Creating a smart alternative to 'cd' command

📅️ Published: August 3, 2020  • 🕣 4 min read

Creating a smart alternative to 'cd' command

Do you sometimes forget the actual location of directories & have to juggle through cd & ls to know the right path? In this short post, we discuss how to make a “smart” alternative to cd command on Linux (& probably MacOS 🙄).

The problem is simple we just need to automate this task of finding the actual location of directories and the 2 most popular commands to do that are find & locate:

1. locate

  • Used to search for files, much faster than find.
  • Limited functionality.
  • Depends on external database for fast finding (/var/lib/mlocate/mlocate.db).
    # search file paths which exactly match the pattern, "memes"
    locate -r '/memes$' | grep $HOME

2. find

  • Extensive options.
  • Can search for both files & directories.
  • Slower than locate.
    # search for directory "memes" inside your home dir.
    find -O2 $HOME -name "memes" -type d

Ok then basics clear, now we write a small bash function to create scd (smart cd).

scd() {
    if [[ $1 != "" ]]; then
        while read -r value; do
            if [[ -d $value ]]; then
                printf "%s\n" "Hit 🎯: $value"
                cd "$value"
        done < <( locate -e -r "/$1$" | grep "$HOME" )
        cd "$HOME" || exit

That’s it, 12 liner (a little) better alternative to cd. Now you can add it to your .bashrc or better create a .bash_functions file and source it in your default shell config.

if [ -f ~/.bash_functions ]; then
    . ~/.bash_functions

Note: If you are on Mac, locate would probably be not available, use find instead.

Not yet convinced? Ok, a more advance version with options like .., -

scd() {
    if [[ $1 != "" ]]; then
        case $1 in
            [".."]* ) cd .. ;;
            ["-"]* ) cd - ;;
            ["/"]* ) cd / ;;
            * ) while read -r value; do
                    if [[ -d $value ]]; then
                        printf "%s\n" "Hit 🎯: $value"
                        cd "$value"
                done < <( locate -e -r "/$1$" | grep "$HOME" ) ;;
        cd "$HOME" || exit

Cons 😤

  • Well, one of the problems with our bash function is that we wouldn’t be able to leverage “tab” auto-suggestions.. Read More
  • Newly created directories won’t be readily available with the locate command as it depends on its own database mlocate.db. The database is updated automatically by our system through a cron job. Although you can still do it manually.
    sudo updatedb

Pros 📈

  • Don’t have to search for directory paths & cd into it.
  • Even if scd switches to the wrong directory (in case of multiple matches), you will still be able to see what’s the actual path in output & then switch to it manually.

what do you think?

UPDATE: 9 Aug 2020


Thanks to Santosh’s comment on my LinkedIn post there is another way of switching directories “smartly”.

CDPATH can be used as a search path for the cd command. A colon-separated list of directories in which the shell looks for destination directories specified by the cd command.

It gives you a limited functionality to cd into sub-directories of a specific parent directory.

For e.g in your .bashrc or .zshrc add this line.

export CDPATH=".:/home/bhupesh/Desktop"

And now you can freely switch directories inside Desktop & would not have to use cd ~/Desktop/dirB or cd /home/username/Desktop/dirB. Well of-course now you need to do this manually & find out which directories you usually spent more time in.

UPDATE: 17 Aug 2020

Tab Auto-suggestions

Thanks to Thamara’s comment, I recently added “tab” suggestions powered by bash_completions.

scd demo gif

How to use ?

  1. Start a new bash session.
  2. Source the completions script source scd-completions.bash. Get it from here.
  3. Create a new version of scd function :
     scd() {
         if [ -z "$1" ]; then
             echo "No directory path provided"
             exit 2
             echo "$1"
             cd "$1" || exit
  4. Create a .inputrc file in your HOME directory with following options enabled. Read More about these options.

     set show-all-if-ambiguous on
     set completion-ignore-case on
     set completion-map-case on
     set show-all-if-unmodified on
     set menu-complete-display-prefix on
     "\t": menu-complete% 
  5. scd <search-string>[TAB][TAB]

Pressing [TAB] one time triggers the completion. Pressing it twice will automatically complete the command.