Tristan Dunn

Save Time, Type Less

Part 1: Using Aliases for Common Tasks

I started using vim in 2009, and after the initial hurdle of figuring out how to quit, I learned to love it. Not long after, the idea of reducing the amount of typing for actions anywhere became an on-again, off-again obsession.

Over ten years later I think optimizing actions, such as typing, are a major skill for developers. Speeding up or simplifying a single task might seem like a waste, but when you continue doing so over your career it can become a major advantage.

Last month I was pairing with a co-worker and realized how surprised I was that they were typing out full git commands. After years of having shell and git aliases, I was actually a little annoyed waiting for them to type the commands. Later that week I wrote a quick introduction to the aliases to share with my team, which is what follows below and is hopefully the first part of a series.

Shell Aliases

You probably spend a lot of time in a shell, second to your editor. The shell is a great place to start saving keystrokes to speed up your workflow. And the easiest way to get started is with aliases.

While you can add aliases directly to your “run commands” file, such as .bashrc and .zshrc, it can be a bit easier to organize them in a separate file. Let’s load an .aliases file from your home directory in the shell with a condition to ensure the file exists before sourcing it.

if [ -e "$HOME/.aliases" ]; then
  source "$HOME/.aliases"
fi
Loading a separate file where aliases will live.

A quick and easy win for your first alias would be shortening git, which is probably one of your top commands each day.

alias g="git"
Assigning an alias for the git command.

I know saving two characters may not seem like much, but it adds up. Go ahead and try to think about the number of times you’ve typed git this year alone.

git Aliases

Adding aliases to git itself can reduce the characters you type for common actions. For example, going from git add -A . to add files and git status to see what you’re committing, you could run g a. You would go from 24 characters to 4 characters, including hitting return to run both commands.

You define git-specific aliases in ~/.gitconfig under an alias section. Let’s add the a alias we mentioned.

[alias]
  a = !git add -A && git status
Adding a git alias to add all files and display the status in ~/.gitconfig.

Typically an alias expands as an argument to git, but if you prefix the alias command with a bang (!) it runs the command in the shell. This allows you to chain commands together, as we’re doing above, or run any other command or script.

If you need ideas for other helpful aliases, here’s my current collection with descriptions and examples for each.

[alias]
  # Add all files and display the status. (`g a`)
  a = !git add -A && git status

  # Commit the current index with a message. (`g c "Initial commit."`)
  c = commit -m

  # Amend the last commit message. (`g ca`)
  ca = commit --amend

  # Pull updates. (`g pl`)
  pl = pull

  # Push updates. (`g ps origin master`)
  ps = push

  # Pull and rebase the current branch. (`g plre`)
  plre = pull --rebase

  # Display the status. (`g st`)
  st = status

  # Rebase the current branch from an up-to-date origin/master. (`g up`)
  up = !git fetch origin && git rebase origin/master
A collection of personal git aliases in ~/.gitconfig.

Summary

By making minimal changes you can save a decent amount of time on tasks you run countless times every single day. Apart from saving time, another big advantage is the commands become so easy to run that you may run them more often. And running commands more often can be a big win with testing, linting, and more. Try to keep track of the common tasks you run for an opportunity to create more aliases.