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Command Line Tricks: How To Identify Date and Time of a Unix Command Execution

Question: How do I find out what time I executed a command previously on Unix OS? The history command doesn’t display timestamp.

Answer: Set HISTTIMEFORMAT as shown below. Please note that there is a space before the last single-quotes.

$ export HISTTIMEFORMAT='%F %T '

After the above setting, history command will display timestamp in front of all commands. You can also search the history as shown below.

$ history | less
search for the required command
  351  2009-09-08 09:53:47 ls -lrt
  352  2009-09-08 09:53:49 cd ..
  353  2009-09-08 09:55:39 wget -mk -w 20 -P top5-1 -N 
  354  2009-09-08 10:00:04 gk
  355  2009-09-08 10:00:07 cd Bash/Wget/
  356  2009-09-08 10:00:07 ls

Note: For a full list of history command hacks, refer to: Mastering Linux command line history.

How to view the output in other time formats ?

To view all available date formats do the following.

$ man strftime

Based on the definition from strftime, following are few examples of date and time format that you can use in your history command.

To display AM / PM:

$ export HISTTIMEFORMAT='%F %r '

$ history
  351  2009-09-08 09:53:47 PM ls -lrt
  352  2009-09-08 09:53:49 PM cd ..

To display in dd-MON-YY time format:

$ export HISTTIMEFORMAT='%d-%b-%Y %r '

$ history
  351  08-Sep-2009 09:53:47 PM ls -lrt
  352  08-Sep-2009 09:53:49 PM cd ..

To display timezone:

$ export HISTTIMEFORMAT='%d-%b-%Y %r %Z'

$ history
  351  08-Sep-2009 09:53:47 PM PDT ls -lrt
  352  08-Sep-2009 09:53:49 PM PDT cd ..
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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • MihirJ October 2, 2009, 7:04 am

    Awesome ….. but If say some other system Admins have root access and i want to know not only execution time of command but from which IP the command was executed …..?


  • Shakes October 9, 2009, 11:22 am

    I have tried this on other *nix variants without sucess. Are there metholodies to make this work in Solaris, HP-UX, Aix, etc?

  • Stephen Kagaruki October 30, 2009, 2:50 pm

    Thanks so much Ramesh, i need something urgently i want to see who loged in and the commands he excuted is this possible?

  • S.RAGHU December 4, 2009, 2:49 am

    To – Stephen Kagaruki
    You can set different HISTFILE for each user.

  • Rajesh.Prakash August 19, 2013, 3:15 am

    I have accidentally run the rm -rf command in terminal, due to have lost my impotent directory, Please help to recover steps.

  • Krishan February 7, 2014, 12:16 am

    The command is not working properly. It is displaying the date and time of todays where as I ran the command three before.

    How come it is displaying the today date 🙁

  • KM March 4, 2014, 1:21 pm

    @ Krishnan: It is valid only for the current session. It doesn’t hold good for previous sessions is what I believe.

  • Ken S. October 4, 2015, 9:36 am

    Please do not tell people to export HISTTIMEFORMAT. It is a shell variable not an environment variable. Thanks.