readline - get a line from a user with editing
readline (const char *prompt);
Readline is Copyright (C) 1989-2002 by the Free Software
readline will read a line from the terminal and return it,
using prompt as a prompt. If prompt is NULL or the
empty string, no prompt is issued. The line returned is allocated with
malloc(3); the caller must free it when finished. The line returned
has the final newline removed, so only the text of the line remains.
readline offers editing capabilities while the user is
entering the line. By default, the line editing commands are similar to
those of emacs. A vi-style line editing interface is also available.
This manual page describes only the most basic use of
readline. Much more functionality is available; see The GNU
Readline Library and The GNU History Library for additional
readline returns the text of the line read. A blank line
returns the empty string. If EOF is encountered while reading a line,
and the line is empty, NULL is returned. If an EOF is read
with a non-empty line, it is treated as a newline.
An emacs-style notation is used to denote keystrokes. Control keys
are denoted by C-key, e.g., C-n means Control-N. Similarly,
meta keys are denoted by M-key, so M-x means Meta-X. (On
keyboards without a meta key, M-x means ESC x, i.e.,
press the Escape key then the x key. This makes ESC the meta
prefix. The combination M-C-x means ESC-Control-x, or
press the Escape key then hold the Control key while pressing the x
Readline commands may be given numeric arguments, which
normally act as a repeat count. Sometimes, however, it is the sign of the
argument that is significant. Passing a negative argument to a command that
acts in the forward direction (e.g., kill-line) causes that command
to act in a backward direction. Commands whose behavior with arguments
deviates from this are noted.
When a command is described as killing text, the text
deleted is saved for possible future retrieval (yanking). The killed
text is saved in a kill ring. Consecutive kills cause the text to be
accumulated into one unit, which can be yanked all at once. Commands which
do not kill text separate the chunks of text on the kill ring.
Readline is customized by putting commands in an initialization
file (the inputrc file). The name of this file is taken from the
value of the INPUTRC environment variable. If that variable is unset,
the default is ~/.inputrc. When a program which uses the readline
library starts up, the init file is read, and the key bindings and variables
are set. There are only a few basic constructs allowed in the readline init
file. Blank lines are ignored. Lines beginning with a # are comments.
Lines beginning with a $ indicate conditional constructs. Other lines
denote key bindings and variable settings. Each program using this library
may add its own commands and bindings.
For example, placing
into the inputrc would make M-C-u execute the readline
The following symbolic character names are recognized while
processing key bindings: DEL, ESC, ESCAPE, LFD,
NEWLINE, RET, RETURN, RUBOUT, SPACE,
SPC, and TAB.
In addition to command names, readline allows keys to be bound to
a string that is inserted when the key is pressed (a macro).
The syntax for controlling key bindings in the inputrc file
is simple. All that is required is the name of the command or the text of a
macro and a key sequence to which it should be bound. The name may be
specified in one of two ways: as a symbolic key name, possibly with
Meta- or Control- prefixes, or as a key sequence.
When using the form keyname:function-name or
macro, keyname is the name of a key spelled out in English.
Control-o: "> output"
In the above example, C-u is bound to the function
universal-argument, M-DEL is bound to the function
backward-kill-word, and C-o is bound to run the macro
expressed on the right hand side (that is, to insert the text ``>
output'' into the line).
In the second form, "keyseq":function-name
or macro, keyseq differs from keyname above in that
strings denoting an entire key sequence may be specified by placing the
sequence within double quotes. Some GNU Emacs style key escapes can be used,
as in the following example, but the symbolic character names are not
"\e[11~": "Function Key 1"
In this example, C-u is again bound to the function
universal-argument. C-x C-r is bound to the function
re-read-init-file, and ESC [ 1 1 ~ is bound to insert the text
``Function Key 1''.
