Most of the time the output of a command ends with the newline character. But sometimes it does not, so the next shell prompt is printed in the same line together with the output.


root@hostname [~] # echo -n hello
helloroot@hostname [~] #

I've always found that very annoying.
Now, I could just add a "\n" at the beginning of the the PS1 variable, but most of the time that will print one extra line I dont need.

Is it possible to know whether the last command's output ended with a newline or not?

(Thanks to Dennis)

PS1='$(printf "%$((`tput cols`-1))s\r")\u@\h [\w]\$ '
  • This should be moved to superuser.
    – raphink
    Dec 27, 2009 at 17:42
  • I like your version! You used $() in one place and backticks in another. You can use $() in both. Dec 29, 2009 at 2:08
  • I know. But for me it's easier to read that way
    – GetFree
    Dec 29, 2009 at 3:26
  • I wouldn't use tput cols because it just outputs the value of the COLUMNS variable anyway, and it's slower because it's not a shell builtin. You'll also want to include \e[K (equivalent to tput el) to delete the inserted whitespace so that you don't get a bunch of trailing whitespace when copying and pasting in the default case. Finally, you need to enclose all this magic between \[ and \] or else bash will try to second-guess your cursor position and it'll mess up when you edit your command/history.
    – dlitz
    Jun 14, 2019 at 6:35
  • 1
    The whole thing can be done as just: PS1='\[\e[7m%\e[m$( printf "%*s" "$((COLUMNS-1))" "" )\r\e[K\]\u@\h [\w]\$ '
    – dlitz
    Jun 14, 2019 at 6:35

4 Answers 4


I've been experimenting with the following to emulate the feature from zsh in Bash:

$ unset PROMPT_SP; for ((i = 1; i <= $COLUMNS + 52; i++ )); do PROMPT_SP+=' '; done
$ PS1='\[\e[7m%\e[m\]${PROMPT_SP: -$COLUMNS+1}\015$ '

It issues a reverse video percent sign, followed by a bunch of spaces to make it wrap to the next line, then a carriage return, followed by a dollar sign and a space. You can add prompt escapes after the "\015" to customize your prompt.

Using this depends on how your terminal handles right margin line wrapping (automatic margins). The length of PROMPT_SP is arbitrary, but should be at least 80 or whatever your usual terminal width is. You may need to hard-code that value if $COLUMNS isn't set yet by the time the for loop is run in ~/.bashrc. You may want shopt -s checkwinsize if it's not already set.

  • I wonder why someone downvoted each answer. Hmmm... no explanation. How helpful. Dec 28, 2009 at 0:21
  • Here's another way, without using a loop, to create the pad string: printf -v PROMPT_SP '%*s' $((COLUMNS + 52)) '' Apr 28, 2012 at 0:28
  • What is a "reverse video percent sign"? The word "video" has me confused, and I haven't been able to find the answer on Google. Nov 22, 2013 at 23:29
  • 1
    @davidchambers: The background of the character is displayed in the foreground color and the character itself is displayed in the background color. See man 5 terminfo and search for "reverse video" to see some documentation that uses this terminology. Nov 22, 2013 at 23:56

No it isn't possible. Bash itself does not process or see the output of the program it has started.

It just occured to me that it might be possible to write a program to set PROMPT_COMMAND to, which would check the current position of the cursor and issue a newline if the cursor was not at the left edge.

  • Good idea. The only problem is... is it possible to know the cursor position?
    – GetFree
    Dec 27, 2009 at 3:28

zsh tries to solve your problem. If the last output ends without a newline, you will get:

$ echo -n 'abc'

Where the % uses inverted background/foreground. Not sure if it's portable to bash in any way.


I got this idea from @Teddy of detecting the horizontal cursor position and issuing a newline if it isn't at the first column.

In bash, we can detect the cursor position using this command: IFS=';' read -sdR -p $'\E[6n' ROW COL. More information in this answer: https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/183121/340297
The COL variable holds the current column where the cursor is. If $COL is not equal to 1, add a newline before setting the PS1 variable.

Here is my implementation:

_set_prompt() {
    IFS=';' read -sdR -p $'\E[6n' ROW COL # Get cursor position
    [ $COL -ne 1 ] && echo '' # Add newline if cursor is not at 1st column
    PS1="........." # Your PS1 variable


And here is the result (with different PS1):
enter image description here

echo -n doesn't include newline, but newline is issued before displaying the prompt. Whereas, there is no extra newline if newline is already printed by the normal echo command.

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