The Tao of tmux

The Tao of tmux
The Tao of tmux
Buy on Leanpub

Table of Contents


Nearly all my friends use tmux. I remember going out at night for drinks and the 3 of us would take a seat at a round table and take out our smart phones. This was back when phones still had physical “QWERTY” keyboards.

Despite our home computers being asleep or turned off, our usernames in the IRC channel we frequently visited persisted in the chatroom list. Our screens were lit by a kaleidoscope of colors on a black background. We ssh’d with ConnectBot into our cloud servers and reattached by running screen(1). Just as it hit 2AM, our Turkish coffee arrived, the |away status indicator trailing our online nicknames disappeared.

It was funny that, even though we knew each other by our real names, we sometimes opted to call each other by our nicks. It’s something about how personal relationships, formed online, persist in real life.

It seemed as if it were orchestrated, but each of us fell into the same ebb and flow of living our lives. No one told us to do it, but bit by bit, we incrementally optimized our lifestyles, personally and professionally, to arrive at destinations that felt eerily alike.

Like many things in life, when we act on autopilot, we sometimes arrive at similar destinations. This is often unplanned.

So, when I write an educational book about a computer application, I hope to write it for human beings. Not to sell you on tmux, convince you to like it or hate it, but to tell you what it is and how some people use it. I’ll leave the rest to you.

About this book

I’ve helped thousands learn tmux through my free resource under the name The Tao of tmux, which I kept as part of the documentation for the tmuxp session manager. And now, it’s been expanded into a full-blown book with refined graphics, examples, and much more.

You do not need a book to use or understand tmux. If you want a technical manual, look at the manpage for tmux. Manpages, however, are rarely sufficient to wrap your brain around abstract concepts; they’re there for reference. This learning book is the culmination of years of explaining tmux to others online and in person.

In this book, we will break down tmux by the way of its objects, from servers down to panes. It also includes a rehash of terminal facilities we use every day to keep us autodidacts up to speed with what is what. I’ve included numerous examples of projects, permissively licensed source code, and workflows designed for efficiency in the world of the terminal.

tmux is a tool I find useful. While I don’t attach it to my personal identity, it’s been part of my daily life for years. Besides the original resource, I’ve written a popular tmux starter configuration, a pythonic tmux library, and a tmux session manager.

I am writing this from vim running in a tmux pane, inside a window, in a session, on the server, through a client.

A word to absolute beginners: Don’t feel you need to grasp the concepts of the command line and terminal multiplexing in a single sitting. You have the choice of picking out concepts of tmux you like, according to your needs or interests. If you haven’t installed tmux yet, please view the Installation section in the Appendix of the book.

Follow @TheTaoOfTmux for updates or share on Twitter!


Formatted text like this is source code.

Formatted text with a $ in front is a terminal command. $ echo 'like this'. This means you type that text right into the console, without the dollar character. For more information on the meaning of the “dollar prompt”, check out What is the origin of the UNIX $ (dollar) prompt? on Super User.

Shortcuts require a prefix key to be sent beforehand. Sections describing similar keyboard commands typically will appear in a table. For example:

Shortcut Action
Prefix + d Detach client from session.

How this book is structured

First, anything involving installation and hard technical details are in the Appendix. A lot of books use installation instructions as filler in the early chapters. For me, it’s more of not wanting to confuse beginners.

For special circumstances, like tmux on Windows 10, I decided adding screenshots is best, since many readers may be more comfortable with a visual approach.

Thinking Tmux goes over what tmux does and how it relates to the GUI desktops on our computers. You’ll understand the big picture of what tmux is and how it can make your life easier.

Terminal Fundamentals shows the text-based environments you’ll be dealing with. It’s great for those new to tmux, but also presents technical background for developers, who learned the ropes through examples and osmosis. At the end of this section, you’ll be more confident and secure using the essential components underpinning a modern terminal environment.

Practical Usage covers common bread and butter uses for you to use tmux immediately.

Server gives life to the unseen workhorse behind the scenes that powers tmux. You’ll think of tmux differently and may be impressed that a client-server architecture could be presented to end users so seamlessly.

Sessions are the containers holding windows. You’ll learn what sessions are and how they help organize your workspace in the terminal. You’ll learn how to manipulate and rename and traverse sessions.

Windows are what you see when tmux is open in front of you. You’ll learn how to rename and move windows.

Panes are a terminal in a terminal. This is where you get to work and do your magic! You’ll learn how to create, delete, move between, and resize panes.

Configuration discusses customization of tmux and sets the foundation for how to think about .tmux.conf so you can customize your own.

Status bar is devoted singularly to the customization of the status line in tmux. You’ll even learn how to show CPU and memory usage via the status line.

Scripting tmux goes into command aliases and the advanced and powerful Targets and Formats concepts.

Technical Stuff is a glimpse at tmux source code and how it works under the hood. You may learn enough to impress colleagues who already use tmux. If you like programming on Unix-like systems, this one is for you.

Tips and Tricks wraps up with a whirlwind of useful terminal tutorials you can use with tmux to improve day to day development and administration experience.

Cheatsheets are organized tables of commands, shortcuts, and formats grouped by section.


If you enjoy my learning material or my open source software projects, please consider donating. Donations go directly to me and my current and future open source projects and are not squandered. Visit for ways to contribute.


This book is available for sale on Leanpub and Amazon Kindle.

It’s also available to read for free on the web.


This is my first book. I am human and make mistakes.

If you find errors in this book, please submit them to me at tao.of.tmux <AT> nospam

You can also submit a pull request via

I will update digital versions of the book with the changes where applicable.


Thanks to the contributors who helped me spot errors in this book.

Some copy, particularly in cheatsheets, comes straight out of the manual of tmux, which is ISC-licensed.

Book Updates and tmux changes

This book was written for tmux 2.3, released September 2016.

As of January 2017, it’s trivial to push out minor changes to Leanpub. Kindle is harder.

tmux does intermittently receive updates. I’ve accommodated many over the past 5 years on my personal configurations and software libraries set with continuous integration tests against multiple tmux versions. Sometimes, publishers overplay version numbers to make it seem as if it’s worth striking a new edition of a book over it. It’s effective for them, but I’d rather be honest to my readership.

If you’re considering keeping up to date with new features and adjustments to tmux, the CHANGES file in the project source serves as a way to see what’s updated between official releases.

1. Thinking in tmux

In the world of modern computing, user interaction has 2 realms:

  1. The text realm
  2. The graphical realm

tmux lives in the graphical realm in which fixed-width fonts appear in a rectangular grid in a window, like in a terminal from the 1980s.

Window manager for the terminal

tmux is to the console what a desktop is to GUI apps. It’s a world inside the text dimension. Inside tmux, you can:

  • multitask inside the terminal, run multiple applications
  • have multiple command lines (pane) in the same window
  • have multiple windows (window) in the workspace (session)
  • switch between multiple workspaces, like virtual desktops
tmux “Desktop”-Speak Plain English
Multiplexer Multi-tasking Multiple applications
Session Desktop Applications are visible here
Window Virtual Desktop or A desktop that stores it own screen
  applications screen
Pane Application Performs operations

Just like in a graphical desktop environment, they throw in a clock, too.

top-left: KDE. top-right: Windows 10. center: macOS Sierra. bottom: tmux 2.3 default status bar.
top-left: KDE. top-right: Windows 10. center: macOS Sierra. bottom: tmux 2.3 default status bar.


tmux allows you to keep multiple terminals running on the same screen.

(After all, that’s where the abbreviation “tmux” comes from - Terminal Multiplexer.)

In addition to multiple terminals on one screen, tmux allows you to create and link multiple “windows” within the confines of the tmux session you attached.

Even better, you can copy and paste and scroll. No requirement for graphics either, so you have full power, even if you’re SSH’ing or on a system without X.

