Make My Terminal Beautiful, Part 2

October 23rd 2011

Tags: utilities, vim

In Part 1, I described some of the basics of colorizing your terminal. In Part 2, I will describe setting up ( from scratch ) some essential software for a great terminal experience.

Let's Get Started

If you live in the terminal like me, you may already be using a terminal multiplexer like GNU Screen or tmux. These utilities make remote work much more pleasant by providing a window manager for your terminal sessions. If you are installing either of these from a package manager, they are usually configured correctly. Though, if you are compiling them from scratch some special attention will need to be paid.

GNU Screen

The older, mainstay terminal multiplexer: GNU Screen has been around since 1987, with the last stable release in 2008.

When installing Screen from source you must use the --enable-colors256 option. For example:

./configure --enable-colors256
make install

To launch screen, type:


Try some of the steps in Part 1 to make sure everything looks good. You may need to reset your $TERM environment variable within your screen session for everything to work properly. This can be automated by adding this to your ~/.bashrc:

[[ $TERM == "screen" ]] && export -p TERM="screen-256color"


If you are on Mac OS, tmux can be installed with a simple:

brew install tmux

When installing from source, make sure that ncurses is installed and simply:

make install

Tmux will work whether or not your environment is configured properly:

Tmux Terminfo

Though, as with Screen above, you should make sure that your $TERM environment variable is set properly within your tmux session. Again, this can be automated by adding the following to your ~/.bashrc:

[[ $TERM == "screen" ]] && export -p TERM="screen-256color"

An Editor From the Angels

While GVim color schemes can make use of any colors imaginable, vim on the command line will usually rot in an 8 color abyss. This can be rectified by making sure that your copy of vim is properly configured and an appropriate color scheme is enabled.

If you have followed the previous post and already have vim installed, then check to see how many colors are supported by typing:

:set t_Co

In my editor, I see:


Which is what we want.

If you are building Vim from source, you will need to pass the --enable-256-color flag to configure. For example:

./configure --enable-256-color

Once you have a working, 256 color supporting vim installed, it's time to configure a nice color scheme to stop your eyes from bleeding.

My current favorite is the wombat256 ( demo ) adaptation of the GVim Wombat color scheme.

Some other popular schemes are:

To install a Vim color scheme, copy the .vim color scheme file into $HOME/.vim/colors/ or into an appropriately named $HOME/.vim/bundle/ folder if you use pathogen. Next, set the color scheme within your $HOME/.vimrc configuration file. My syntax/color configuration looks like:

set background=dark
filetype plugin on
syntax on
colorscheme wombat256mod

You may need to see if there are any options to set for your color scheme choice.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. Thanks for reading!

By Colin Kennedy