The full set of GNU Emacs style escape sequences available when
specifying key sequences is
- control prefix
- meta prefix
- an escape character
- literal ", a double quote
- literal ', a single quote
In addition to the GNU Emacs style escape sequences, a second set
of backslash escapes is available:
- alert (bell)
- form feed
- carriage return
- horizontal tab
- vertical tab
- the eight-bit character whose value is the octal value nnn (one to
- the eight-bit character whose value is the hexadecimal value HH
(one or two hex digits)
When entering the text of a macro, single or double quotes should
be used to indicate a macro definition. Unquoted text is assumed to be a
function name. In the macro body, the backslash escapes described above are
expanded. Backslash will quote any other character in the macro text,
including " and '.
Bash allows the current readline key bindings to be
displayed or modified with the bind builtin command. The editing mode
may be switched during interactive use by using the -o option to the
set builtin command. Other programs using this library provide
similar mechanisms. The inputrc file may be edited and re-read if a
program does not provide any other means to incorporate new bindings.
Readline has variables that can be used to further customize its
behavior. A variable may be set in the inputrc file with a statement
of the form
Except where noted, readline variables can take the values
On or Off (without regard to case). The variables and their
default values are:
- Controls what happens when readline wants to ring the terminal bell. If
set to none, readline never rings the bell. If set to
visible, readline uses a visible bell if one is available. If set
to audible, readline attempts to ring the terminal's bell.
- The string that is inserted in vi mode when the
insert-comment command is executed. This command is bound to
M-# in emacs mode and to # in vi command mode.
- If set to On, readline performs filename matching and completion in
a case-insensitive fashion.
- This determines when the user is queried about viewing the number of
possible completions generated by the possible-completions command.
It may be set to any integer value greater than or equal to zero. If the
number of possible completions is greater than or equal to the value of
this variable, the user is asked whether or not he wishes to view them;
otherwise they are simply listed on the terminal.
- If set to On, readline will convert characters with the eighth bit
set to an ASCII key sequence by stripping the eighth bit and prefixing it
with an escape character (in effect, using escape as the meta
- If set to On, readline will inhibit word completion. Completion
characters will be inserted into the line as if they had been mapped to
- Controls whether readline begins with a set of key bindings similar to
emacs or vi. editing-mode can be set to either emacs or
- When set to On, readline will try to enable the application keypad
when it is called. Some systems need this to enable the arrow keys.
- If set to on, tilde expansion is performed when readline attempts
- If set to on, the history code attempts to place point at the same
location on each history line retrived with previous-history or
- When set to On, makes readline use a single line for display,
scrolling the input horizontally on a single screen line when it becomes
longer than the screen width rather than wrapping to a new line.
- If set to On, readline will enable eight-bit input (that is, it
will not clear the eighth bit in the characters it reads), regardless of
what the terminal claims it can support. The name meta-flag is a
synonym for this variable.
- The string of characters that should terminate an incremental search
without subsequently executing the character as a command. If this
variable has not been given a value, the characters ESC and
C-J will terminate an incremental search.
- Set the current readline keymap. The set of legal keymap names is
emacs, emacs-standard, emacs-meta, emacs-ctlx, vi, vi-move,
vi-command, and vi-insert. vi is equivalent to
vi-command; emacs is equivalent to emacs-standard.
The default value is emacs. The value of editing-mode also
affects the default keymap.
- If set to On, completed directory names have a slash appended.
- If set to On, history lines that have been modified are displayed
with a preceding asterisk (*).
- If set to On, completed names which are symbolic links to
directories have a slash appended (subject to the value of
- This variable, when set to On, causes readline to match files whose
names begin with a `.' (hidden files) when performing filename completion,
unless the leading `.' is supplied by the user in the filename to be
- If set to On, readline will display characters with the eighth bit
set directly rather than as a meta-prefixed escape sequence.
- If set to On, readline uses an internal more-like pager to
display a screenful of possible completions at a time.
- If set to On, readline will display completions with matches sorted
horizontally in alphabetical order, rather than down the screen.
- This alters the default behavior of the completion functions. If set to
on, words which have more than one possible completion cause the
matches to be listed immediately instead of ringing the bell.