Here are a few common scenarios:

  • Running tail -F /var/log/apache2/error.log in a pane to get a live stream of the latest system events.
  • Running a file watcher, like watchman, gulp-watch, grunt-watch, guard, or entr. On file change, you could do stuff like:
    • rebuild LESS or SASS files, minimize CSS and/or assets and static files
    • lint with linters, like cpplint, Cppcheck, rubocop, ESLint, or Flake8
    • rebuild with make or ninja
    • reload your Express server
    • run any other custom command of your liking
  • Keeping a text editor, like vim, emacs, pico, nano, etc. open in a main pane, while leaving two other open for CLI commands and building via make or ninja.
vim + building a C++ project w/ CMake + Ninja using entr to rebuild on file changes, lldb bottom right
vim + building a C++ project w/ CMake + Ninja using entr to rebuild on file changes, lldb bottom right

With tmux, you quickly have the makings of an IDE! And on your terms.

Keep your applications running in the background

Sometimes, GUI applications will have an option to be sidelined to the system tray to run in the background. The application is out of sight, but events and notifications can still come in, and the app can be instantly brought to the foreground.

In tmux, a similar concept exists, where we can “detach” a tmux session.

Detaching can be especially useful on:

  • Local machines. You start all your normal terminal applications within a tmux session, you restart X. Instead of losing your processes as your normally would if you were using an X terminal, like xterm or konsole, you’d be able to tmux attach after and find all processes that were alive and kicking all along.
  • Remote SSH applications and workspaces you run in tmux. You can detach your tmux workspace at work before you clock out, then the next morning, reattach your session. Ahhh. Refreshing. :)
  • Those servers you rarely log into. It could be that cloud instance you have that you log into 9 months later, and as a reflex, tmux attach to see if there is anything on there. And boom, you’re back in a session that’s 9 months old. It’s like a hack to restore your short-term memory.

Powerful combos

Chatting on irssi or weechat, one of the “classic combos”, along with a bitlbee server to manage AIM, MSN, Google Talk, Jabber, ICQ, even Twitter. Then, you can detach your IRC and “idle” in your favorite channels, stay online on instant messengers, and get back to your messages when you return.

Chatting on weechat w/ tmux
Chatting on weechat w/ tmux

Some keep development services running in a session. Hearty emphasis on development, you probably will want to daemonize and wrap your production web applications, using a tool like supervisor, with its own safe environmental settings.

You can also have multiple users attach their clients to the same sessions, which is great for pair programming. If you were in the same session, you and the other person would see the same thing, share the same input, and the same active window and pane.

The above are just examples, but any general workspace you’d normally use in a terminal for any task can gain the benefit of you being able to persist it! That includes projects or repetitive efforts you’d multitask on. The tips and tricks section will dive into specific flows you can use today.


tmux is a versatile addition to your terminal toolbelt. It helps you cover the gaps between multitasking and workspace organization you’d otherwise lose, since there’s no GUI. In addition, it includes a nice ability to detach workspaces to the background and reattach later.

In the next chapter, we will touch on some terminal basics before diving deeper into tmux.

2. Terminal fundamentals

Before getting into tmux, a few fundamentals of the command line should be reviewed. Often, we’re so used to using these out of street smarts and muscle memory, a great deal of us never see the relation of where these tools stand next to each other.

Seasoned developers are familiar with zsh, Bash, iTerm2, konsole, /dev/tty, shell scripting, and so on. If you use tmux, you’ll be around these all the time, regardless whether you’re in a GUI on a local machine or SSH’ing into a remote server.

If you want to learn more about how processes and TTY’s work at the kernel level (data structures and all), the book The Design and Implementation of the FreeBSD Operating System (2nd Edition) by Marshall Kirk McKusick is nice, particularly, Chapter 4, Process Management and Section 8.6, Terminal Handling. The TTY demystified by Linus Åkesson (available online) dives into the TTY and is a good read.

Much more exists to glean off the history of Unix, 4.2 BSD, etc. I probably could have a coffee / tea with you discussing it for hours. You could look at it from multiple perspectives (The C Language, anything from the Unix/BSD lineage, etc.), and some clever fellow would likely chime in, mentioning Linux, GNU, and so on. It’s like Game of Thrones; there’s multiple story arcs you can follow, some of which intersect. A few good video resources would be A Narrative History of BSD by Marshall Kirk McKusick, The UNIX Operating System by AT&T, Early days of Unix and design of sh by Stephen R. Bourne.

POSIX stuff

Operating systems like macOS (formerly OS X), Linux, and the BSDs, follow something similar to the POSIX specification in terms of how they square away various responsibilities and interfaces of the operating system. They’re categorized as “Mostly POSIX-compliant”.

In daily life, we often break compatibility with POSIX standards for reasons of sheer practicality. Operating systems, like macOS, will drop you right into Bash. make(1), a POSIX standard, is GNU Make on macOS by default. Did you know that, as of September 2016, POSIX Make has no conditionals?

I’m not saying this to take a run at purists. As someone who tries to remain compatible in my scripting, it gets hard to do simple things after a while. On FreeBSD, the default Make (PMake) uses dots between conditionals:



But on most Linux systems and macOS, GNU Make is the default, so they get to do:



This is one of the many tiny inconsistencies that span across operating systems, their userlands, their binary / library / include paths, and adherence / interpretation of the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard or whether they follow their own.

These differences add up. A good deal of software infrastructure out there exists solely to abstract the differences across them. For example: CMake, Autotools, SFML, SDL2, interpreted programming languages, and their standard libraries are dedicated to normalizing the banal differences across BSD-derivatives and Linux distributions. Many, many #ifdef preprocessor directives in your C and C++ applications. You want open source, you get choice, but be aware; there’s a lot of upkeep cost in keeping these upstream projects (and even your personal ones) compatible. But I digress, back to terminal stuff.

Why does it matter? Why bring it up? You’ll see this stuff everywhere. So, let’s separate the usual suspects into their respective categories.

Terminal interface

The terminal interface can be best introduced by citing official specification, laying out its technical properties, interfaces, and responsibilities. This can be viewed in its POSIX specification.

That’s your TTY’s, including text terminals and X sessions that live within them. On Linux / BSD systems, you can switch between sessions via <ctrl-alt-F1> through <ctrl-alt-F12>.

Terminal emulators

GUI Terminals:, iterm, iterm2, konsole, lxterm, xfce4-terminal, rxvt-unicode, xterm, roxterm, gnome terminal, cmd.exe + bash.exe

Shell languages

Shell languages are programming languages. Sure, you may not compile the code into binaries with gcc or clang. And there may not be a shiny npm for them, but a language is a language.

Each shell interpreter has its own language features. Like with shells, many will resemble the POSIX shell language and strive to be compatible with it. Zsh and Bash should be able to understand POSIX shell scripts you write, but not the other way around (we will cover that in shell interpreters).

The top of .sh files shebang statement, which can invoke shellscripts in different dialects.

Zsh scripts are implemented by the Zsh shell interpreter, Bash scripts by Bash. But the languages are not as closely regulated and standardized as, say, C++’s standards committee workgroups or python’s PEPs. Bash and Zsh take features from Korn and C Shell’s languages, but without all the ceremony and bureaucracy that other languages entail.

Shell interpreters (Shells)

Examples: POSIX sh, Bash, Zsh, csh, tcsh, ksh, fish

Shell interpreters implement the shell language. They are a layer on top of the kernel and are what allow you, interactively, to run commands and applications inside them.

As of October 2016, the latest POSIX specification covers in technical detail the responsibilities of the shell.

For shells and operating systems: each distro or group does their own darn thing. On most Linux distributions and macOS, you’ll typically be dropped into Bash. That’s because Apple decided to use it as a default shell for users.

On FreeBSD, you may default to a plain vanilla sh unless you specify otherwise during the installation process. In Ubuntu, /bin/sh used to be bash (Bourne Again Shell) but was replaced with dash (Debian Almquist Shell). So, here, you are thinking “hmm, /bin/sh, probably just a plain old POSIX shell”; however, system startup scripts on Ubuntu used to allow non-POSIX scripting via Bash. This is because specialty shell languages, such as Bash and Zsh, add a lot of helpful and practical features that may work on one interpreter, but not another. For instance, you would need to install the Zah interpreter across all your systems if you rely on Zsh-specialized scripting. If you conformed with POSIX shell scripting, your scripting would have the highest level of compatibility at the cost of being more verbose.

