Tmux - Productive Mouse Free Development
Oftentimes when doing software development you’ll run into the need of having lots of terminals open running different tasks: development web servers, editors, git, building, linting, remote servers, etc… If you haven’t put much thought/energy into it you’re likely to use tabs or different terminal windows which you create on demand and arrange every now and then with your mouse. This is typically slow and will require you to redo the whole setup any time you restart your computer. Tmux is a tool (a terminal multiplexer if we want to speak with property) that helps you level up your terminal wizardry. To put it in a succint way, tmux is the vim of terminal management. It:
- eases the creation and management of terminal windows and panes with a few keyboard shortcuts
- lets you setup working/developing environments that you can pause and resume at will
- is entirely customizable and can be made to work perfectly in tandem with vim
- lets you pair program remotely with your colleagues
In this wiki you’ll learn how to setup tmux to improve your development workflow and it’s up to you to train your muscle memory to take the most advantage of tmux.
Setting up tmux
If you’re using a mac you can intall tmux using homebrew:
$ brew install tmux
Otherwise use the favorite package manager of your OS for choice and you should be able to find it. When in doubt take a look at tmux’s website.
You can check whether it works by running the following:
$ man tmux
Which should show you tmux manual or:
Which should start a tmux session. A tmux session?
Tmux Sessions, Windows and Panes
You can think of a tmux session as a workspace or project work environment. A session can have multiple windows (which behave like text-based virtual desktops) and multiple panes which let you divide the screen horizontally and vertical within the sample window.
When you start tmux like this:
You create an anonymous session with 1 window and 1 pane. Each pane has its own isolated terminal running within it.
Within a session you can create new windows and panes at will. When you want to communicate with tmux (as opposed to the terminal within the active pane) you use a special key combination that tells tmux to handle whatever comes next. The special key combination is typically called
prefix and it defaults to
C-b (as in keep
CTRL pressed and
For instance, you can type
prefix + % to split a window vertically (creating an additional pane to the right), and you can type
prefix + " to split a window horitzontally (creating an additional pane below). These are shortcuts for tmux commands which can be accessed by typing
prefix :. The equivalent commands for the shortcuts above are
prefix :split-window -h and
prefix :split-window -v (for some reason I haven’t been able to comprehend yet tmux considers a horizontal split what the rest of the world considers a vertical one).
// TODO: continue writing about windows, dettaching sessions, named sessions, etc
Great Tmux Shortcuts
prefix ?to get help and see the different commands available
prefix tto get the time
Working with Sessions
prefix dto detach from a session
prefix wto jump between sessions (this one is really cool)
prefix )lets you switch between sessions
Working with Panes from a session
prefix xto close a pane
C-b [to enter scroll mode where you can copy
Enterpress enter to copy something (and get out of scroll mode)
C-b ]to paste
An awesome thing about tmux is that is completely configurable. If you’re a vim user you’ll be more comfortable creating vim-like bindings for tmux. For instance, you can change the
C-j instead of
C-b, that will put the
CTRL key beside your left pinkie finger and
j below your index finger nice and cozy in the home row.
Tmux configuration resides in
~/.tmux.conf. You will need to create that file and type the following:
# remap prefix from 'C-b' to 'C-j' unbind C-b set-option -g prefix C-j bind-key C-j send-prefix
This basically says that you no longer want to use
C-b and insist in using
C-j which is much better.
You can then continue customizing stuff using mnemonics the vim way. Splitting a window in panes is much easier to remember if you use
| for vertical splits and
- for horizontal splits:
# panes: window splitting unbind % bind | split-window -h unbind '"' bind - split-window -v
// TODO: more basic configuration
Setting up 24 bit True Color
If you want to have great color support within tmux you’ll need to enabled 24 bit true color. If you’re using iTerm2 on your Mac this is how you do it. Add the following to your tmux configuration:
# use the following terminals for pretty colors. # This enables same colors from iTerm2 within tmux. # This is also recommended in neovim :healthcheck set -g default-terminal "screen-256color" set -ga terminal-overrides ",xterm-256color:Tc"
Creating Reusable Configurations
Another great feature of tmux is the ability to define reusable development environments. You tell tmux… I’m going to have a development environment for this project, where I’m going to have open a window with the editor and a terminal, another window with a terminal for the server, yet another one with source control, etc, and then tmux just spins up the development environment for you whenever you need it.
Tmux offers an API to create reusable sessions in which you basically run tmux commands to create a session, windows and panes, and run diverse commands in them. (add more info about this)
There are, however, some simpler alternatives out there that allow you to create reusable configurations in a faster and easier way: Tmuxinator and tmuxp. Both of these are tools that let you create a development environment within tmux by specifying it declaratively in YAML.
Let’s take a look at tmuxp for instance. You install it using the python package manager:
$ pip3 install --user tmuxp
Make sure that you pip user directory is in your path and now you can use the
tmuxp command to spin up development environments to you heart’s content. With tmuxp you can create the following configuration for a blogging dev environment called
blog.yaml inside the
session_name: blog windows: - window_name: blog layout: main-vertical shell_command_before: - cd github/barbarianmeetscoding panes: - nvim . - git status
And then you can just run the following command:
$ tmuxp load blog
That will tell tmuxp to create all the windows and panes for you and execute the commands that you specify.
Some Useful tmux plugins
- Tmux plugin manager
- Vim tmux nagivagor allows you to seamlessly navigate between vim and tmux panes.
- Tmux resurrect. Persists tmux sessions across system restarts.
- Tmuxinator. Helps you create, manage and configure session using simple yaml files instead of tmux commands.
TPM Tmux Plugin Manager
TPM helps you install, uninstall and update your tmux plugins. Here’s how it works:
########################### # Plugins ########################### # To install plugins: # 1) Add plugin down here # 2) Prefix + I to install plugin # To update plugins: # 1) Prefix + U # To remove plugins: # 1) Remove line down here # 2) Prefix + ALT + U # List of plugins set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tpm' set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tmux-sensible' # Add more plugins below this line # Run Tmux Plugin Manager run '~/.tmux/plugins/tpm/tpm'
You can find more info on GitHub.
If you’re using iTerm2 on a Mac you may need to go to your Profiles, then keys and select that the
option key should be treated as
Esc+ in order for the
Prefix + ALT + U combination to work.
Tmux resurrect. Persists tmux sessions across system restarts. Install it by following these instructions and then just before you’re abuot to restart your computer:
prefix + CTRL-Sto save all the sessions
And just after you’ve rebooted your computer.
- Open a tmux session with
prefix + CTRL-Rto restore all the sessions
tmux list or
tmux ls and there they should be.
- Tmux of GitHub
- Tmux wikipedia
- (Book) tmux 2: productive mouse-free development - The Pragmatic Programmers - Brian P. Hogan
- (Book) The Tao of Tmux
- A tmux crash course
- A quick an easy guide to tmux
- Benefits of using tmux
- tmux cheatsheet
Written by Jaime González García , dad, husband, software engineer, ux designer, amateur pixel artist, tinkerer and master of the arcane arts. You can also find him on Twitter jabbering about random stuff.