Color output in console

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Reason: And maybe create something bigger. Please take active approach if you can add some valuable information. (Discuss in Talk:Color output in console#Why and what this page is about)

This page was created to consolidate colorization of CLI outputs.


diffutils from version 3.4 includes the --color option (GNU mailing list).

$ alias diff 'diff --color=auto'

Alternatively, the following wrappers can be used:

  • colordiff — A Perl script wrapper for 'diff' that produces the same output but with pretty 'syntax' highlighting || colordiff
  • cwdiff — A (w)diff wrapper to support directories and colorize the output || cwdiffAUR, cwdiff-gitAUR


grep's color output can be helpful for learning regexp and additional grep functionality.

To enable grep coloring write the following entry to the shell configuration file (e.g. if using Bash):

alias grep='grep --color=auto'

To include file line numbers in the output, add the option -n to the line.

The environment variable GREP_COLOR can be used to define the default highlight color (the default is red). To change the color find the ANSI escape sequence for the color liked and add it:

export GREP_COLOR="1;32"

GREP_COLORS may be used to define specific searches.


Environment variables

Add the following lines to your shell configuration file:

export LESS=-R
export LESS_TERMCAP_mb=$'\E[1;31m'
export LESS_TERMCAP_md=$'\E[1;36m'
export LESS_TERMCAP_me=$'\E[0m'
export LESS_TERMCAP_se=$'\E[0m'
export LESS_TERMCAP_so=$'\E[01;44;33m'
export LESS_TERMCAP_ue=$'\E[0m'
export LESS_TERMCAP_us=$'\E[1;32m'

Change the values (ANSI escape code) as you like.

Note: The LESS_TERMCAL_xx variables is currently undocumented in less(1), for a detailed explanation on these sequences, see this answer.


You can enable code syntax coloring in less. First, install source-highlight, then add these lines to your shell configuration file:

export LESSOPEN="| /usr/bin/ %s"
export LESS='-R '

Frequent users of the command line interface might want to install lesspipe.

Users may now list the compressed files inside of an archive using their pager:

$ less compressed_file.tar.gz
==> use tar_file:contained_file to view a file in the archive
-rw------- username/group  695 2008-01-04 19:24 compressed_file/content1
-rw------- username/group   43 2007-11-07 11:17 compressed_file/content2
compressed_file.tar.gz (END)

lesspipe also grants less the ability of interfacing with files other than archives, serving as an alternative for the specific command associated for that file-type (such as viewing HTML via python-html2text).

Re-login after installing lesspipe in order to activate it, or source /etc/profile.d/

Reading from stdin

Note: It is recommended to add colored output through #Environment variables to your ~/.bashrc or ~/.zshrc, as the below is based on export LESS=R

When you run a command and pipe its standard output (stdout) to less for a paged view (e.g. pacman -Qe | less), you may find that the output is no longer colored. This is usually because the program tries to detect if its stdout is an interactive terminal, in which case it prints colored text, and otherwise prints uncolored text. This is good behaviour when you want to redirect stdout to a file, e.g. pacman -Qe > pkglst-backup.txt, but less suited when you want to view output in less.

Some programs provide an option to disable the interactive tty detection:

# dmesg --color=always | less

In case that the program does not provide any similar option, it is possible to trick the program into thinking its stdout is an interactive terminal with the following utilities:

  • stdoutisatty — A small program which catches the isatty function call. || stdoutisatty-gitAUR
Example: stdoutisatty program | less
  • unbuffer — A tclsh script comes with expect, it invokes desired program within a pty. || expect
Example: unbuffer program | less

Alternatively, using zpty module from zsh: [1]

zmodload zsh/zpty

pty() {
	zpty pty-${UID} ${1+$@}
	if [[ ! -t 1 ]];then
		setopt local_traps
		trap '' INT
	zpty -r pty-${UID}
	zpty -d pty-${UID}

ptyless() {
	pty $@ | less


$ ptyless program

To pipe it to other pager (less in this example):

$ pty program | less


Colored output can be enabled with a simple alias. File ~/.bashrc should already have the following entry copied from /etc/skel/.bashrc:

alias ls='ls --color=auto'

The next step will further enhance the colored ls output; for example, broken (orphan) symlinks will start showing in a red hue. Add the following to your shell configuration file:

eval $(dircolors -b)


Color-enabled man pages allow for a clearer presentation and easier digestion of the content. There are two prevalent methods for achieving colored man pages: using less, or opting for most.

