Turning on autocompletion for the bash shell in terminal sessions

At some point, I managed to lose the ability to have tab key based autocompletion on terminal sessions on my Ubuntu GNOME machine. Wanting it back had me turn to the web for an answer and I found it on a Linux Mint forum; the bash shell is so pervasive in the UNIX and Linux worlds that you can look anywhere for a fix like this.

The problem centred around the .bashrc file in my home area. It does have quite a few handy custom aliases and I must have done a foolish spring clean on the file sometime. That is the only way that I can explain how the following lines got removed:

if [ -f /etc/bash_completion ]; then
. /etc/bash_completion

What they do is look to see if /etc/bash_completion can be found on your system and to use it for tab-based autocompletion. With the lines not in .bashrc, it couldn’t happen. Others may replace bash_completion with bash.bashrc to got a fuller complement of features but I’ll stick with what I have for now.

Filename autocompletion on the command line

The Windows 2000 command line feels an austere primitive when compared with the wonders of the UNIX/Linux equivalent. Windows XP feels a little better and PowerShell is another animal altogether. With the latter pair, you do get file or folder autocompletion upon hitting the TAB key. What I didn’t realise until recently was that continued tabbed cycled through the possibilities; I was hitting it once and retyping when I got the wrong folder or file. I stand corrected. With the shell in Linux/UNIX, you can get a listing of possibilities when you hit TAB for the second time and the first time only gives you completion as far as it can go with certainty; you’ll never get to the wrong place but you may not get anywhere at all. This works for bash but not ksh88 as far as I can see. It’s interesting how you can take two different approaches in order to reach the same end.