Table of Contents


Shell is something you use a lot. Launching commands, navigating around, and even programming. It is not only tool of trade for programmers and system admins, it essential tool for everyday usage that can be refined and tailored to suit specific needs. It takes some time to get your head around it and do all the customization, but it’s worth every second spent on it.

Zsh is getting more and more popular nowadays. It’s really great as interactive shell having lots of features and being easily configurable and well documented. I made my switch from Bash two years ago. I never looked back.

I find frameworks such as oh-my-zsh and grml (which I seen referred as The Missing Zsh Default Configuration) bloated. I hand-tailored my Zsh to be no more and no less what I expect it to be. I want to share few things I stumbled upon on the internet/comprehensive Zsh man pages or set up myself. You won’t find common/obvious stuff like setting completion/prompt/global aliases though. I want to focus on bit more obscure things.

I collected few features Zsh I use every day. I hope you will find something interesting in here, something that will make you work more fun and efficient.

NOTE: Color definitions seen below are from this file.

NOTE2: setting Zsh options is done by setopt OPTION.

NOTE3: I’m aware that some of things mentioned here works in bash as well.

NOTE4: I added few things mentioned in reddit comments.

Tricks worth knowing

Launching command omitting aliased stuff

Just prepend it with backslash:

alias ls='ls -lah --color'

Other posssible way to do that is use = operator which returns location of executable file (similar to “which” command):

echo =ls #=> /usr/bin/ls

I recommend you to play with = for a while and get use to it.

ls -l `which ls`
ls -l =python
echo =ls
which ls

See EQUALS option (on by default).

Multiple redirections

cat < file1 < file2 > file3

Which makes stdin/err redirections much easier:

\time ls > file.stdin 2> file.stderr

See MULTIOS option. It’s on by default.

Last command

In shell !! is substituted with last command. Simplest use case:

chown ivyl file #=> permission denided
sudo !! #=> sudo chown ivyl file

When option HIST_VERIFY is set then you are able to edit full command after substitution.

There are fancier methods of inserting last command in-place. My favorite is one doing it along with substitution:

cat fooberbaz #=> no such file
^ber^bar #=> cat foobarbaz

Clobber - how to not override existing file

Does overwriting exiting file with stream redirection > ever happened to you? Was it painful? Worry not. Just:


Which results in:

cat > foo #=> Zsh: file exists: foo

To override file use >| instead of >.

cat >| foo #=> OK

You can set HIST_ALLOW_CLOBBER to have | added by default in history entries, so that successful retry is just two keystrokes away.

Bashquese Ctrl-W

In Zsh ^W removes words delimited by whitespace. We are working in shell here though, this should be more fine-grained. I like how it behave in bash - slashes, dots and few other things are treated as delimiters too. You can achieve this behaviour in Zsh by simply:

autoload -U select-word-style
select-word-style bash

Easy variable editing

The way to do it is to use vared. Type vared PROMPT and Zsh Line Editor will be launched enabling you to edit it. It’s great when combined with Vi Mode.

You can imagine it is useful for messing with $PATH, experimenting with $PROMPT.

In-place expanding

When entering some expression that will be expanded with Zsh (substituted/interpolated) you can hit TAB key just after it to do it in place and see result right in command line. You might stumbled upon this feature by accident. Few examples to try:

ls *<TAB>
ls -l `which grep`<TAB>
ls -l =grep<TAB>

You can do that with abbreviated paths too:

cd /u/sh/zsh<TAB> #=> cd /usr/share/zsh

I find it useful to peek on what is done before command will be executed. Sometimes I find removing one match from list easier than constructing fancy pattern.

Expansion aka substitution aka globbing

I guess that you are familiar with wildcards such as * and ** which matches directories recursively. For more specific searches you had to use find. It’s ok for scripts and very detailed searches but in ZSH most use cases can

Ever annoyed by directory errors when greping with **/*? Append (.) to limit match only to files.

grep pattern **/*(.)

(/) does the same with directories:

print -l **/*(/)

This is quite well known but it’s worth mentioning:

vimdiff file{,.bak}

file.{a,b,cd} will be expanded to file.a file.b The trick above ise to use empty mach to edit regular file as well as it .bak version. Menu completion works very well with this.

There is a lot of more to it. You can search basing on modification time, permissions, owners, etc. I recomend you watching great video on this topic as well as reding one of many cheatsheats on globs.

There is also thing called parameter expanstion that allows you to act on parameters (capitalization, head of directory, uppercase, substitute, etc).

echo =zsh #=>/bin/zsh
echo ${${:-=zsh}:h} #=>/bin
echo ${FOO:u} #=>BAR

I don’t use the above very often. If you are interested check Zsh Docs or Zsh Wiki.

