Reloading .bashrc within a BASH terminal session

BASH is a command-line interpretor that is commonly used by Linux and UNIX operating systems. Chances are that you will find find yourself in a BASH session if you start up a terminal emulator in many of these though there are others like KSH and SSH too.

BASH comes with its own configuration files and one of these is located in your own home directory, .bashrc. Among other things, it can become a place to store command shortcuts or aliases. Here is an example:

alias us=’sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade’

Such a definition needs there to be no spaces around the equals sign and the actual command to be declared in single quotes. Doing anything other than this will not work as I have found. Also, there are times when you want to update or add one of these and use it without shutting down a terminal emulator and restarting it.

To reload the .bashrc file to use the updates contained in there, one of the following commands can be issued:

source ~/.bashrc

. ~/.bashrc

Both will read the file and execute its contents so you get those updates made available so you can continue what you are doing. There appears to be a tendency for this kind of thing in the world of Linux and UNIX because it also applies to remounting drives after a change to /etc/fstab and restarting system services like Apache, MySQL or Nginx. The command for the former is below:

sudo mount -a

Often, the means for applying the sorts of in-situ changes that you make are simple ones too and anything that avoids system reboots has to be good since you have less work interruptions.

Creating soft and hard symbolic links using the Windows command line

In the world of UNIX and Linux, symbolic links are shortcuts but they do not work like normal Windows shortcuts because you do not jump from one location to another with the file manager’s address bar changing what it shows. Instead, it is as if you see the contents of the directory at another quicker to access location in the file system and the same sort of thinking applies to files too. In some ways, it is like giving files and directories alternative aliases. There are soft links that point to the name of a given directory or file and hard links that point to actual files or directories.

For a long time, I was under the mistaken impression that such things did not exist in Windows until I came across the mklink command, which came with the launch of Windows Vista at the start of 2007. While the then new feature may not be an obvious to most of us, it does does that Windows did incorporate a feature from UNIX and Linux well before the advent of virtual desktops on Windows 10.

By default, the aforementioned command sets up symbolic links to files and the /D switch allows the same to be done for directories too. The /H switch makes a hard link instead of a soft link so we get much of the functionality of the ln command in UNIX and Linux. Here is an example that creates a soft symbolic link for a directory:

mklink /D shortcut target_directory

Above, shortcut is the name of the symbolic link file and target_directory is the destination to which it links. In my experience, it works best for destinations beyond your home folder and, from what I have read, hard links may not be possible across different disks either.

A few more shell commands

Here are some Linux commands that I encountered in a feature article in the current issue of Linux User & Developer that I had not met before:

cd --

This returns you to the previous directory where you were before with having to go back through the folder hierarchy to get there and is handy if you are jumping around a file system and any other means is far from speedy.

lsb_release -a

It can be useful to uncover what version of a distro you have from the command line and the above works for distros as diverse as Linux Mint, Debian, Fedora (it automatically installs in Fedora 22 if it is not installed already, a more advanced approach than showing you the command like in Linux Mint or Ubuntu), openSUSE and Manjaro. These days, the version may not change too often but it still is good to uncover what you have.

yum install fedora-upgrade

This one can be run either with sudo or in a root session started with su and it is specific to Fedora. The command performs an upgrade of the Fedora distro itself and I wonder if the functionality has been ported to the dnf command that has taken over from yum. My experiences with that in Fedora 22 so far suggest that it should be the case though I need to check that further with the VirtualBox VM that I have created.

Smarter file renaming using PowerShell

It seems that the Rename-Item commandlet in Powershell is a very useful tool when it comes to smarter renaming of files. Even text substitution is a possibility and what follows is an example that takes the output of the Dir command for listing the files in a directory and replaces hyphens with underscores in each one.

Dir | Rename-Item –NewName { $_.name –replace “-“,”_” }

The result is that something like the-file.txt becomes the_file.txt. This behaviour is reminiscent of the rename command found on Linux and UNIX systems, where regular expressions can be used like in the following example that has the same result as the above:

rename ‘s/-/_/g’ *

In both cases, you do need to be careful as to what files are in a directory for this though the wildcard syntax on Linux or UNIX will be more familiar who has worked with files via almost any command line. Another thing to watch in the UNIX world is that ** parses the whole directory structure and that could be something that is not wanted for much of the time.

All of this is a far cry from the capabilities of the ren or rename command used in the days of MS-DOS and what has become the legacy Windows command line. Apart from simple renaming, any attempt at tweaking a filename through substitution ended up with the extra string getting appended to filenames when I tried it. Thus, the Powershell option looks better in comparison.

Changing file timestamps using Windows PowerShell

Recently, a timestamp got changed on an otherwise unaltered file on me and I needed to change it back. Luckily, I found an answer on the web that used PowerShell to do what I needed and am recording it here for future reference. The possible commands are below:

$(Get-Item temp.txt).creationtime=$(Get-Date “27/10/2014 04:20 pm”)
$(Get-Item temp.txt).lastwritetime=$(Get-Date “27/10/2014 04:20 pm”)
$(Get-Item temp.txt).lastaccesstime=$(Get-Date “27/10/2014 04:20 pm”)

The first of these did not interest me since I wanted to leave the file creation date as it was. The last write and access times were another matter because these needed altering. The Get-Item commandlet brings up the file so its properties can be set. Here, these include creationtime, lastwritetime and lastaccesstime. The Get-Date commandlet reads in the provided date and time for use in the timestamp assignment. While PowerShell itself is case insensitive, I have opted to show the camelcase that is produced when you are tabbing through command options for sake of clarity.

The Get-Item and Get-Date have aliases of gi and gd, respectively and the Get-Alias commandlet will show you a full list while Get-Command (gcm) gives you a list of commandlets. Issuing the following gets you a formatted list that is sent to a text file:

gcm | Format-List > temp2.txt

There is some online help but it is not quite as helpful as it ought to be so I have popped over to TechNet whenever I needed extra enlightenment. Here is a command that pops the full thing into a text file:

Get-Help Format-List -full > temp3.txt

In fact, getting a book might be the best way to find your way around PowerShell because of all its commandlets and available objects.

For now, other commands that I have found useful include the following:

Get-Service | Format-List
New-Item -Name  test.txt -ItemType “file”

The first of these gets you a list of services while the second creates a new blank text file for you and it can create new folders for you too. Other useful commandlets are below:

Get-Location (gl)
Set-Location (sl)
Copy-Item
Remove-Item
Move-Item
Rename-Item

The first of the above is like the cwd or pwd commands that you may have seen elsewhere in that the current directory location is given. Then, the second will change your directory location for you. After that, there are commandlets for copying, deleting, moving and renaming files. These too have aliases so users of the legacy Windows command line or a UNIX or Linux shell can use something that is familiar to them.

Little fixes like the one with which I started this piece are all very good to know but it is in scripting that PowerShell really is said to show its uses. Having seen the usefulness of such things in the world on Linux and UNIX, I cannot disagree with that and PowerShell has its own IDE too. That may be just as well given how much there is to learn. That especially is the case when you might need to issue the following command in a PowerShell session opened using the Run as Administrator option just to get the execution as you need it:

Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned

Issuing Get-ExecutionPolicy will show you if this is needed when the response is: Restricted. A response of RemoteSigned shows you that all is in order though you need to check that any script you then run has no nasty payload in there, which is why execution is restrictive in the first place. This sort of thing is yet another lesson to be learnt with PowerShell.