Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

My hoster recently updated to a new CentOS and I've been 'personalizing' it and now I'm missing something.

On my home Ubuntu Server I can forward-word and backward-word with ALT + RIGHT / LEFT. I didn't do anything for that. I can also ALT + BACKSPACE to delete a word.

On my new CentOS I can do the ALT + BACKSPACE, but I can't get the ALT + RIGHT / LEFT working! ALT + B / F work, but that's just not acceptable, because it only works for the left ALT and my fingers aren't that lean. (right ALT + B / F just prints "b" or "f")

I've tried copying a part of /etc/inputrc to CentOS, but that doesn't do anything.

ALT or CTRL, I don't care, but I really need a shortcut. The last CentOS didn't have it, but since Ubuntu I've been missing it on CentOS.

My CentOS /etc/inputrc:

"\e[5C": forward-word
"\e[5D": backward-word
"\e[1;5C": forward-word
"\e[1;5D": backward-word

My Ubuntu /etc/inputrc:

"\e[1;5C": forward-word
"\e[1;5D": backward-word
"\e[5C": forward-word
"\e[5D": backward-word
"\e\e[C": forward-word
"\e\e[D": backward-word

I don't even know what they all mean!? What is [1;5C for key??

share|improve this question
I just use the first 2 lines (\e[1;5C and \e[1;5D) you quote from your Ubuntu inputrc in my ~/.inputrc and it works fine for debian, ubuntu and arch. – terdon Jan 5 '13 at 1:02
For ALT or CTRL? Since those are in there, they should work, wouldn't you think? Two of them must be B and F, I would think. Linux is weird. – Rudie Jan 5 '13 at 1:39
They work for CTRL. My guess is that order is important, one may overwrite the other. Also, local settings files (e.g. ~/.inputrc) take precedence over system-wide ones, so if there is a weird conflict somewhere a local file might fix it. – terdon Jan 5 '13 at 2:05
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Thanks to your question I finally did some reading and increased my understanding, cheers!

So, a very good source of information is man readline. The keybindings specified in the various inputrc files control the way that the BASH readline library works. According to the readline manpage you can use either symbolic key names or escape sequences:

   Key Bindings
       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 sym‐
       bolic  key  name, possibly with Meta- or Control- prefixes, or
       as a key sequence.  The name and key sequence are separated by
       a  colon.  There can be no whitespace between the name and the

       When using the form keyname:function-name or macro, keyname is
       the name of a key spelled out in English.  For example:

              Control-u: universal-argument
              Meta-Rubout: backward-kill-word
              Control-o: "> output"

The man page also states that the default configuration file is ~/.inputrc so I recommend placing your bindings there.

If you want to use normal letter keys (for example Control-g), Control-g: forward-word works fine. The arrow keys are harder. I tried, and failed, to find the key name for the arrow keys. None of the ones I tried (left-arrow, left, :left) worked so it seems like we are stuck with the escape sequences.

Unfortunately, the exact escape sequence differs between terminal emulators (that is why your Ubuntu inputrc had multiple lines). To find out which escape sequence your favorite terminal uses, run read and then type the key sequence you are interested in. In terminator, xterm and gnome-terminal, Control-Left give:

$ read

in aterm:

$ read
^[Od    <-- that is a capital O not a zero (0).

By experimenting a bit, I figured out that ^[[D is Left and ^[[1;5D is Control-Left. The first ^[ is the Esc key, used here, I suppose, to denote an escape sequence.

In any case, to bind Control-Left to forward-word in a way that works for all, I added these lines to my ~/inputrc:

"\e[1;5D": backward-word
"\eOd": backward-word

For reasons I have not fully understood, Control is represented by \e which should be Esc.

My final ~/.inputrc file that works for all the terminals listed above is:

"\e[1;5D": backward-word
"\eOd": backward-word
"\e[1;5C": forward-word
"\eOc": forward-word
share|improve this answer
YES YES YES! You are my absolute hero! It's perfect now! My tiny air keyboard now uses right ctrl + arrows and my main/desktop keyboard now uses left alt + arrow keys. Perfect!! Somehow my air keyboard's right alt doesn't trigger anything in read... Probably the keyboard's fault (some special function!?). Awesome! You the man! – Rudie Jan 5 '13 at 15:53
My settings are a bit different btw: ctrl left / right: \eOD / \eOC and alt left / right: \e\e[D / \e\e[C. Thank god it's a readable, sensible syntax like this, right!? Linux rocks! – Rudie Jan 5 '13 at 15:58
Yeah, got to admit the syntax could be better, probably a historical relic. Glad it works! – terdon Jan 5 '13 at 17:31

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.