Using less

You can set various LESS_TERMCAP_* environment variables to change how it highlights text. For example, LESS_TERMCAP_md is used for bold text and LESS_TERMCAP_me is used to reset to normal text formatting[2].

In Bash, the escape sequences you can use are the same ones from Bash/Prompt customization and these variables can be defined in a function wrapping the man command:

man() {
    LESS_TERMCAP_md=$'\e[01;31m' \
    LESS_TERMCAP_me=$'\e[0m' \
    LESS_TERMCAP_se=$'\e[0m' \
    LESS_TERMCAP_so=$'\e[01;44;33m' \
    LESS_TERMCAP_ue=$'\e[0m' \
    LESS_TERMCAP_us=$'\e[01;32m' \
    command man "$@"

For Fish you could accomplish this with:

set -xU LESS_TERMCAP_md (printf "\e[01;31m")
set -xU LESS_TERMCAP_me (printf "\e[0m")
set -xU LESS_TERMCAP_se (printf "\e[0m")
set -xU LESS_TERMCAP_so (printf "\e[01;44;33m")
set -xU LESS_TERMCAP_ue (printf "\e[0m")
set -xU LESS_TERMCAP_us (printf "\e[01;32m")

Remember to source your config or restart your shell to make the changes take effect.

For a detailed explanation on these variables, see this answer. Bash/Prompt customization#Examples has some (non-Bash-specific) examples of escape sequences that can be used.

Using most

The basic function of 'most' is similar to less and more, but it has a smaller feature set. Configuring most to use colors is easier than using less, but additional configuration is necessary to make most behave like less. Install the most package.

Edit /etc/man_db.conf, uncomment the pager definition and change it to:

DEFINE     pager     most -s

Test the new setup by typing:

$ man whatever_man_page

Modifying the color values requires editing ~/.mostrc (creating the file if it is not present) or editing /etc/most.conf for system-wide changes. Example ~/.mostrc:

% Color settings
color normal lightgray black
color status yellow blue
color underline yellow black
color overstrike brightblue black

Another example showing keybindings similar to less (jump to line is set to 'J'):

% less-like keybindings
unsetkey "^K"
unsetkey "g"
unsetkey "G"
unsetkey ":"

setkey next_file ":n"
setkey find_file ":e"
setkey next_file ":p"
setkey toggle_options ":o"
setkey toggle_case ":c"
setkey delete_file ":d"
setkey exit ":q"

setkey bob "g"
setkey eob "G"
setkey down "e"
setkey down "E"
setkey down "j"
setkey down "^N"
setkey up "y"
setkey up "^Y"
setkey up "k"
setkey up "^P"
setkey up "^K"
setkey page_down "f"
setkey page_down "^F"
setkey page_up "b"
setkey page_up "^B"
setkey other_window "z"
setkey other_window "w"
setkey search_backward "?"
setkey bob "p"
setkey goto_mark "'"
setkey find_file "E"
setkey edit "v"

Using X resources

A quick way to add color to manual pages viewed on xterm/uxterm or rxvt-unicode is to modify ~/.Xresources.


*VT100.colorBDMode:     true
*VT100.colorBD:         red
*VT100.colorULMode:     true
*VT100.colorUL:         cyan

which replaces the decorations with the colors. Also add:

*VT100.veryBoldColors: 6

if you want colors and decorations (bold or underline) at the same time. See man xterm for a description of the veryBoldColors resource.