Recent versions of macOS include Zsh by default. Linux distributions typically require you to install it via package manager and install it to /usr/bin/zsh. BSD systems build it via the port system, pkg(8) on FreeBSD, or pkg_add(1) on OpenBSD, and it will install to /usr/local/bin/zsh.

It’s fun to experiment with different shells. On many systems you can use chsh -s to update the default shell for a user.

The other thing to mention is, for chsh -s to work, you typically need to have it added to /etc/shells.


To wrap it up, you will hear people talking about shells all the time. Context is key. It could be:

  • A generic way to refer to any terminal you have open. “Type $ top into your shell and see what happens.” (Press q to quit.)
  • A server they have to log into. Before the era of the cloud, it would be popular for small hosts to sell “C Shells” with root access.
  • A shell within a tmux pane.
  • If scripting is mentioned, it is likely either the script itself, the scripting issue at hand, or something about the shell language.

But overall, once you get out of this chapter, go back to doing what you’re doing. If shell is what people say and they understand it, use it. The backing you got here should make you more confident in yourself. It’s an ongoing battle, these days, to keep street smarts we pick up with book smarts.

In the next chapter, we will touch some terminal basics before diving deeper into tmux.

3. Practical Usage

This is the easiest part; open your terminal and type tmux, hit enter.

$ tmux

You’re in tmux.

The prefix key

The prefix is how we send commands into tmux. With this, we can split windows, move windows, switch windows, switch sessions, send in custom commands, you name it.

And it’s a hump we have to get over.

It’s kind of like Street Fighter. In this video game, the player inputs a combination of buttons in sequence to perform flying spinning kicks and shoot fireballs; sweet. As the player grows more accustomed with the combos, they repeat moves by intuition, since they grow muscle memory.

Without understanding how to send command sequences to tmux via the prefix key, you’ll be dead in the water.

Key sequences will come up later if you use Vim, Emacs, or other TUI (Terminal User Interface) applications. If you haven’t internalized the concept, let’s do it now. If you have done similar command sequences in TUI/GUI applications, that’ll come in handy.

When you memorize a key combo, it’s one less time you’ll be moving your hand away from the keyboard to grab your mouse. You can focus your short-term memory on getting stuff done; that means fewer mistakes.

The default leader prefix is <Ctrl-b>. That’s holding down the control key, then b.

You’ve detached the tmux session you were in. You can reattach via $ tmux attach.

Session persistence and the server model

If you use Linux or a similar system, you’ve likely brushed through Job Control, such as fg(1), jobs(1). tmux behavior feels similar, like you ran <ctrl-z> except, technically, you were in a “job” all along. You were just using a client to view it.

Another way of understanding it: <Ctrl-b> d closed the client connection, therefore, ‘detached’ from the session.

Your tmux client disconnected from the server instance. The session, however, is still running in the background.

It’s all commands

Multiple roads can lead you to the same behavior. Commands are what tmux uses to define instructions for setting options, resizing, renaming, traversing, switching modes, copying and pasting, and so forth.

  • Configs are the same as automatically running commands via $ tmux command.
  • Internal tmux commands via Prefix + : prompt.
  • Settings defined in your configuration can also set shortcuts, which can execute commands via keybindings via bind-key.
  • Commands called from CLI via $ tmux cmd
  • To pull it all together, source code files are prefixed cmd-.


We’ve established tmux automatically creates a server upon starting it. The server allows you to detach and later reattach your work. The keyboard sequences you send to tmux require understanding how to send the prefix key.

Keyboard sequences, configuration, and command line actions all boil down to the same core commands inside tmux. In our next chapter, we will cover the server.

4. Server

The server holds sessions and the windows and panes within them.

When tmux starts, you are connected to a server via a socket connection. What you see presented in your shell is merely a client connection. In this chapter, we go into one of the secret sauces that allow your terminal applications to persist for months or even years if you want to.

What? tmux is a server?

Often, when “server” is mentioned, what comes to mind for many may be rackmounted hardware; to others, it may be software running daemonized on a server and managed through a utility, like upstart, supervisor, and so on.

Unlike web or database software, tmux doesn’t require specialized configuration settings or creating a service entry to start things.

tmux uses a client-server model, but the server is forked to the background for you.

Zero config needed

You don’t notice it, but when you use tmux normally, a server is launched and being connected via a client.

tmux is so streamlined, the book could continue to explain usage and not even mention servers. But, I’d rather you have a solid understanding that while, tmux feels like magic, it’s utilitarian. One cannot deny it’s exquisitely executed from a user experience standpoint.

How is it utilitarian? We’ll go into it more in future chapters, where we dive into Formats, Targets, and tools such as libtmux that I made, which utilize these features.

It surprises some, because servers often beget a setup process. But servers being involved doesn’t entail hours of configuration on each machine you run on. There’s no setup.

When people think server, they think pain. It invokes an image of digging around /etc/ for configuration files and flipping settings on and off just to get basic systems online. But not with tmux. It’s a server, but in the good way.

Stayin’ alive

The server part of tmux is how your sessions can stay alive, even after your client is detached.

You can detach a tmux session from an SSH server and reconnect later. You can detach a tmux session, stop your X server in Linux/BSD, and reattach your tmux session in a TTY or new X server.

The tmux server won’t go away until all sessions are closed.

Servers hold sessions

One server can contain one or multiple sessions.

Recurring usage of tmux, after a server already exists, will create a new session inside that server.

How servers are “named”

The default name for the server is default, which is stored as a socket in /tmp. The default directory for storing this can be overridden via setting the TMUX_TMPDIR environment variable.

So, something like:

$ tmux

Will give you a tmux directory created within your $HOME folder. On OS X, your home folder will probably be something like /Users/yourusername. On other systems, it may be /home/yourusername. If you want to find out, type echo $HOME.


Servers will have clients (you) connecting to them.

When you connect to a session and see windows and panes, it’s a client connection into tmux.

You can retrieve a list of active client connections via:

$ tmux list-clients

These commands, as well as the other list- commands, in practice, are rather rare. But they are part of the tools that make tmux highly scriptable should you want to get creative. You can learn more about that in formats.


tmux clients wield a powerful clipboard feature to copy and paste across sessions, windows and panes.

Much like vi, tmux handles clipboard as a mode (or a state) in which a pane is temporarily placed, in while text can be copied.

The default key to enter copy mode is Prefix + [.

  1. From within, use [space] to enter copy mode.
  2. Use the arrow keys to adjust the text to be selected.
  3. Press [enter] to copy the selected text.

The default key to paste the text copied is Prefix + ].


The server is one of the fundamental underpinnings of tmux. Mostly, it is invisible to the user.

The server can hold one or more sessions. You can copy and paste between sessions via the clipboard. In the next chapter we will go deeper into the role sessions play and how they help you organize and control your terminal workspace.

5. Sessions

Welcome to the session, the highest-level entity residing in the server instance. Server instances are forked to the background upon starting a fresh instance and reconnected to when reattaching sessions. Your interaction with tmux will have at least one session running.

A session holds one or more windows.

The active window will have a * symbol next to it.

The first window, ID 1, titled "manuscript" is active. The second window, ID 2, titled zsh.
The first window, ID 1, titled “manuscript” is active. The second window, ID 2, titled zsh.

Creating a session

The simplest command to create a new session is typing tmux:

$ tmux

The $ tmux application, with no commands is equivalent to $ tmux new-session. Nifty!

By default, your session name will be given a number, which isn’t too descriptive. What would be better is:

$ tmux new-session -s'my rails project'

Switching sessions within tmux

Some acquire the habit of detaching their tmux client and reattaching via tmux att -t session_name. Thankfully, you can switch to session from within tmux!

Shortcut Action
Prefix + ( Switch the attached client to the previous session.
Prefix + ) Switch the attached client to the next session.
Prefix + L Switch the attached client back to the last
Prefix + s Select a new session for the attached client

Prefix + s will allow you to switch between sessions within the same tmux client.

This command name can be confusing. switch-client will allow you to traverse between sessions in the server.

Example usage:

$ tmux switch-client -t dev

This will switch to a session, named “dev”, if it exists. No need to enter the target-client if you’re already in a client.

Naming sessions

Sometimes, the default session name given by tmux isn’t descriptive enough. It only takes a few seconds to update it.

