Switching directories on Unix quickly

How often do you find yourself bashing .. at the prompt in hopes of getting to the correct directory? I don’t know about you but I used to do this a lot, I used to constantly switch directories only to find out I was in the wrong one or I’m a level deep and I had to immediately back-up ... So, I started looking for ways that would help me switch directories more easily. I came across this tool z which is a good alternative but It didn’t felt intuitive enough, you had to hope it would guess the right directory.

I came up with a simple trick which has worked good enough for me for quite some time now, it’s intuitive and configurable.

Function

This is a simple bash function with find and fzf. Load this up in your .zshrc. Follow along to get a grip on how this actually works.

function quick_find () {
    dir=$(find ~/programming -type d -not -path '*/\.*' -maxdepth 1 | fzf)
    cd $dir
    zle reset-prompt
}

Let’s go over each and every element in the function defined above.

1 find: find helps you find files and directories on your system. Here, we’re doing a search for all the directories (-type d) in the programming directory (this is just me, you can add more directories in which you want to lookup). Next, we’re making sure that hidden directories don’t show up (-not-path '*/\.*). And finally we make it a rule that the depth to which find should look for directories is just 1 level deep, that means it won’t go into a subdirectory, say subdir which resides ~/programming/dir/subdir, which is actually 2 levels deep.

2 fzf: You probably already know about fzf but if you don’t, it’s a fuzzy file finder and it is really fast. We pass the results from find which is nothing but a list of directories to fzf which opens up a nice little interface where we can get suggestions as soon as we start typing, refer to the gif below.

3 cd $dir: Finally, cd into the selected directory. A note here, you need to hit the control return (enter) key for the cd to actually take effect, I’ve been looking into the why of this but couldn’t find a plausible explanation. Hit me up if you have something of value in this context.

Update: Thanks to /u/maji_yabakune for helping with a solution to cding into the directory without hitting the return key, explained below.

4 zle reset-prompt: This redraws the prompt to take into immediate effect the new working directory so you don’t need to hit the enter key anymore.

Creating a shortcut

Now, we would like to have a handy key combination to open our switcher, how about Ctrl-p? We would want our function to fire up as soon as we type Ctrl-p, so a simple bindkey should do, right? Well, no, zsh doesn’t allow you to bind keys to a function, instead we would create a widget which maps to the function and finally bind that widget to the key combination. We can do that by creating a widget using the zsh line editor, zle and then we can specify our key combination mapped to this widget we just created.

zle -N quick_find_widget quick_find
bindkey "^p" quick_find_widget

That’s about it, simply put the function and these two lines in your .zshrc and you’re good to go.

Conclusion

If all goes well, you should have something like the gif below making it easier for you to switch between directories easily.

img

Also, if you can think of improvements to this, please open an issue and/or a PR on this repository, there is more stuff there. Or if you have other such handy tricks, do let me know. Feel free to contact me via email.