What often happens when I work in a shell - zsh - is that I have cded somewhere and I want to have a quick look at the directory. Using ls may produce a lot of output and leaves it in the terminal. Using ls | less is better, however it again leaves traces when I quit less all its output is there. Do you have an idea how I can do something like ls | less but when I quit less, it leaves the terminal screen untouched.


For me, less behaves as you describe - I need to use less -X to disable this behaviour.

You could try explicitly using the "alternative screen buffer" that many terminals implement.

This is used by editors like vim / nano, so that when quitting, the terminal is restored to how it was before.

Try this:

tput smcup
ls | less
tput rmcup

If tput is unavailable, then try using echo $'\e[?1049h' / echo $'\e[?1049l' respectively.

  • less -X does not change anything in this regards for me.
    – Yuki
    Aug 6 '18 at 16:10
  • What about tput?
    – Attie
    Aug 6 '18 at 16:20

Since you mention that you are using zsh, you can take advantage of zsh builtin tab-completion. You won't get a "long" ls listing, but you can preview names of directories and files by typing "ls " followed by a tab. You'll see what files/directories you could potentially "ls" in your current working directory, and then you can either ls one specifically, add a "-l filename" to view one in particular in detail, or just hit "Control-u" to clear the line you're on and prepare to enter a different command, and the tab-completion suggestions will disappear.

For instance, when I "ls "[TAB] on one of my VMs, I see:

user@fbsd:~% ls
.cshrc                   .mailrc                  .ssh/
.login                   .profile                 .zshrc
.login_conf              .rhosts                  code/
.mail_aliases            .shrc                    inventory.hw.gather.sh*

When I hit Control-u, the suggestions below my command line disappear.

  • Thank you. that is true, however I want something more generic. That, for example, I could do ls -lah, etc.
    – Yuki
    Aug 8 '18 at 12:47

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