You can name it whatever you want. Typically, if I’m working on multiple web projects in one session, I’ll name it “web”. If I’m assigning one software project to a single session, I’ll name it after the software project. You’ll likely develop your own naming conventions, but anything is more descriptive than the default.

Renaming a session 'zsh' to 'renamed'
Renaming a session ‘zsh’ to ‘renamed’

If you don’t name your sessions, it’ll be difficult to keep track of what is inside that session from the outside. Sometimes, you may forget you already have a project opened that is a few days old, and you can just re-attach or switch to that.

You can rename sessions from within tmux with Prefix + $. The status bar will be temporarily altered into a text field to allow altering the session name.

Through command line, you can try:

$ tmux rename-session -t1 "my session"

Does my session exist?

If you’re scripting tmux, you will want to see if a session exists. has-session will return a 0 exit code if the session exists, but will report a 1 exit code and print an error if a session does not exist.

$ tmux has-session -t1

It assumes the session “1” exists; it’ll just return 0 with no output.

But if it doesn’t, you’ll get something like this in a response:

$ tmux has-session -t1
> can't find session 4

To try it in a shell script:

if tmux has-session -t0 ; then
    echo "has session 0"


In this chapter, you learned how to rename sessions for organizational purposes and how to switch between them quickly.

You’ll always be attached to a session when you’re using a client in tmux.

One way that may help is to think of sessions as workspaces designed to help organize a set of windows. It’s analogous to virtual desktop spaces in GUI computing.

In the next chapter, we will go into windows, which, like sessions, are also nameable and let you switch between them.

6. Windows

Windows hold panes. They reside within a session.

They also have layouts, which can be one of many preset dimensions or a custom one done through pane resizing.

You can see the current windows through the status bar located at the bottom of tmux.

Creating windows

All sessions start with at least 1 window (and therefore one pane inside that) open. From there, you can create and delete windows as you see fit.

Window indexes are a number tmux uses to determine ordering. The first window’s index is 0, unless you set it via base-index in your configuration. I usually set -g base-index 1 in my tmux configuration since 0 is after 9 on the keyboard.

Prefix + c will create a new at the first open index. So if you’re in the first window, and there is no second window created yet, it will create the second window. If the second window is already taken, and the third hasn’t been created yet, it will create the third window.

If the base_index is 1, and there are 7 windows created, with the 5th window missing, creating a new window will fill the empty 5th index, since it’s the next one in order and nothing is filling it. After that, a new window would be the eighth.

Naming windows

Just like with sessions, windows can have names. Labelling them helps keep track of what you’re doing inside them.


When inside tmux, the most common way of doing that is Prefix + ,. This will open a prompt in the tmux status line, where you can alter the name of the current window.

Traversing windows

Moving around windows is often done in two ways. First, by iterating through via Prefix + p and Prefix + n, and via the window index, which takes you directly to a specific window.

Prefix + 1, Prefix + 2, and so on… will get you to navigate to windows by their index.

Prompt for a window index (useful for indexes greater than 9) with Prefix + '.

You can move to the last selected window with Prefix + l.

You can bring up a list of current windows with Prefix + w. The benefit of this is it also gives you some info on what’s inside the window. Helpful if you’re juggling around a lot of things!

Moving windows

Windows themselves can also be reordered one by one via move-window and its associated shortcut. This is helpful if a window is worth keeping open but not important or rarely looked at. After you move a window, you can continue to reorder them at any point in time after.

The command $ tmux move-window can be used to move windows.

The accepted arguments are -s (the window you are moving) and -t, where you are moving the window to.

You can also use $ tmux movew for short.

Example: move the current window to number 2:

$ tmux movew -t2

Example: move window 2 to window 1:

$ tmux movew -s2 -t1

The shortcut to prompt for an index to move the current window to is Prefix + ..


Prefix + space switches window layouts. These are preset configurations that handle proportions of panes.

As of tmux 2.3, the supported layouts are:

Specific touch-ups can be done via resizing panes.

To reset the proportions of the layout (such as after splitting or resizing panes), you have to run $ tmux select-layout again for the layout.

This is different behavior than some tiling window managers. awesome and xmonad, for instance, automatically handle proportions upon new items being added to their layouts.

To allow easy resetting to a sensible layout across machines and terminal dimensions, you can try this in your config:

bind m set-window-option main-pane-height 60\; select-layout main-horizontal

This allows you to set a main-horizontal layout and automatically set the bottom panes proportionally on the bottom every time you do Prefix + m.

Layouts can also be custom. To get the custom layout snippet for your current window, try this:

$ tmux lsw -F "#{window_active} #{window_layout}" | grep "^1" | cut -d " " -\

To apply that layout, do this:

$ tmux lsw -F "#{window_active} #{window_layout}" | grep "^1" | cut -d " " -\
> 5aed,176x79,0,0[176x59,0,0,0,176x19,0,60{87x19,0,60,1,88x19,88,60,2}]

# resize your panes or try doing this in another window to see the outcome
$ tmux select-layout "5aed,176x79,0,0[176x59,0,0,0,176x19,0,60{87x19,0,60,1,\

Closing windows

You can delete a window in two ways. First, you can exit or kill every pane in that window. Panes can be killed via Prefix + x or by Ctrl + d within the pane’s shell. The second way is Prefix + &, which will prompt you if you really want to delete the window. Warning: this will destroy all panes inside, as well as any processes.

From inside the current window, try this:

$ tmux kill-window

Another thing, when scripting or trying to kill the window from outside, use a target of the window index:

$ tmux kill-window -t2

If you’re trying to find the target of the window to kill, they reside in the number in the middle section of the status line, as well as via $ tmux choose-window. You can hit “return” after you’re in choose-window to go back to where you were previously.


In this chapter, you learned how to manipulate windows via renaming and changing their layouts. To top it off, some advanced functionality you can use to kill windows in a pinch or in shell scripting tmux. In addition, how to save any tmux layouts via outputting the window_layout template variable.

If you are in a tmux session, you’ll always have at least one window open, and you’ll be in it. And within that window will be a shell, or “pane”. When all the panes close, the window closes too! In the next chapter, we’ll go deeper into panes.

7. Panes

Panes are pseudoterminals that contain your shell (e.g. Bash, Zsh). They reside within a window. A terminal within a terminal, you can run shell commands, scripts, programs like vim, emacs, top, htop, irssi, weechat and so on from within them.

Creating new panes

To create a new pane, you can split-window from within the current window and pane you are in.

Shortcut Action
Prefix + % split-window -h (split horizontally)
Prefix + " split-window -v (split vertically)

You can continue to create panes until you’ve reached the limit of what the terminal can fit. This depends on the dimensions of your terminal. A normal window will usually have 1 to 5 panes open.

Example usage:

# Create pane horizontally, $HOME directory, 50% width of current pane
$ tmux split-window -h -c $HOME -p 50 vim
# create new pane, split vertically with 75% height
tmux split-window -p 75

Traversing Panes

Shortcut Action
Prefix + ; Move to the previously active pane.
Prefix + Up / Change to the pane above, below,
Down / Left / to the left, or to the
Right the right of the current pane.
Prefix + o Select the next pane in the current window.

Zoom in

To zoom in on a pane, navigate to it and do Prefix + z.

You can use any pane traversal to unzoom and move a pane at the same time.

Resizing panes

Pane size can be adjusted within windows via window layouts and resize-pane. Adjusting window layout switches the proportions and order of the panes. Resizing the panes targets a specific pane inside that window.

Resizing a pane in a specific layout may subsequently resize that whole row.

Shortcut Action
Prefix M-Up resize-pane -U 5
Prefix M-Down resize-pane -D 5
Prefix M-Left resize-pane -L 5
Prefix M-Right resize-pane -R 5
Prefix C-Up resize-pane -U
Prefix C-Down resize-pane -D
Prefix C-Left resize-pane -L
Prefix C-Right resize-pane -R

Outputting pane to a file

You can output the display of a pane to a file.

$ tmux pipe-pane -o 'cat >>~/output.#I-#P'

The #I and #P are formats for window index and pane index, so the file created is unique. Clever!

