavior from globbing

Globbing refers to the use of wildcard characters (*) for filename expansion. Incorrect usage can cause unexpected results. Always double-check your globs!

VII. Conclusion

Whew! That was a lot to cover, but you made it. Reusing arguments in Bash is a powerful tool that will help streamline your coding and scripting. It can seem daunting, but remember: practice makes perfect.

An assembly line in a factory, each station demonstrating a different method of argument reuse, showing the systematic and efficient nature of the process.

Step up your Bash game - Master argument reuse!


  1. What is Bash scripting? Bash scripting is a method of automating tasks in the Unix shell, Bash, through scripts.
  2. Why reuse arguments in Bash? Reusing arguments in Bash allows you to perform repetitive tasks more efficiently, saving time and reducing potential errors.
  3. What are some common pitfalls when reusing arguments? Common pitfalls include handling special characters and whitespace incorrectly, misusing command substitution, and unexpected behavior from globbing.
  4. How can I learn to reuse arguments in Bash? This guide provides a comprehensive overview, and additional resources for further reading are linked at the end.
  5. Is Bash argument reuse only for advanced users? No, even beginners can start reusing arguments. As with all skills, practice makes perfect!

Pros and Cons


  1. Boosts efficiency and productivity
  2. Reduces potential for errors in repetitive tasks
  3. Enhances understanding of Bash and scripting concepts


  1. Has a learning curve for beginners
  2. Can lead to unexpected results if not used properly
  3. Needs careful handling of special characters and whitespace


  1. The Linux Command Line, 2nd Edition: A Complete Introduction by William Shotts
    Description: Explore the depth of your Linux computer with "The Linux Command Line," teaching essential skills like file navigation, system administration, and scripting, making your mouse obsolete.
  2. Linux Pocket Guide: Essential Commands 3rd Edition by Daniel Barrett
    Description: "Linux Pocket Guide" is your perfect on-the-job reference, offering a concise learning path and quick answers for mastering essential and advanced Linux commands.
  3. Mastering Bash: A Step-by-Step Guide to working with Bash Programming and Shell Scripting by Giorgio Zarrelli
    Description: "Mastering Bash" guides you from basic to advanced Bash programming, aiding system administrators in automating tasks, customizing environments, and managing systems efficiently.
  4. Linux Bible 10th Edition by Christopher Negus
    Description: "Linux Bible, 10th Edition" is a comprehensive guide, helping beginners and advanced users navigate Linux, covering latest versions, cloud computing, and simplified administrative techniques.
  5. Wicked Cool Shell Scripts, 2nd Edition: 101 Scripts for Linux, OS X, and UNIX Systems 2nd Edition by Dave Taylor & Brandon Perry
    Description: "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts, 2nd Edition" offers a collection of customizable, practical shell scripts for system management, problem-solving, and enhancing your computing environment.

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