What I want to have in shell (filename) completion

May 4, 2015

I've been using basic filename completion in my shell for a while now, and doing so has given me a perspective on what advanced features of this I'd find useful and which strike me as less useful. Unfortunately for me, the features that I'd find most useful are the ones that are the hardest to implement.

Put simply, the problem with basic filename completion is that any time you want to use even basic shell features like environment variables, you lose completion. Do you refer to some directories through convenience variables? Nope, not any more, because you can choose between completing a long name and not completing, say, '$ml/afilename'.

(I know, bash supports completing filenames that use environment variables. Probably zsh does as well. I'm not interested in switching to either right now.)

But environment variables are just one of the ways to shorten filenames. Two more cases are using wildcards to match unique or relatively unique subsets of a long filename and using various multi-match operators to specify several filenames in some directory or the like. Both of these would be handy to be able to do filename completion for. In fact, let's generalize that: what I'd really like is for my shell to be able to do filename completion in the face of any and all things that can appear in filenames and get expanded by the shell. Then I could combine the power of filename completion and the power of all of those handy shell operators together.

Of course this is easier said than done. I know that what I'm asking for is quite a challenging programming exercise and to some extent a design exercise once we get to the obscure features. But it sure would be handy (more handy, in my biased opinion, than a number of other completion features).

(I've never used eg bash's smart context aware autocompletion of program arguments in general, so I don't know for sure how useful I'd find it; however, my personal guess is 'not as much as full filename completion'. I'm so-so on autocompletion of program names; I suppose I do sometimes use programs with annoyingly long names, so my shell might as well support it. Again I'd rate it well below even autocompletion with environment variables, much less the full version.)

Written on 04 May 2015.
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Last modified: Mon May 4 01:16:52 2015
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