Mass renaming via zmv

Zmv is great tool for mass renameing. Since I found it I don’t even have any file manager installed.

autoload -Uz zmv

As it help states:

  zmv [OPTIONS] oldpattern newpattern
where oldpattern contains parenthesis surrounding patterns which will
be replaced in turn by $1, $2, ... in newpattern.  For example,
  zmv '(*).lis' '$1.txt'
renames 'foo.lis' to 'foo.txt', 'my.old.stuff.lis' to 'my.old.stuff.txt',
and so on.  Something simpler (for basic commands) is the -W option:
  zmv -W '*.lis' '*.txt'
This does the same thing as the first command, but with automatic conversion
of the wildcards into the appropriate syntax.  If you combine this with
noglob, you don't even need to quote the arguments.  For example,
  alias mmv='noglob zmv -W'
  mmv *.c.orig orig/*.c

History options

Few useful history options:


As an excerise I recommend you searching it in Zsh man pagaes. Use man zshoptions or man zshall.


To create you own binding use bindkey. Most interesting things you can bind are ZLE widgets.

Edit current line in text editor

Bash has this feature out of the box. In zsh we need to setup it manualy:

autoload -U edit-command-line
zle -N edit-command-line
bindkey '^f' edit-command-line

I have choses Ctrl-F bindign to keep it similar to Vim. edit-command-line uses $EDITOR variable.

Vi mode and Escape time out

Vi mode makes you shell modal. It will put you in insert mode by default (which is saner option) and allow you to use most of the Vim movements from command/normal mode after pressing enter. You search history by / and ?.

To enable it:

bindkey -v

It will take some time to get used to. For Vim users this makes much more homogeneous environment.

I recommend setting KEYTIMEOUT to lower value. It’s time Zsh waits for key escape key sequence. Since I don’t use those this latency annoys me when it comes to search (/). I use ^[ instead of escape and I type so fast that it often have undesired effects triggering some strange stuff. Default is 40 (in hundredths of second) witch is bit high for me.


Vi mode enhancements

# ctrl-p ctrl-n history navigation
bindkey '^P' up-history
bindkey '^N' down-history

# backspace and ^h working even after returning from command mode
bindkey '^?' backward-delete-char
bindkey '^h' backward-delete-char

# ctrl-w removed word backwards
bindkey '^w' backward-kill-word

# ctrl-r starts searching history backward
bindkey '^r' history-incremental-search-backward

Other big enhancment is prompt that tells us which mode we are in by cursor colour. Read on to get to that.


VCS (Git, Subversion, Mercurial) prompt

# load module
autoload -Uz vcs_info

# set style for vcs info
zstyle ':vcs_info:*' stagedstr "${fg_blue}?"
zstyle ':vcs_info:*' unstagedstr "${fg_brown}?"
zstyle ':vcs_info:*' check-for-changes true
zstyle ':vcs_info:(sv[nk]|bzr):*' branchformat '%b%F{1}:%F{11}%r'
zstyle ':vcs_info:*' enable git svn

# executed before each command to change style including red ! for unstaged
# changed
precmd () {
    if [[ -z $(git ls-files --other --exclude-standard 2> /dev/null) ]] {
        zstyle ':vcs_info:*' formats "${at_normal} ${fg_dgray}%b%c%u${at_normal}"
    } else {
        zstyle ':vcs_info:*' formats "${at_normal} ${fg_dgray}%b%c%u${fg_red}!${at_normal}"
# enable later substitution in prompt

PROMPT="%c \${vcs_info_msg_0_}"

Note how dollar sign is escaped. If you forget it the expansion of variable will happen once. You could use single quotes as well.

Setting above will result in having branch and status information (indicated by colorful punctuation marks) in your prompt.

Exit Status


The above will set your prompt to coloured percent sign (red/normal) depending on last command exit status.

Vi mode status indicator

It’s hard to tell in which mode Zsh is. I have seen some tricks including PS2, but I liked cursor colour the most.

My version works well in tmux and doesn’t mess Linux Console. It also fixed issue with cursor staying red when launched commend from normal mode.

# urxvt (and family) accepts even #RRGGBB

# helper for setting color including all kinds of terminals
set_prompt_color() {
    if [[ $TERM = "linux" ]]; then
       # nothing
    elif [[ $TMUX != '' ]]; then
        printf '\033Ptmux;\033\033]12;%b\007\033\\' "$1"
        echo -ne "\033]12;$1\007"

# change cursor color basing on vi mode
zle-keymap-select () {
    if [ $KEYMAP = vicmd ]; then
        set_prompt_color $COMMAND_PROMPT
        set_prompt_color $INSERT_PROMPT

zle-line-finish() {
    set_prompt_color $INSERT_PROMPT

zle-line-init () {
    zle -K viins
    set_prompt_color $INSERT_PROMPT

zle -N zle-keymap-select
zle -N zle-line-init
zle -N zle-line-finish

It’s possible thanks to powerful Zsh Line Editor.



Post your configuration on Github/elsewhere - you will be just one clone away from your environment and you will share with others.

This is only tip of an iceberg. Check other people’s dotfiles on github (Google -> zsh), read man, search zshall man page for interesting keywords. Keep on tailoring.


03 February 2013