With Bash auto-completion, is there a way to cycle through matches using menu-complete only if there are 1-2 options, and use listing with complete otherwise?


home directory contains Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Projects and Public

~$ cd D<tab><tab> # lists matches
Desktop    Documents    Downloads
~$ cd De<tab> # completes Desktop

~$ cd P<tab> # completes Projects
~$ cd Projects<tab> # completes Public

The former is complete behavior, the latter is menu-complete. I want it to choose the second option if there are only 1-2 matches, the first if there are 3 or more.

  • 1
    This look like one of my question, seems impossible : serverfault.com/questions/41638/… – radius Jul 31 '09 at 19:39
  • Indeed, it's similar to your question - though not quite the same. Either way, it should be possible by modifying the original completion script - but looking at /etc/bash_completion, I don't see any obvious hooks... – AnC Aug 1 '09 at 7:04

It seems like there is no way.

I know you specifically asked for bash, but in case you want to give zsh a try, it uses ordinary list completion on the first press of tab, and cycles through the possible values on the second press. I think that is very convenient, and switching is a no-brainer as zsh is very similar to bash.

  • Yeah, I haven't made any progress either. There probably is a way, but it would require more familiarity with Bash's interals. As for zsh, ... well, I have no experience with it so far, and switching just for this one feature seems odd - but I might give it a try in a virtual machine. Thanks! – AnC Aug 10 '09 at 10:13

Hit tab twice? Or are you trying to get something like a command then either arg1 or arg2 listed after the command?


You'll want to edit your /etc/inputrc and add the following line somewhere:

"\C-i": menu-complete 

Then run this command to immediately set your changes:

#: bind -f /etc/inputrc

Unfortunately, I don't see a way to limit it by the number of choices, but that is how you can switch it alternate as you hit the 'tab' key


  • When I hit tab twice, I get a choice of options - e.g. D<tab> lists Documents and Downloads. If there are only two options, I want the options to be cycled instead of listed. – AnC Aug 10 '09 at 10:16
  • I think I found your answer. – David Rickman Aug 11 '09 at 7:34
  • Thanks, but I'm afraid I already knew about menu-complete. I've clarified my original post with an example, hopefully that will help. – AnC Aug 11 '09 at 17:28

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