Tmux as screen replacement and productivity accelerator

As I wrote in previous post I switched from GNU screen to tmux. I use it for a few moths and have to said that I’m really impressed by simplicity, performance and community support in this project. In this post I want to discuss my configuration and useful additions for it like tmuxinator, session logging, colors or status bar configuration.


Debian contain tmux package but for stable and testing release it is pretty old version. Personally I use unstable version where tmux was delivered in 1.7~svn2819-1 version.

sudo apt-get install tmux

To start session simply type tmux. Tmux uses C-b/ Ctrl-b as a prefix for commands. If you switch from GNU screen then at the beginning you can experience some annoying situations but after few days everything should back to normal. Most used keybiddings:

  • C-b c - create new window
  • C-b , - rename current window
  • C-b n - next window
  • C-b p - previous window
  • C-b l - last window
  • C-b d - disconnect
  • C-b k - kill current window
  • C-b K - kill tmux server
  • C-b [ - enter copy mode
  • C-b ] - paste last copied buffer
  • C-b : - tmux command line
  • C-b w - windows list
  • C-b ? - help

Full list can be found here.


Tmux keeps its configuration in $HOME/.tmux.conf. My configuration mixes some tmux examples with code that I found in the net. This file can be found on my github repository here. First section contain some general configuration:

# confirm before killing a window or the server
bind-key k confirm kill-window
bind-key K confirm kill-server

# toggle statusbar
bind-key b set-option status

# ctrl+left/right cycles thru windows
bind-key -n C-right next
bind-key -n C-left prev

# scrollback buffer n lines
set -g history-limit 10000

# listen for activity on all windows
set -g bell-action any

# on-screen time for display-panes in ms
set -g display-panes-time 2000

# start window indexing at one instead of zero
set -g base-index 1

# enable wm window titles
set -g set-titles on

# wm window title string (uses statusbar variables)
set -g set-titles-string "tmux.#I.#W"

# statusbar
set -g display-time 2000

After that I have implemented solarized colors (dark theme):

### COLOUR (Solarized dark)

# default statusbar colors
set-option -g status-bg black #base02
set-option -g status-fg yellow #yellow
set-option -g status-attr default

# default window title colors
set-window-option -g window-status-fg brightblue #base0
set-window-option -g window-status-bg default
#set-window-option -g window-status-attr dim

# active window title colors
set-window-option -g window-status-current-fg brightred #orange
set-window-option -g window-status-current-bg default
#set-window-option -g window-status-current-attr bright

# use vi-like keys
setw -g mode-keys vi

# pane border
set-option -g pane-border-fg black #base02
set-option -g pane-active-border-fg brightgreen #base01

# message text
set-option -g message-bg black #base02
set-option -g message-fg brightred #orange

# pane number display
set-option -g display-panes-active-colour blue #blue
set-option -g display-panes-colour brightred #orange

To make solarized colors work on my setup was quite challenging, because there are many things to set (vim, terminal, putty etc.). If you need any advice I can write something about this. Right now it is beyond the scope of this post. At the end of my tmux configuration I’ve some fancy status bar:

# clock
set-window-option -g clock-mode-colour green #green

# center align the window list
set -g status-justify centre

# show some useful stats but only when tmux is started
# outside of Xorg, otherwise dwm statusbar shows these already
set -g status-right ""
set -g status-left ""
if '[ -z "$DISPLAY" ]' 'set -g status-left "[#[fg=green] #H ][#[default]]"'
if '[ -z "$DISPLAY" ]' 'set -g status-right "[ #[fg=magenta]#(cat /proc/loadavg | cut -d " " -f 1,2,3)#[default] ][ #[fg=cyan,bright]%a %Y-%m-%d %H:%M #[default]]"'
if '[ -z "$DISPLAY" ]' 'set -g status-right-length 50'

I think that mostly this is self explanatory. This how it look in work:



I spend some time to realize what is the best way of managing windows and panes in tmux. Especially I was interested in setting some windows at tmux startup. Finally I found tmuxinator small but useful project delivered through gem system. Follow tmuxinator page to set it up correctly. If you want to see my primitive configuration it is also available on my github in werkspace project.

Window logging

Last hint I found on this blog. How to log your work in console for example to write a blog post :) ? There is a universal method for piping all console output to our program of choice. For example run command like this (command mode available under C-b :):

pipe-pane -o 'cat >> ~/tmuxcast.#h.#T'

This will give you file with logged session output (all curses windows, editor windows and so on). Curses output can be unreadable because of control escape sequences. Use cat it will interpret escape sequences in terminal. As always I hope hints were useful. Please share this content if think its valuable. Comment if you think id needs improvements. Thank you for reading. P.S. I should probably create a footer with last paragraph :)

Piotr Król
Founder and Embedded Systems Consultant at 3mdeb as well as freelance CTO of Vitro Technology and CEO of LPN Plant. Passionate about building firmware that enables advanced hardware features in modern products. Dedicated to customers that treat embedded software security and upgradeability as forethought. Open source firmware evangelist interested in platform security and trusted computing. In favor of fixed price projects with a clear definition of success.