How to use the last Command in Linux

In this tutorial, we cover the basics of using the last command on a Linux operating system.

How to use the last Command in Linux

The last command will allow you to search and list users that have logged in and out of a Linux system. Last will also display some system actions such as rebooting. This information may help investigate suspicious user behavior, login issues, and more.

By default, the last command will search through the var/log/wtmp file. The file contains all users that have logged in and out since it was created.

For bad login attempts, you can use the lastb command, which searches through the /var/log/btmp file. The btmp file contains all the bad login attempts since it was created.

This tutorial will touch on the basics of using the above two commands within a Linux operating system. We cover some of the options you will most likely use with the commands.

Table of Contents

last Command Syntax

The syntax of the last command is relatively easy to understand. The command accepts up to three separate types of parameters. The first type is options, the second is username, and the last is tty.

last [options] [username...] [tty...]
  • [options] is where you can specify any options that you would like applied to the command. You do not need to specify any options for this command to work.
  • [username] allows you to limit the output of the last command to the specified usernames. This parameter is optional and will accept multiple usernames.
  • [tty] is where you can limit the result to specific ttys (teletype terminals). This parameter is optional and will accept multiple ttys.

Command Options

You can use various options with the last command, each controlling the information that is available to you.

  • -a or --hostlast displays the hostname in the last column.
  • -d or --dns this option will change the IP back into a hostname. Very useful for non-local logins.
  • -f or --file file allows you to specify a file rather than using the default (/var/log/wtmp). You can use this option multiple times to search across several different files.
  • -F or --fulltimes prints the full login and logout times.
  • -i or --ip will display the host’s IP address.
  • -n or --limit number allows you to limit the number of lines in the output.
  • -p or --present time displays the users logged in at the specified time.
  • -R or --nohostname disables the hostname field.
  • -s or --since time displays the logins since the specified time. You can use this option with the --until option.
  • -t or --until time displays the logins until the specified time.
  • --time-format format allows you to change the time output to one of the following formats notime, short, full, or iso.
  • -w or --fullnames displays the full user names and domains.
  • -x or --system will output the system shutdown entries and run level changes.

Accepted Time Formats

There are multiple different time formats that you can use for the options that accept the time argument. For example, --since, --until, and --present all accept time as an argument.

YYYYMMDDhhmmss
YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss
YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm     (seconds will be set to 00)
YYYY-MM-DD           (time will be set to 00:00:00)
hh:mm:ss             (date will be set to today)
hh:mm                (date will be set to today, seconds to 00)
now
yesterday            (time is set to 00:00:00)
today                (time is set to 00:00:00)
tomorrow             (time is set to 00:00:00)
+5min
-5days

–time-format option

For the --time-format option, you can specify the format you wish to be outputted. Below are the options that you can specify.

  • The notime argument will prevent the output of any timestamp.
  • By default, the last command is set to use short. (Wed Jun 29 11:22)
  • Using full is the same as using the --fulltimes option. (Wed Jun 29 11:22:49 2022)
  • ISO will display the timestamp in ISO-8601 format. (2022-06-29T11:22:49+00:00)

The Command Output Layout

Since the last command prints quite a few different columns, we will quickly go through each of them, starting from the left column.

  • The first column displays the username of the user.
  • The second column displays how the user is connected to the system via tty (teletype terminal) or pts (pseudo terminal). System activity may also be shown here, such as system boot.
  • Our third column contains information about how the user connected. It is likely to be one of the following types of information.
    • An IP address if the user is connected remotely. The hostname will appear if you use the -d option.
    • The version of the kernel, if it was system activity.
    • An empty value if the user connected via tty.
  • The fourth column displays the time when the activity occurred.
  • Finally, the last column contains when the user logged out of the system. If the user has logged out, a timestamp will display; otherwise, information will be displayed indicating the user’s current status.
dev@pimylifeup:~$ last
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun 29 11:22   still logged in
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sun Jun 26 05:17 - 14:42  (09:25)

Using the last Command

You can utilize the last command within a Linux operating system in several different ways. Below we will go through how you can use this tool and a few of the more popular options that you can use.

Basic Usage

The simplest way to use the last command is by entering it in the terminal with no options or parameters. However, you may get information overload if your system is heavily used.

last

The command will output a fair bit of information, as you can see below. We discuss the different columns earlier in this tutorial if you need more information on the output. In the next section, we discuss limiting the number of results.

dev@pimylifeup:~$ last
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Thu Jun 30 04:11   still logged in
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun 29 11:22 - 13:04  (01:41)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sun Jun 26 05:17 - 14:42  (09:25)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-121-generi Sun Jun 26 05:16   still running
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun 22 05:25 - 05:16 (3+23:50)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-120-generi Wed Jun 22 04:30 - 05:16 (4+00:45)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-120-generi Wed Jun 22 03:58 - 05:16 (4+01:17)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-117-generi Fri Jun 10 21:05 - 03:54 (11+06:49)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun  8 04:37 - 19:52 (2+15:15)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Tue Jun  7 06:01 - 15:13  (09:12)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sun May 29 05:10 - 04:17 (1+23:06)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-113-generi Sat May 28 05:35 - 19:52 (13+14:17)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Fri May 27 11:20 - 05:30  (18:09)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-113-generi Thu May 26 14:04 - 05:30 (1+15:26)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-110-generi Thu May 19 12:09 - 14:00 (7+01:51)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Mon May 16 04:48 - 12:05 (3+07:16)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Fri May  6 04:58 - 01:10  (20:11)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Mon May  2 12:13 - 13:25 (2+01:11)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-109-generi Mon May  2 10:54 - 12:05 (17+01:10)
dev      pts/1        192.168.0.39     Mon May  2 10:52 - 10:54  (00:01)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sun Apr 24 04:37 - 10:54 (8+06:17)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Fri Apr  8 03:43 - 10:35 (1+06:51)

Limit Number of Results

Using the -n or --limit options followed by a number will allow you to limit the results of the last command. You can also simply write a dash followed by a number (-5).