8. Configuration

Configuration of tmux is managed through .tmux.conf in your $HOME directory. The paths ~/.tmux.conf and $HOME/.tmux.conf should work on OS X, Linux, and BSD.

For a sample config, I maintain a pretty decked out one at

Updating configs in current sessions

You can apply config files in live tmux sessions. Compare this to source or “dot” in the POSIX standard.

Prefix + : will open the tmux prompt, then type:

:source /path/to/config.conf

And hit return.

$ tmux source-file /path/to/config.conf can also achieve the same result via command line.

How configs work

The tmux configuration is processed just like run commands in a ~/.zshrc or ~/.bashrc file. bind r source ~/.tmux.conf in the tmux configuration is the same as $ tmux bind r source ~/.tmux.conf.

You could always create a shell script that prefixes tmux in front of every entry and run that file on fresh servers. The result is the same. Same goes if you manually type in $ tmux set-option and $ tmux bind-key commands into any terminal (in or outside tmux).

This in .tmux.conf:

bind-key a send-prefix

Is the same as having no .tmux.conf (or $ tmux -f/dev/null) and typing:

$ tmux bind-key a send-prefix

Common options

Tweak wait-time between key sequences:

set -s escape-time 0

-s sets the option server wide.

Set the starting number (base index) for windows:

set -g base-index 1

Will make newly created windows start at 1 and count upwards.

Customize your prefix key:

bind-key a send-prefix

Prompt for window name upon creating a new window, Prefix + C (capital C):

bind-key C command-prompt -p "Name of new window: " "new-window -n '%%'"

For more ideas, I have a .tmux.conf you can copy-paste from on the internet at

In the next chapter, we will go into configuring the status line.

9. Status bar

The status bar, or status line, lies in the bottom of the screen. It is customizable through the .tmux.conf config and live through set-option.

The status line comprises 3 sections. The status fields on either side of the status line are customizable. The center field is a window list.

The status-left and status-right option can be configured to accept many variables.

The symbology behind windows

The center part of the status line contains a list of windows, each of which can be followed by a symbol:

Symbol Meaning
* Denotes the current window.
- Marks the last window (previously selected).
# Window is monitored and activity has been detected.
! A bell has occurred in the window.
~ The window has been silent for the monitor-silence interval.
M The window contains the marked pane.
Z The window’s active pane is zoomed.

Date and time

status-left and status-right accept variables for the date.

This happens via piping the status templates through format_expand_time in format.c, which routes right into strftime(3) from time.h.

For a full list of the variables you can use, view the documentation for strftime(3). You find that in the link above or through your manpages by typing $ man strftime.

Shell command output

You can also call applications, such as tmux-mem-cpu-load and conky, and powerline.


You can use [bg=color] and [fg=color] to adjust the text color and background within for status line text.

Prompt colors

The benefit of wrapping your brain around this styling is you will see it message-command-style, message style and so on.

Let’s try this:

$ tmux set-option -ag message-style fg=yellow,blink\; set-option -ag message\
-style bg=black
Top: default scheme for prompt. Bottom: newly-styled.
Top: default scheme for prompt. Bottom: newly-styled.

Tweaking your status bar, live!

So, you want to customize your tmux status line before you write the changes to your config file.

Start by grabbing your current status line section you want to edit, for instance:

$ tmux show-options -g status-left
> status-left "[#S] "
$ tmux show-options -g status-right
> status-right " "#{=21:pane_title}" %H:%M %d-%b-%y"

Also, you can try to snip off the variable with | cut -d' ' -f2-:

$ tmux show-options -g status-left | cut -d' ' -f2-
> "[#S] "
$ tmux show-options -g status-right | cut -d' ' -f2-
> " "#{=21:pane_title}" %H:%M %d-%b-%y"

Turn your status line off

Turn it off:

$ tmux set-option status off

Turn it on:

$ tmux set-option status on

Toggle it (regardless or current state):

$ tmux set-option status

Bind toggling status line to Prefix + q:

$ tmux bind-key q set-option status

Example: default config

status on
status-interval 15
status-justify left
status-keys vi
status-left "[#S] "
status-left-length 10
status-left-style default
status-position bottom
status-right " "#{=21:pane_title}" %H:%M %d-%b-%y"
status-right-length 40
status-right-style default
status-style fg=black,bg=green

Example: Dressed up

status on
status-interval 1
status-justify centre
status-keys vi
status-left "#[fg=green]#H #[fg=black]• #[fg=green,bright]#(uname -r | cut -\
c 1-6)#[default]"
status-left-length 20
status-left-style default
status-position bottom
status-right "#[fg=green,bg=default,bright]#(tmux-mem-cpu-load) #[fg=red,dim\
,bg=default]#(uptime | cut -f 4-5 -d " " | cut -f 1 -d ",") #[fg=white,bg=de\
fault]%a%l:%M:%S %p#[default] #[fg=blue]%Y-%m-%d"
status-right-length 140
status-right-style default
status-style fg=colour136,bg=colour235

Configs can print the output of an application. In this example, tmux-mem-cpu-load is providing system statistics in the right-side section of the status line.

To build tmux-mem-cpu-load, you have to install CMake and have a C++ compiler, like clang or GCC.

On Ubuntu, Debian, and Mint machines, you can do this via $ sudo apt-get install cmake build-essential. On macOS w/ brew via $ brew install cmake.


Example: Powerline

By far, the most full-featured solution available for tmux status lines is powerline, which heavily utilizes the shell command outputs, not only to give direct system statistics, but also to generate tmux-friendly styling alongside emoji-like glyphs.

To get these to work correctly, set up your fonts up to handle the powerline symbols. The easiest way to use this is to install powerline fonts, which are a great collection of fixed width coder fonts that look great in terminal.

Installation instructions are on Read the Docs. For a better idea:

$ pip install --user powerline-status psutil

psutil is a cross-platform tool powerline uses to help gather system information.

The first option to get powerline working with tmux is sourcing powerline.conf from your config. The only difficulty is nailing down the location across systems and python versions. To try getting powerline found across varying installations, I use if-shell:

# pip install --user git+git://
if-shell 'test -f ~/.local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/powerline/bindings/tm\
ux/powerline.conf' 'source-file ~/.local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/powerli\

# [sudo] pip install git+git://
if-shell 'test -f /usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/powerline/bindings/\
tmux/powerline.conf' 'source-file /usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/pow\

# [sudo] pip install git+git://
if-shell 'test -f /usr/local/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/powerline/bindings/\
tmux/powerline.conf' 'source-file /usr/local/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/pow\

# python 3.4
# if-shell 'test -f /usr/local/lib/python3.4/dist-packages/powerline/binding\
s/tmux/powerline.conf' 'source-file /usr/local/lib/python3.4/dist-packages/p\

# python 3.5
# if-shell 'test -f /usr/local/lib/python3.5/dist-packages/powerline/binding\
s/tmux/powerline.conf' 'source-file /usr/local/lib/python3.5/dist-packages/p\

# python 3.6
# if-shell 'test -f /usr/local/lib/python3.6/dist-packages/powerline/binding\
s/tmux/powerline.conf' 'source-file /usr/local/lib/python3.6/dist-packages/p\

For a simpler approach, assure you properly configured python with your PATHs and try this:

set -g status-interval 2
set -g status-right '#(powerline tmux right)'
Powerline requires a specialized font
Powerline requires a specialized font

10. Scripting tmux

The command line shortcuts and options in tmux is an area often uncharted.

I will use tables in this chapter. Never get a feeling you have to commit a table to memory immediately. Not my intention, but every person’s way of using tmux is slightly different. I want to cover points most likely to benefit people’s flows. Full tables are in the cheatsheets.


tmux supports a variety of alias commands. So, don’t feel you always have to type tmux attach. Aliases, alongside fnmatch-style pattern commands, make it intuitive to type those commands in a pinch.

Most aliases come to mind via intuition and are a lot friendlier than typing the full hyphenated commands.