- If set to On, a character denoting a file's type as reported by
stat(2) is appended to the filename when listing possible
Readline implements a facility similar in spirit to the
conditional compilation features of the C preprocessor which allows key
bindings and variable settings to be performed as the result of tests. There
are four parser directives used.
- The $if construct allows bindings to be made based on the editing
mode, the terminal being used, or the application using readline. The text
of the test extends to the end of the line; no characters are required to
- The mode= form of the $if directive is used to test whether
readline is in emacs or vi mode. This may be used in conjunction with the
set keymap command, for instance, to set bindings in the
emacs-standard and emacs-ctlx keymaps only if readline is
starting out in emacs mode.
- The term= form may be used to include terminal-specific key
bindings, perhaps to bind the key sequences output by the terminal's
function keys. The word on the right side of the = is tested
against the full name of the terminal and the portion of the terminal name
before the first -. This allows sun to match both sun
and sun-cmd, for instance.
- The application construct is used to include application-specific
settings. Each program using the readline library sets the application
name, and an initialization file can test for a particular value. This
could be used to bind key sequences to functions useful for a specific
program. For instance, the following command adds a key sequence that
quotes the current or previous word in Bash:
# Quote the current or previous word
- This command, as seen in the previous example, terminates an $if
- Commands in this branch of the $if directive are executed if the
- This directive takes a single filename as an argument and reads commands
and bindings from that file. For example, the following directive would
Readline provides commands for searching through the command
history for lines containing a specified string. There are two search modes:
incremental and non-incremental.
Incremental searches begin before the user has finished typing the
search string. As each character of the search string is typed, readline
displays the next entry from the history matching the string typed so far.
An incremental search requires only as many characters as needed to find the
desired history entry. To search backward in the history for a particular
string, type C-r. Typing C-s searches forward through the
history. The characters present in the value of the
isearch-terminators variable are used to terminate an incremental
search. If that variable has not been assigned a value the Escape and
C-J characters will terminate an incremental search. C-G will
abort an incremental search and restore the original line. When the search
is terminated, the history entry containing the search string becomes the
To find other matching entries in the history list, type
C-s or C-r as appropriate. This will search backward or
forward in the history for the next line matching the search string typed so
far. Any other key sequence bound to a readline command will terminate the
search and execute that command. For instance, a newline will terminate the
search and accept the line, thereby executing the command from the history
list. A movement command will terminate the search, make the last line found
the current line, and begin editing.
Non-incremental searches read the entire search string before
starting to search for matching history lines. The search string may be
typed by the user or be part of the contents of the current line.
The following is a list of the names of the commands and the
default key sequences to which they are bound. Command names without an
accompanying key sequence are unbound by default.
In the following descriptions, point refers to the current
cursor position, and mark refers to a cursor position saved by the
set-mark command. The text between the point and mark is referred to
as the region.
- accept-line (Newline,
- Accept the line regardless of where the cursor is. If this line is
non-empty, it may be added to the history list for future recall with
add_history(). If the line is a modified history line, the history
line is restored to its original state.
- Fetch the previous command from the history list, moving back in the
- Fetch the next command from the history list, moving forward in the
- Move to the first line in the history.
- Move to the end of the input history, i.e., the line currently being
- Search backward starting at the current line and moving `up' through the
history as necessary. This is an incremental search.
- Search forward starting at the current line and moving `down' through the
history as necessary. This is an incremental search.
- Search backward through the history starting at the current line using a
non-incremental search for a string supplied by the user.
- Search forward through the history using a non-incremental search for a
string supplied by the user.
- Search forward through the history for the string of characters between
the start of the current line and the current cursor position (the
point). This is a non-incremental search.
- Search backward through the history for the string of characters between
the start of the current line and the point. This is a non-incremental
- Insert the first argument to the previous command (usually the second word
on the previous line) at point. With an argument n, insert the
nth word from the previous command (the words in the previous
command begin with word 0). A negative argument inserts the nth
word from the end of the previous command.
