READLINE(3) Library Functions Manual READLINE(3)
readline - get a line from a user with editing
readline (const char *prompt);
Readline is Copyright (C) 1989-2002 by the Free Software Foundation, Inc.
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 information.
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 press-
ing the x key.)
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 read-
line init file. Blank lines are ignored. Lines beginning with a # are comments. Lines beginning with a $ indicate conditional con-
structs. 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 command universal-argument.
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. For example:
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 recognized.
"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
C- control prefix
M- meta prefix
e 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:
a alert (bell)
f form feed
v vertical tab
nn the eight-bit character whose value is the octal value nnn (one to three digits)
xHH 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
set variable-name value
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 vis-
ible, 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 com-
mand. 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
If set to On, readline will convert characters with the eighth bit set to an ASCII key sequence by stripping the eighth bit and pre-
fixing it with an escape character (in effect, using escape as the meta prefix).
If set to On, readline will inhibit word completion. Completion characters will be inserted into the line as if they had been
mapped to self-insert.
Controls whether readline begins with a set of key bindings similar to emacs or vi. editing-mode can be set to either emacs or vi.
When set to On, readline will try to enable the application keypad when it is called. Some systems need this to enable the arrow
If set to on, tilde expansion is performed when readline attempts word completion.
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), regard-
less of what the terminal claims it can support. The name meta-flag is a synonym for this variable.
isearch-terminators (``C-[ C-J'')
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 mark-directo-
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 completed.
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 comple-
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.
$if 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 isolate it.
mode 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.
term The term= form may be used to include terminal-specific key bindings, perhaps to bind the key sequences output by the termi-
nal'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
$endif This command, as seen in the previous example, terminates an $if command.
$else Commands in this branch of the $if directive are executed if the test fails.
This directive takes a single filename as an argument and reads commands and bindings from that file. For example, the following
directive would read /etc/inputrc:
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, read-
line 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 for-
ward 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 current line.
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 com-
mand. The text between the point and mark is referred to as the region.
Commands for Moving
Move to the start of the current line.
Move to the end of the line.
Move forward a character.
Move back a character.
Move forward to the end of the next word. Words are composed of alphanumeric characters (letters and digits).
Move back to the start of the current or previous word. Words are composed of alphanumeric characters (letters and digits).
Clear the screen leaving the current line at the top of the screen. With an argument, refresh the current line without clearing the
Refresh the current line.
Commands for Manipulating the History
accept-line (Newline, Return)
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 list.
Fetch the next command from the history list, moving forward in the list.
Move to the first line in the history.
Move to the end of the input history, i.e., the line currently being entered.
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 posi-
tion (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
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-., 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
Commands for Changing Text
Delete the character at point. If point is at the beginning of the line, there are no characters in the line, and the last charac-
ter 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
quoted-insert (C-q, C-v)
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.
self-insert (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 no effect.
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 is unbound.
Killing and Yanking
Kill the text from point to the end of the line.
backward-kill-line (C-x Rubout)
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 forward-word.
Kill the word behind point. Word boundaries are the same as those used by backward-word.
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 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, ..., M--)
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 execut-
ing 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 certain circumstances.
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 exe-
cution 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 0 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.
start-kbd-macro (C-x ()
Begin saving the characters typed into the current keyboard macro.
end-kbd-macro (C-x ))
Stop saving the characters typed into the current keyboard macro and store the definition.
call-last-kbd-macro (C-x e)
Re-execute the last keyboard macro defined, by making the characters in the macro appear as if typed at the keyboard.
re-read-init-file (C-x C-r)
Read in the contents of the inputrc file, and incorporate any bindings or variable assignments found there.
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, M-x, ...)
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 C-u)
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-@, M-<space>)
Set the mark to the point. If a numeric argument is supplied, the mark is set to that position.
exchange-point-and-mark (C-x C-x)
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
A character is read and point is moved to the next occurrence of that character. A negative count searches for previous occur-
A character is read and point is moved to the previous occurrence of that character. A negative count searches for subsequent
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 editing mode.
When in emacs editing mode, this causes a switch to vi editing mode.
DEFAULT KEY BINDINGS
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 char-
acters 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 Mode bindings
VI Insert Mode functions
" " to "~" self-insert
VI Command Mode functions
" " forward-char
"1" to "9" vi-arg-digit
The Gnu Readline Library, Brian Fox and Chet Ramey
The Gnu History Library, Brian Fox and Chet Ramey
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 newsgroup
Comments and bug reports concerning this manual page should be directed to chet@ins.CWRU.Edu.
It's too big and too slow.
The info file is much more up-to-date. This man page conflicts with it in a few places, but the conflicts will be resolved in a future
release of readline.
GNU Readline 4.3 2002 January 22 READLINE(3)