Command Alias
attach-session attach
break-pane breakp
capture-pane capturep
display-panes displayp
find-window findw
join-pane joinp
kill-pane killp
kill-window killw
last-pane lastp
last-window last
link-window linkw
list-panes lsp
list-windows lsw
move-pane movep
move-window movew
new-session new
new-window neww
next-layout nextl
next-window next
pipe-pane pipep
previous-layout prevl
previous-window prev
rename-window renamew
resize-pane resizep
respawn-pane respawnp
respawn-window respawnw
rotate-window rotatew
select-layout selectl
select-pane selectp
set-option set
set-window-option setw
show-options show
show-window-options showw
split-window splitw
swap-pane swapp
swap-window swapw
unlink-window unlinkw

If you know the full name of the command, if you were to chopped the hyphen (-) from the command and add the first letter of the last word, you’d get the shortcut, e.g., swap-window is swapw, split-window is splitw.

Pattern matching

tmux commands and arguments may all be accessed via fnmatch(3) patterns.

For instance, you need not type $ tmux attach-session every time. First, there’s the alias of $ tmux attach, but besides that, you can pattern match $ tmux attac, $ tmux att, $ tmux at and $ tmux a work.

Every tmux command has shorthands; let’s try this for $ tmux new-session:

$ tmux new-session

$ tmux new-sessio

# ...

$ tmux new-s

and so on, until:

$ tmux new-
ambiguous command: new-, could be: new-session, new-window

The limitation, as seen above, is that command matches can collide. Multiple commands begin with new-. So, if you wanted to use matches, $ tmux new-s for a new session or $ tmux new-w for a new window would be the most efficient way. But the alias of $ tmux new for new session and $ tmux neww for new windows is even better than the matching in that case.


If a command allows target specification, it’s usually done through -t.

Think of targets as tmux’s way of specifying a unique key in a relational database.

Entity Prefix Example
server n/a n/a, uses socket-name and socket-path
client n/a n/a, uses /dev/tty{p,s}[000-9999]
session $ $13
window @ @2313
pane % %5432

What I use to help me remember:

So, sessions are represented by dollar signs ($) because they hold your projects (ostensibly where you make money or help someone else do it).

Windows are represented by the at sign (@). So, windows are like referencing / messaging a user on a social networking website.

Panes are the fun one, represented by the percent sign (%), like the default prompt for csh and tcsh. Hey, makes sense, since panes are pseudoterminals!

To show you the possibilities of where you can use targets, here are some examples:

$ tmux attach-session [-t target-session]

$ tmux detach-client [-s target-session] [-t target-client]

$ tmux has-session [-t target-session]

$ tmux kill-session [-t target-session]

$ tmux list-clients [-t target-session]

$ tmux lock-client [-t target-client]

$ tmux lock-session [-t target-session]

$ tmux new-session [-t target-session]

$ tmux refresh-client [-t target-client]

$ tmux rename-session [-t target-session]

$ tmux show-messages [-t target-client]

$ tmux suspend-client [-t target-client]

$ tmux switch-client [-c target-client] [-t target-session]


tmux provides a minimal template language and set of variables to access information about your tmux environment.

Formats are specified via the -F flag.

You know how template engines, such as mustache, handlebars ERB in ruby, jinja2 in python, twig in PHP, and JSP in Java, allow template variables? Formats are a similar concept.

The FORMATS (variables) provided by tmux have expanded greatly since version 1.8. Some of the most commonly used formats as of tmux 2.3 are listed below. See the appendix section on formats for a complete list.

Let’s try to output it:

$ tmux list-windows -F "#{window_id} #{window_name}"
> @0 zsh

Here’s a cool trick; list all panes with the x and y coordinates of the cursor position:

$ tmux list-panes -F "#{pane_id} #{pane_current_command} \
  #{pane_current_path} #{cursor_x},#{cursor_y}"
> %0 vim /Users/me/work/tao-of-tmux/manuscript 0,34
  %1 tmux /Users/me/work/tao-of-tmux/manuscript 0,17
  %2 man /Users/me/work/tao-of-tmux/manuscript 0,0

Variables are specific to the objects being listed. For instance:

Server-wide variables: host, host_short (no domain name), socket_path, start_time and pid.

Session-wide variables: session_attached, session_activity, session_created, session_height, session_id, session_name, session_width, session_windows and all server-wide variables.

Window variables: window_activity, window_active, window_height, window_id, window_index, window_layout, window_name, window_panes, window_width and all session and server variables.

Pane variables: cursor_x, cursor_y, pane_active, pane_current_command, pane_current_path, pane_height, pane_id, pane_index, pane_width, pane_pid and all window, session and server variables.

Remember the graphic that showed how servers encapsulated sessions, sessions held windows, windows held panes? That concept plays a role here. If you list-panes, all variables up the ladder, including window, session and server variables are available for the panes being listed. Example:

$ tmux list-panes -F "pane: #{pane_id}, window: #{window_id}, \
  session: #{session_id}, server: #{socket_path}"
> pane: %35, window: @13, session: $6, server: /private/tmp/tmux-501/default
  pane: %38, window: @13, session: $6, server: /private/tmp/tmux-501/default
  pane: %36, window: @13, session: $6, server: /private/tmp/tmux-501/default

11. Tips and Tricks

Read the tmux manual in style

$ man tmux is the command to load up the “man page” for tmux. You can do the same to find instructions for just about any comment; here’s two fun ones:

$ man less
$ man man

most(1) is a solid PAGER that drastically improves readability of manual pages by acting as a syntax highlighter.

left: man, version 1.6c on macOS Sierra. right: MOST v5.0.0
left: man, version 1.6c on macOS Sierra. right: MOST v5.0.0

To get this working, you need to set your PAGER environmental variable to point to the MOST binary. You can test it like this:

$ PAGER=most man ls

If you found you like most, you’ll probably want to make it your default manpage reader. You can do this by setting an environmental variable in your “rc” (Run Commands) for your shell. The location of the file depends on your shell. You can use $ echo $SHELL to find it on most shells). In Bash and zsh, these are kept in ~/.bashrc or ~/.zshrc, respectively:

export PAGER="most"

I often reuse my configurations across machines, and some of them may not have most installed, so I will have my scripting only set PAGER if most is found:


if command -v most > /dev/null 2>&1; then
    export PAGER="most"

Save that to a file, let’s say ~/.dot-config/

Then you can source it in via your main rc file.

source $HOME/.dot-config/

If you keep that pattern (or something close to it), you’re on your way to a cross-platform, modular dot config. If you need inspiration, you can check my public permissively licensed config at I document it well and welcome you to copy/paste from it, too.

Log tailing

Not tmux specific, but powerful when used in tandem with it, you can run a follow (-f) using tail(1). More modern versions of tail have the -F (capitalized), which checks for file renames and rotation.

On OS X, you can do:

$ tail -F /var/log/system.log

and keep that open in a pane. It’s kind of like a Facebook newsfeed, except for programmers and system administrators.

For monitoring logs, multitail is a terminal friendly solution. It’d be an Inception moment, because you’d be using a log multiplexer in a terminal multiplexer.

File watching

In my never-ending conquest to get software projects working in symphony with code changes, I’ve come to taste test many file watching applications and patterns. To get that perfect feedback look upon files changing, I’ve gradually become the internet’s unofficial connoisseur on them.

What this application does is wait for a file to be updated, then executes a custom command, like restarting a server, rebuilding an application, running tests, linters, and so on. It gives you, as a developer instant feedback in the terminal and is one thing that can trick out a tmux workspace into an IDE-like environment.

I eventually settled on entr(1), which works superbly across Linux distros, BSDs and OS X / macOS.

The trick to make entr work is to pipe a list of files into it to watch.

Let’s search for all .go files in a directory and run tests on file change:

$ ls -d *.go | entr -c go test ./...

Sometimes, we may want to watch files recursively, and we need to do that in a cross-platform way. We can’t depend on ** existing to grab files recursively. Something more POSIX friendly would be find . -print | grep -i '.*[.]go':

$ find . -print | grep -i '.*[.]go' | entr -c go test ./...