Below is an example where we set a limit of 5 results.

last --limit 5

The output below shows that the --limit option limited our results to 5 lines.

dev@pimylifeup:~$ last --limit 5
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Thu Jun 30 04:11   still logged in
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun 29 11:22 - 13:04  (01:41)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sun Jun 26 05:17 - 14:42  (09:25)
reboot   system boot  5.4.0-121-generi Sun Jun 26 05:16   still running
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun 22 05:25 - 05:16 (3+23:50)

Display Logins from Specific Users

You can limit the users that display in the results by simply writing the username at the end of the command.

We limit the results to 5, and the username dev in the example below.

last -n 5 dev

The output below contains our specified user dev and is limited to the last five events.

dev@pimylifeup:~$ last -n 5 dev
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Thu Jun 30 04:11   still logged in
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun 29 11:22 - 13:04  (01:41)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sun Jun 26 05:17 - 14:42  (09:25)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun 22 05:25 - 05:16 (3+23:50)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Jun  8 04:37 - 19:52 (2+15:15)

Limit Results to a Specific Time Period

To limit the results to a specific time period, we can use the -s and -t options. We will quickly discuss each option.

-s or --since option allows you to set a start time for the period you wish to capture.

-t or --until will allow you to set the finish time for the time period you wish to capture.

There are quite a few different time formats that you can use with these options. However, for our example, we will be using YYYY-MM-DD.

In the example below, we wish to capture all the login information in April.

last -s 2022-04-01 -t 2022-04-30

Below is the output from running the above line in the terminal. As you can see, all of our results are from April.

dev@pimylifeup:~$ last -s 2022-04-01 -t 2022-04-30
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sun Apr 24 04:37    gone - no logout
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Fri Apr  8 03:43 - 10:35 (1+06:51)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Thu Apr  7 05:18 - 20:31  (15:12)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Wed Apr  6 11:27 - 16:40  (05:12)
dev      pts/0        192.168.0.39     Sat Apr  2 04:38 - 12:20 (2+07:42)

Remove the IP Address/Hostname Column

If for some reason, you want to remove the column that contains the IP address or hostname of the user, you can do this by using the -R or --nohostname options.

last -5 -R

The output below does not contain the usual IP address or hostname column. We also limited the results to 5 rows.

dev@pimylifeup:~$ last -5 -R
dev      pts/0        Thu Jun 30 04:11   still logged in
dev      pts/0        Wed Jun 29 11:22 - 13:04  (01:41)
dev      pts/0        Sun Jun 26 05:17 - 14:42  (09:25)
reboot   system boot  Sun Jun 26 05:16   still running
dev      pts/0        Wed Jun 22 05:25 - 05:16 (3+23:50)

Display Bad Login Attempts

If you wish to view all the bad login attempts, you must use a slightly different command. The lastb command is essentially the same as the last command but will only display bad login attempts from the /var/log/btmp file.

You will need to have super user (sudo) or root privileges to run the lastb command without issues.

The syntax of the lastb command is the same as the last command. Therefore, all the same options are also available to the lastb command.

lastb [options] [username...] [tty...]

The line below will request the latest five results for bad login attempts.

 sudo lastb -5

The output of the above entry should look roughly similar to ours below. Nothing will be displayed if there haven’t been any bad login attempts.

dev@pimylifeup:~$ sudo lastb -5
admin    ssh:notty    192.168.0.39     Fri Jul  1 04:35 - 04:35  (00:00)
admin    ssh:notty    192.168.0.39     Fri Jul  1 04:35 - 04:35  (00:00)
admin    ssh:notty    192.168.0.39     Fri Jul  1 04:35 - 04:35  (00:00)
admin    ssh:notty    192.168.0.39     Fri Jul  1 04:35 - 04:35  (00:00)
admin    ssh:notty    192.168.0.39     Fri Jul  1 04:35 - 04:35  (00:00)

More Help

There are several methods that you can use to get more help with the last command. I will quickly cover the two easiest methods below.

You can quickly bring up the manual pages for this command using the inbuilt manual command in Linux. Below is an example of how easy you can do it.

man last

To exit the manual pages, simply press the q key.

For brief information on this command and its options, you can use the --help or -h options. Below is an example of how to use these options.

last --help

These methods should provide enough information to help you complete your task with this command. However, I hope this tutorial is good enough you do not need to use the above commands.

Conclusion

I hope this tutorial has shown you everything you need to know about using the last command on your Linux distribution. You will find the command very helpful if you administrate computers withs users logging in constantly.

We have plenty more Linux tutorials that you might find helpful. For example, useradd, groupadd, or usermod can be extremally useful for helping administrate a multi-user system.

Please let us know if you notice a mistake or an important topic is missing from this guide.

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