In Bash and similar shells cd - changes the current directory to a previously visited one. It's often very handy. I wonder if there is similar shorthand for copying or moving files, like:

~/project-a/ $ cd ../project-b
~/project-b/ $ cp Makefile LICENSE - # this won't work, hence the question

I'd be also happy with zsh specific answers.

  • 5
    With bash: Instead of - press Esc and then . to get from last command its last argument (here: ../project-b). – Cyrus Mar 31 at 15:06
  • That's true @Cyrus, but in the example the intention is to copy from project-b to project-a. – Tad Lispy Mar 31 at 15:19
  • @Cyrus, I was always aware that bash has some Emacs-like key bindings and am a heavy Emacs user myself. I was always happily using the general line movement keys of emacs on the shell (C-a etc.). But your comment prompted me to actually look for key bindings in man bash. Holy moly... it really is Emacs-like, complete with the kill ring, the mark semantics (C-space) etc. Thanks for bringing that up. – AnoE Apr 1 at 11:15

If your shell has cd -, then it will likely have either the special variable $OLDPWD and/or the shortcut ~- for the directory you've been in previously.

cp Makefile LICENSE "$OLDPWD/"

cp Makefile LICENSE ~-

cat ~-/Makefile

Indeed the POSIX shell language (upon which ksh/bash/zsh are built) specifies that cd - should be equal to cd "$OLDPWD".


You can always use shell backquotes.

They act like a subshell : the command in the backquotes is executed first, and its output is placed as argument of the main command.

~/folderA$ cd ../folderB  
~/folderB$ cp Makefile `cd -`  
# gets expended to "cp Makefile ~/folderA"
  • 4
    No, the command cd - outputs nothing, so `cd -` expands to the empty string. Try the command % echo `cd -` to verify. You would need to use something like % echo `cd -; pwd` ... – Neal Young Apr 1 at 0:21
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    @NealYoung: It seems that there’s something wrong with your shell. POSIX says “When a <hyphen-minus> is used as the operand [to cd], this shall be equivalent to the command: cd "$OLDPWD" && pwd, which changes to the previous working directory and then writes its name.” … (Cont’d) – G-Man Says 'Reinstate Monica' Apr 1 at 2:36
  • 1
    (Cont’d) …  And bash(1) says “An argument of - is converted to $OLDPWD before the directory change is attempted.  If a non-empty directory name from CDPATH is used, or if - is the first argument, and the directory change is successful, the absolute pathname of the new working directory is written to the standard output.” – G-Man Says 'Reinstate Monica' Apr 1 at 2:36
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    @Nathanael C.: But please use "$(cd -)". – G-Man Says 'Reinstate Monica' Apr 1 at 2:40
  • There's only "something wrong" if the shell claims POSIX compliance, and I think it's perfectly normal for shells that weren't invoked as /bin/sh and aren't specifically trying to emulate a POSIX shell to implement their language in whatever way they want... – grawity Apr 1 at 3:55

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