Only run file watcher if entr is installed; let’s wrap in a conditional command -v test:

$ if command -v entr > /dev/null; then find . -print | grep -i '.*[.]go' | \
  entr -c go test ./...; fi

And have it fallback to go test in the event entr isn’t installed. You’ll thank me when use this command in conjunction with a session manager:

$ if command -v entr > /dev/null; then find . -print | grep -i '.*[.]go' | \
  entr -c go test ./...; else go test ./...; fi

Show a notice message to user to install entr if not installed on the system:

$ if command -v entr > /dev/null; then find . -print | grep -i '.*[.]go' | \
  entr -c go test ./...; else go test ./...; echo "\nInstall entr(1) to \"
  echo "run tasks when files change. \nSee"; fi

Here’s why you want patterns like that: You can put it into a Makefile and commit it to your project’s VCS, so you and other developers can have access to this reusable command across different UNIX-like systems, with and without that certain program installed.

Note: You may have to convert the indentation within the Makefiles from spaces to tabs.

Let’s see what a Makefile with this looks like:

    if command -v entr > /dev/null; then find . -print | grep -i '.*[.]go' |\
 entr -c go test ./...; else go test ./...; echo "\nInstall entr(1) to run t\
asks when files change. \nSee"; fi

To run this, do $ make watch_test in the same directory as the Makefile.

But that was a tad bloated and hard to read. We have a couple tricks at our disposal. One would be to add continuation to the next line with a trailing backslash (\):

    if command -v entr > /dev/null; then find . -print | \
    grep -i '.*[.]go' | entr -c go test ./...; \
    else go test ./...; \
    echo "\nInstall entr(1) to run tasks on file change. \n"; \
    echo "See"; fi

Another would be to break the command into variables and make subcommands. So, let’s try that:

WATCH_FILES= find . -type f -not -path '*/\.*' | \
grep -i '.*[.]go$$' 2> /dev/null

        go test $(test) ./...

        @echo "-------------------------------------------------"
        @echo " ! File watching functionality non-operational ! "
        @echo "                                                 "
        @echo " Install entr(1) to run tasks on file change.    "
        @echo " See                     "
        @echo "-------------------------------------------------"

        if command -v entr > /dev/null; then ${WATCH_FILES} | \
        entr -c $(MAKE) test; else $(MAKE) test entr_warn; fi

$(MAKE) is used for portability. One reason is recursive calls, such as here. On BSD systems, you may try invoking make via gmake (to call GNU Make specifically). This happened to me, while building PDFs for the book AlgoXY. I had to write a patch to make it properly use $(MAKE) for recursive calls.

The $(test) after go test allows passing a shell variable with arguments in it. So, you could do make watch_test test='-i'. For examples of a similar Makefile in action, see the one in my tmuxp project. The project is licensed BSD (permissive), so you can grab code and use it in compliance with the LICENSE.

One more thing, let’s say you’re running a server, like Gin, Iris, or Echo. entr -c likely won’t be restarting the server for you. Try entering the -r flag to send a SIGTERM to the process before restarting it. Combining the current -c flag with the new -r will give you entr -rc:

        go run main.go

        if command -v entr > /dev/null; then ${WATCH_FILES} | \
        entr -c $(MAKE) run; else $(MAKE) run entr_warn; fi

Session Managers

For those who use tmux regularly to perform repetitive tasks, such as opening the same software project, view the same logs, etc., applications that store your layouts declaratively in a YAML or JSON file help you boot up your session fast.

Teamocil and Tmuxinator are the first ones I tried. By far, the most popular one is tmuxinator. They are both programmed in Ruby. There’s also tmuxomatic, where you can “draw” your tmux sessions in text and have tmuxomatic build the layout.

I sort of have a home team advantage here, as I’m author of tmuxp. I wrote it, already having used teamocil and tmuxinator, but with many more features. For one, it builds on top of libtmux, a library which abstracts tmux server, sessions, windows and panes to build the state of tmux sessions. In addition, it has a naive form of session freezing, support for JSON, more flexible configuration options, and it will even offer to attach sessions that exist, instead of redundantly running script commands against the session if it is already running.

So, in tmuxp, we’ll hollow out a tmuxp config directory with $ mkdir ~/.tmuxp then create a YAML file at ~/.tmuxp/test.yaml:

session_name: 4-pane-split
- window_name: dev window
  layout: tiled
    - cd ~/                    # run as a first command in all panes
    - shell_command:           # pane no. 1
        - cd /var/log          # run multiple commands in this pane
        - ls -al | grep \.log
    - echo second pane         # pane no. 2
    - echo third pane          # pane no. 3
    - echo forth pane          # pane no. 4

gives a session titled 4-pane-split, with one window titled dev window with 4 panes in it. 3 in the home directory; the other is in /var/log and is printing a list of all files ending with .log.

To launch it, install tmuxp and load the configuration:

$ pip install --user tmuxp
$ tmuxp -V   # verify tmuxp is installed, if not you need to fix your `PATH`
             # to point to your python bin folder. More help below.
$ tmuxp load ~/.tmuxp/test.yaml

If tmuxp isn’t found, there is a troubleshooting entry on fixing your paths in the appendix.

More code and examples

I’ve dusted off a C++ space shooter and a new go webapp I’ve been playing with. They’re licensed under MIT so, you can use them, copy and paste from them, etc:

Both support tmuxp load . within the project directory to load up the project.

Make sure to install entr(1) beforehand!

tmux-plugins and tpm

tmux-plugins and tmux package manager are a suite of tools dedicated to enhancing the experience of tmux users.

  • tmux-resurrect: Persists tmux environment across system restarts.
  • tmux-continuum: Continuous saving of tmux environment. Automatic restore when tmux is started. Automatic tmux start when computer is turned on.
  • tmux-yank: Tmux plugin for copying to system clipboard. Works on OSX, Linux and Cygwin.
  • tmux-battery: Plug and play battery percentage and icon indicator for Tmux.

12. Cheatsheets

These are taken directly from tmux’s manual pages, tabled and organized by hand into sections for convenience.



Command Action
no command Short-cut for new-session
attach-session Attach or switch to a session
choose-session Put a window into session choice mode
has-session Check and report if a session exists on the server
kill-session Destroy a given session
list-sessions List sessions managed by server
lock-session Lock all clients attached to a session
new-session Create a new session
rename-session Rename a session


Command Action
choose-window Put a window into window choice
find-window Search for a pattern in windows
kill-window Destroy a given window
last-window Select the previously selected
link-window Link a window to another
list-windows List windows of a session
move-window Move a window to another
new-window Create a new window
next-window Move to the next window in a sesssion
previous-window Move to the previous window in session
rename-window Rename a window
respawn-window Reuse a window in which a command has exited
rotate-window Rotate positions of panes in a window
select-window Select a window
set-window-option Set a window option
show-window-options Show window options
split-window Splits a pane into two
swap-window Swap two windows
unlink-window Unlink a window


Command Action
break-pane Break a pane from an existing into a new window
capture-pane Capture the contents of a pane to a buffer
display-panes Display an indicator for each visible pane
join-pane Split a pane and move an existing one into the new space
kill-pane Destroy a given pane
last-pane Select the previously selected pane
list-panes List panes of a window
move-pane Move a pane into a new space
pipe-pane Pipe output from a pane to a shell command
resize-pane Resize a pane
respawn-pane Reuse a pane in which a command has exited
select-pane Make a pane the active one in the window
swap-pane Swap two panes


Shortcut Action
C-b Send the prefix key (C-b) through to the


Shortcut Action
C-z Suspend the tmux client.
r Force redraw of the attached client.
t Show the time.
~ Show previous messages from tmux, if any.
f Prompt to search for text in open windows.
d Detach the current client.
D Choose a client to detach.
? List all key bindings.
: Enter the tmux command prompt.


Shortcut Action
# List all paste buffers.
[ Enter copy mode to copy text or view the history.
] Paste the most recently copied buffer of text.
Page Up Enter copy mode and scroll one page up.
= Choose which buffer to paste interactively from a
- Delete the most recently copied buffer of text.