- yank-last-arg (M-.,
- Insert the last argument to the previous command (the last word of the
previous history entry). With an argument, behave exactly like
yank-nth-arg. Successive calls to yank-last-arg move back
through the history list, inserting the last argument of each line in
- Delete the character at point. If point is at the beginning of the line,
there are no characters in the line, and the last character typed was not
bound to delete-char, then return EOF.
- Delete the character behind the cursor. When given a numeric argument,
save the deleted text on the kill ring.
- Delete the character under the cursor, unless the cursor is at the end of
the line, in which case the character behind the cursor is deleted.
- quoted-insert (C-q,
- Add the next character that you type to the line verbatim. This is how to
insert characters like C-q, for example.
- Insert a tab character.
(a, b, A, 1, !, ...)
- Insert the character typed.
- Drag the character before point forward over the character at point,
moving point forward as well. If point is at the end of the line, then
this transposes the two characters before point. Negative arguments have
- Drag the word before point past the word after point, moving point over
that word as well. If point is at the end of the line, this transposes the
last two words on the line.
- Uppercase the current (or following) word. With a negative argument,
uppercase the previous word, but do not move point.
- Lowercase the current (or following) word. With a negative argument,
lowercase the previous word, but do not move point.
- Capitalize the current (or following) word. With a negative argument,
capitalize the previous word, but do not move point.
- Toggle overwrite mode. With an explicit positive numeric argument,
switches to overwrite mode. With an explicit non-positive numeric
argument, switches to insert mode. This command affects only emacs
mode; vi mode does overwrite differently. Each call to
readline() starts in insert mode. In overwrite mode, characters
bound to self-insert replace the text at point rather than pushing
the text to the right. Characters bound to backward-delete-char
replace the character before point with a space. By default, this command
- Kill the text from point to the end of the line.
- Kill backward to the beginning of the line.
- Kill backward from point to the beginning of the line. The killed text is
saved on the kill-ring.
- Kill all characters on the current line, no matter where point is.
- Kill from point the end of the current word, or if between words, to the
end of the next word. Word boundaries are the same as those used by
- Kill the word behind point. Word boundaries are the same as those used by
- Kill the word behind point, using white space as a word boundary. The
killed text is saved on the kill-ring.
- Delete all spaces and tabs around point.
- Kill the text between the point and mark (saved cursor position).
This text is referred to as the region.
- Copy the text in the region to the kill buffer.
- Copy the word before point to the kill buffer. The word boundaries are the
same as backward-word.
- Copy the word following point to the kill buffer. The word boundaries are
the same as forward-word.
- yank (C-y)
- Yank the top of the kill ring into the buffer at point.
- Rotate the kill ring, and yank the new top. Only works following
yank or yank-pop.
- digit-argument (M-0, M-1,
- Add this digit to the argument already accumulating, or start a new
argument. M-- starts a negative argument.
- This is another way to specify an argument. If this command is followed by
one or more digits, optionally with a leading minus sign, those digits
define the argument. If the command is followed by digits, executing
universal-argument again ends the numeric argument, but is
otherwise ignored. As a special case, if this command is immediately
followed by a character that is neither a digit or minus sign, the
argument count for the next command is multiplied by four. The argument
count is initially one, so executing this function the first time makes
the argument count four, a second time makes the argument count sixteen,
and so on.
- Attempt to perform completion on the text before point. The actual
completion performed is application-specific. Bash, for instance,
attempts completion treating the text as a variable (if the text begins
with $), username (if the text begins with ~), hostname (if
the text begins with @), or command (including aliases and
functions) in turn. If none of these produces a match, filename completion
is attempted. Gdb, on the other hand, allows completion of program
functions and variables, and only attempts filename completion under
- List the possible completions of the text before point.
- Insert all completions of the text before point that would have been
generated by possible-completions.
