Where is bash's history stored?

If I run history, I can see my latest executed commands.

But if I do tail -f $HISTFILE or tail -f ~/.bash_history, they do not get listed.

Does the file get locked, is there a temporary location or something similar?

Asked By: Adionditsak


bash keeps it in working memory, bash can be configured to save it when bash closes or after each command, and to be loaded when bash starts or on request.

If you configure to save after each command, then consider the implications of having multiple bash running at same time. (command lines will be interleaved)

Answered By: ctrl-alt-delor

Bash maintains the list of commands internally in memory while it’s running. They are written into .bash_history on exit:

When an interactive shell exits, the last $HISTSIZE lines are copied from the history list to the file named by $HISTFILE

If you want to force the command history to be written out, you can use the history -a command, which will:

Append the new history lines (history lines entered since the beginning of the current Bash session) to the history file.

There is also a -w option:

Write out the current history to the history file.

which may suit you more depending on exactly how you use your history.

If you want to make sure that they’re always written immediately, you can put that command into your PROMPT_COMMAND variable:

export PROMPT_COMMAND='history -a'
Answered By: Michael Homer

Commands are saved in memory (RAM) while your session is active. As soon as you close the shell, the commands list gets written to .bash_history before shutdown.

Thus, you won’t see history of current session in .bash_history.

Answered By: JaySo

(Not an answer but I cannot add comments)

If you are checking .bash_history because you just want delete a specific command (e.g. containing a password in clear), you can directly delete the entry in memory by history -d <entry_id>.

For example, supposing an output like:

$ history
926  ll
927  cd ..
928  export --password=super_secret
929  ll

and you want purge the export line, you can simply achieve it by:

history -d 928
Answered By: Eddie C.

While running, the history is kept only in memory (by default) if:

  • set -o history (an H in echo "$-") is set.
  • HISTSIZE is not 0 and
  • HISTIGNORE is not * (or some other very restrictive pattern).

If any of the above fail, no history is stored in memory and consequently no history could or will be written to disk.

History in memory is written to disk if:

  • HISTFILESIZE is not 0 and
  • HISTFILE is not unset.

But only when the shell exits or if the commands history -a (append) or history -w (write) are executed.

To trigger an immediate write to disk you can use the variable:

 PROMPT_COMMAND='history -a'

which will append the new history lines to the history file. These are history lines entered since the beginning of the current bash session, but not already appended to the history file.


 PROMPT_COMMAND='history -w'

To overwrite the history in the HISTFILE with the list from memory.

So, you can remove a command from the history in memory:

 $ history 5
  6359  ls
  6360  cd ..
  6361  comand --private-password='^%^&$@#)!@*'
  6362  top
  6363  set +o | less
 $ history -d 6361
 $ history 5
  6359  ls
  6360  cd ..
  6361  top
  6362  set +o | less
 $ history -w

And write it to disk with the last command:

 history -w    # with `shopt -u histappend` unset
Answered By: user232326

The easiest way to find where your bash history is stored is with this:


Answered By: cokedude
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