Shortcut Action
$ Rename the current session.
Session Traversal
Shortcut Action
L Switch the attached client back to the last
s Select a new session for the attached client


Shortcut Action
c Create a new window.
& Kill the current window.
i Display some information about the current window.
, Rename the current window.
Window Traversal
Shortcut Action
0 to 9 Select windows 0 to 9.
w Choose the current window interactively.
M-n Move to the next window with a bell or activity
M-p Move to the previous window with a bell or activity
p Change to the previous window.
n Change to the next window.
l Move to the previously selected window.
' Prompt for a window index to select.
Window Moving
Shortcut Action
. Prompt for an index to move the current window


Shortcut Action
x Kill the current pane.
q Briefly display pane indexes.
% Split the current pane into two, left and right.
" Split the current pane into two, top and bottom.
Pane Traversal
Shortcut Action
; Move to the previously active pane.
Up, Down Change to the pane above, below, to the left, or to
Left, Right the right of the current pane.
o Select the next pane in the current window.
Pane Moving
Shortcut Action
C-o Rotate the panes in the current window forwards.
M-o Rotate the panes in the current window backwards.
{ Swap the current pane with the previous pane.
} Swap the current pane with the next pane.
! Break the current pane out of the window.
Pane Resizing
Shortcut Action
M-1 to M-5 Arrange panes in one of the five preset layouts:
  even-horizontal, even-vertical, main-horizontal,
  main-vertical, or tiled.
C-Up, C-Down Resize the current pane in steps of one cell.
C-Left, C-Right  
M-Up, M-Down Resize the current pane in steps of five cells.
M-Left, M-Right  


Copy / paste

Variable name Description
buffer_name Name of buffer
buffer_sample Sample of start of buffer
buffer_size Size of the specified buffer in bytes


Variable name Description
client_activity Integer time client last had activity
client_created Integer time client created
client_control_mode 1 if client is in control mode
client_height Height of client
client_key_table Current key table
client_last_session Name of the client’s last session
client_pid PID of client process
client_prefix 1 if prefix key has been pressed
client_readonly 1 if client is readonly
client_session Name of the client’s session
client_termname Terminal name of client
client_tty Pseudo terminal of client
client_utf8 1 if client supports utf8
client_width Width of client
line Line number in the list


Variable name Description
alternate_on If pane is in alternate screen
alternate_saved_x Saved cursor X in alternate screen
alternate_saved_y Saved cursor Y in alternate screen
cursor_flag Pane cursor flag
cursor_x Cursor X position in pane
cursor_y Cursor Y position in pane
insert_flag Pane insert flag
keypad_cursor_flag Pane keypad cursor flag
keypad_flag Pane keypad flag
mouse_any_flag Pane mouse any flag
mouse_button_flag Pane mouse button flag
mouse_standard_flag Pane mouse standard flag
pane_active 1 if active pane
pane_bottom Bottom of pane
pane_current_command Current command if available
pane_current_path Current path if available
pane_dead 1 if pane is dead
pane_dead_status Exit status of process in dead pane
pane_height Height of pane
pane_id Unique pane ID (Alias: #D)
pane_in_mode If pane is in a mode
pane_input_off If input to pane is disabled
pane_index Index of pane (Alias: #P)
pane_left Left of pane
pane_pid PID of first process in pane
pane_right Right of pane
pane_start_command Command pane started with
pane_synchronized If pane is synchronized
pane_tabs Pane tab positions
pane_title Title of pane (Alias: #T)
pane_top Top of pane
pane_tty Pseudo terminal of pane
pane_width Width of pane
scroll_region_lower Bottom of scroll region in pane
scroll_region_upper Top of scroll region in pane
scroll_position Scroll position in copy mode
wrap_flag Pane wrap flag


Variable name Description
session_alerts List of window indexes with alerts
session_attached Number of clients session is attached to
session_activity Integer time of session last activity
session_created Integer time session created
session_last_attached Integer time session last attached
session_group Number of session group
session_grouped 1 if session in a group
session_height Height of session
session_id Unique session ID
session_many_attached 1 if multiple clients attached
session_name Name of session (Alias: #S)
session_width Width of session
session_windows Number of windows in session


Variable name Description
history_bytes Number of bytes in window history
history_limit Maximum window history lines
history_size Size of history in bytes
window_activity Integer time of window last activity
window_activity_flag 1 if window has activity
window_active 1 if window active
window_bell_flag 1 if window has bell
window_find_matches Matched data from the find-window
window_flags Window flags (Alias: #F)
window_height Height of window
window_id Unique window ID
window_index Index of window (Alias: #I)
window_last_flag 1 if window is the last used
window_layout Window layout description, ignoring zoomed
  window panes
window_linked 1 if window is linked across sessions
window_name Name of window (Alias: #W)
window_panes Number of panes in window
window_silence_flag 1 if window has silence alert
window_visible_layout Window layout description, respecting
  zoomed window panes
window_width Width of window
window_zoomed_flag 1 if window is zoomed


Variable name Description
host Hostname of local host (alias: #H)
host_short Hostname of local host (no domain name)
  (alias: #h)
socket_path Server socket path
start_time Server start time
pid Server PID


For $ tmux list-commands.

Variable name Description
command_hooked Name of command hooked, if any
command_name Name of command in use, if any
command_list_name Command name if listing commands
command_list_alias Command alias if listing commands
command_list_usage Command usage if listing commands

Appendix: Installing tmux

macOS / OS X


$ brew install tmux


$ sudo port install tmux


$ fink install tmux


Ubuntu / Mint / Debian, etc.

$ sudo apt-get install tmux

CentOS / Fedora / Redhat, etc.

$ sudo yum install tmux

Arch Linux (pacman)

$ sudo pacman -S tmux 

Gentoo (portage)

$ sudo emerge --ask app-misc/tmux



# pkg install tmux
# pkg_add -r tmux


As of OpenBSD 4.6, tmux is part of the base system.

If you are using an earlier version:

# pkg_add tmux


$ make -C /usr/pkgsrc/misc/tmux install

Windows 10

Check out the tmux on Windows 10 appendix section.

Appendix: tmux on Windows 10

As of Windows 10 build 14361, you can run tmux via the Linux Subsystem feature.

Usage requires enabling Developer mode via the “For Developers” tab in the “Update & security” settings.

After you enable that, open “Windows Features”. You can find it by searching for “Turn Windows features on or off”. Then check “Windows Subsystem for Linux (Beta)”.

You may be asked to restart.

Then open Command Prompt as you normally would (Run cli.exe). Then type

C:\Users\tony> bash.exe

It will prompt you to agree to terms, create a user. In my build, tmux was already installed! But if it’s not, type sudo apt-get install tmux.

Find Turn Windows Features on or off
Find Turn Windows Features on or off
Check Windows Subsystem for Linux (Beta)
Check Windows Subsystem for Linux (Beta)
Windows completed the requested changes. Restart
Windows completed the requested changes. Restart
Use Developer features
Use Developer features
Select Developer mode in Update & Security
Select Developer mode in Update & Security
Installing Ubuntu from Windows Store
Installing Ubuntu from Windows Store
Create Linux user
Create Linux user
In bash!
In bash!
yourusername@COMPUTERNAME-ID321FJ:/mnt/c/Users/username$ tmux
In tmux!
In tmux!

This should allow you to run tmux within bash.exe.

This is a real ubuntu installation, so you can continue to install packages via sudo apt-get install **packagename** and update packages via sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade.


E353: Nothing in register * when pasting on vim

If you are using macOS / OS X with vim inside tmux, you may get the error E353: Nothing in register * when trying to paste.

Try installing reattach-to-user-namespace via brew.

$ brew install reattach-to-user-namespace

tmuxp: command not found and powerline: command not found

This is due to your site package bin path (where application entry points are installed) not being in your paths. To find your user site packages base directory:

$ python -m site --user-base

This will get you something like /Users/me/Library/Python/2.7 on macOS with Python 2.7 or /home/me/.local on Linux/BSD boxes.

The applications are in the bin/ folder inside that. So, you need to concatenate the two and add them to your PATH. Try adding one of these in your ~/.bashrc or ~/.zshrc:

export PATH=/Users/me/Library/Python/2.7/bin:$PATH     # macOS w/ python 2.7
export PATH=$HOME/.local/bin:$PATH                     # Linux/BSD
export PATH="`python -m site --user-base`/bin":$PATH   # May work all-around

Then open a new terminal, or . ~/.zshrc / . ~/.bashrc in your current one. Then you can run $ tmuxp -V, $ tmuxp load and $ powerline tmux right commands.