- Similar to complete, but replaces the word to be completed with a
single match from the list of possible completions. Repeated execution of
menu-complete steps through the list of possible completions,
inserting each match in turn. At the end of the list of completions, the
bell is rung (subject to the setting of bell-style) and the
original text is restored. An argument of n moves n
positions forward in the list of matches; a negative argument may be used
to move backward through the list. This command is intended to be bound to
TAB, but is unbound by default.
- Deletes the character under the cursor if not at the beginning or end of
the line (like delete-char). If at the end of the line, behaves
identically to possible-completions.
- re-read-init-file (C-x
- Read in the contents of the inputrc file, and incorporate any
bindings or variable assignments found there.
- abort (C-g)
- Abort the current editing command and ring the terminal's bell (subject to
the setting of bell-style).
- do-uppercase-version (M-a, M-b,
- If the metafied character x is lowercase, run the command that is
bound to the corresponding uppercase character.
- Metafy the next character typed. ESC f is
equivalent to Meta-f.
- undo (C-_, C-x
- Incremental undo, separately remembered for each line.
- Undo all changes made to this line. This is like executing the undo
command enough times to return the line to its initial state.
- Perform tilde expansion on the current word.
- set-mark (C-@,
- Set the mark to the point. If a numeric argument is supplied, the mark is
set to that position.
- Swap the point with the mark. The current cursor position is set to the
saved position, and the old cursor position is saved as the mark.
- A character is read and point is moved to the next occurrence of that
character. A negative count searches for previous occurrences.
- A character is read and point is moved to the previous occurrence of that
character. A negative count searches for subsequent occurrences.
- Without a numeric argument, the value of the readline comment-begin
variable is inserted at the beginning of the current line. If a numeric
argument is supplied, this command acts as a toggle: if the characters at
the beginning of the line do not match the value of comment-begin,
the value is inserted, otherwise the characters in comment-begin
are deleted from the beginning of the line. In either case, the line is
accepted as if a newline had been typed. The default value of
comment-begin makes the current line a shell comment. If a numeric
argument causes the comment character to be removed, the line will be
executed by the shell.
- Print all of the functions and their key bindings to the readline output
stream. If a numeric argument is supplied, the output is formatted in such
a way that it can be made part of an inputrc file.
- Print all of the settable variables and their values to the readline
output stream. If a numeric argument is supplied, the output is formatted
in such a way that it can be made part of an inputrc file.
- Print all of the readline key sequences bound to macros and the strings
they ouput. If a numeric argument is supplied, the output is formatted in
such a way that it can be made part of an inputrc file.
- When in vi command mode, this causes a switch to emacs
- When in emacs editing mode, this causes a switch to vi
The following is a list of the default emacs and vi bindings.
Characters with the eighth bit set are written as M-<character>, and
are referred to as metafied characters. The printable ASCII
characters not mentioned in the list of emacs standard bindings are bound to
the self-insert function, which just inserts the given character into
the input line. In vi insertion mode, all characters not specifically
mentioned are bound to self-insert. Characters assigned to signal
generation by stty(1) or the terminal driver, such as C-Z or C-C,
retain that function. Upper and lower case metafied characters are bound to
the same function in the emacs mode meta keymap. The remaining characters
are unbound, which causes readline to ring the bell (subject to the setting
of the bell-style variable).
Emacs Standard bindings
" " to "/" self-insert
"0" to "9" self-insert
":" to "~" self-insert
Emacs Meta bindings
Emacs Control-X bindings
VI Insert Mode functions
" " to "~" self-insert
VI Command Mode functions
" " forward-char
"1" to "9" vi-arg-digit
- Individual readline initialization file
Brian Fox, Free Software Foundation
Chet Ramey, Case Western Reserve University
If you find a bug in readline, you should report it. But
first, you should make sure that it really is a bug, and that it appears in
the latest version of the readline library that you have.
Once you have determined that a bug actually exists, mail a bug
report to email@example.com. If you have a fix, you are
welcome to mail that as well! Suggestions and `philosophical' bug reports
may be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted to the Usenet
Comments and bug reports concerning this manual page should be
directed to chet@ins.CWRU.Edu.
It's too big and too slow.