URxvt.colorIT:      #87af5f
URxvt.colorBD:      #d7d7d7
URxvt.colorUL:      #87afd7


$ xrdb -load ~/.Xresources

Launch a new xterm/uxterm or rxvt-unicode and you should see colorful man pages.

This combination puts colors to bold and underlined words in xterm/uxterm or to bold, underlined, and italicized text in rxvt-unicode. You can play with different combinations of these attributes (see the sources[dead link 2013-09-10] of this item).


Pacman has a color option. Uncomment the Color line in /etc/pacman.conf.

Wrappers for other programs

Tango-go-next.pngThis article or section is a candidate for moving to [[]].Tango-go-next.png

Notes: Some of these could be made into sections of their own, or moved to existing sections such as #diff (Discuss in Talk:Color output in console#)

(most of them outdated but still functioning)

Universal wrappers with multiple preconfigured presets

  • rainbow — Colorize commands output or STDIN using patterns.
    Presets: df, diff, env, host, ifconfig, java-stack-trace, jboss, jonas, md5sum, mvn2, mvn3, ping, tomcat, top, traceroute. || not packaged? search in AUR
  • grc — Yet another colouriser for beautifying your logfiles or output of commands.
    Presets: configure, cvs, df, diff, esperanto, gcc, irclog, ldap, log, mount, netstat, ping, proftpd, traceroute, wdiff. || grc
  • colorlogs — Colorize commands output or STDIN using patterns.
    Presets: logs, git status, ant, maven. || not packaged? search in AUR
  • cope — A colourful wrapper for terminal programs.
    Presets: acpi, arp, cc, df, dprofpp, fdisk, free, g++, gcc, id, ifconfig, ls, lspci, lsusb, make, md5sum, mpc, netstat, nm, nmap, nocope, ping, pmap, ps, readelf, route, screen, sha1sum, sha224sum, sha256sum, sha384sum, sha512sum, shasum, socklist, stat, strace, tcpdump, tracepath, traceroute, w, wget, who, xrandr. || cope-gitAUR
  • cw — A non-intrusive real-time ANSI color wrapper for common unix-based commands.
    Presets: arp, arping, auth.log@, blockdev, cal, cksum, clock, configure, cpuinfo@, crontab@, cw-pipe, cw-test.cgi, date, df, diff, dig, dmesg, du, env, figlet, file, find, finger, free, fstab@, fuser, g++, gcc, group@, groups, hdparm, hexdump, host, hosts@, id, ifconfig, inittab@, iptables, last, lastlog, lsattr, lsmod, lsof, ltrace-color, make, md5sum, meminfo@, messages@, mount, mpg123, netstat, nfsstat, nmap, nslookup, objdump, passwd@, ping, pmap, pmap_dump, praliases, profile@, protocols@, ps, pstree, quota, quotastats, resolv.conf@, route, routel, sdiff, services@, showmount, smbstatus, stat, strace-color, sysctl, syslog, tar, tcpdump, tracepath, traceroute, umount, uname, uptime, users, vmstat, w, wc, whereis, who, xferlog. || cwAUR


  • colorgcc — A Perl wrapper to colorize the output of compilers with warning/error messages matching the gcc output format || colorgcc


  • prettyping — Add some great features to ping monitoring. A wrapper around the standard ping tool with the objective of making the output prettier, more colorful, more compact, and easier to read. || prettypingAUR


  • colormake — A simple wrapper around make to make it's output more readable. || colormakeAUR, colormake-gitAUR


  • ruby-rainbow — Rainbow is extension to ruby's String class adding support for colorizing text on ANSI terminal || ruby-rainbow
  • python-blessings — A thin, practical wrapper around terminal coloring, styling, and positioning || python-blessings, python2-blessings



See Bash/Prompt customization#Colors.


See Zsh#Colors.


See Fish#Web interface.

Terminal emulators

Virtual console

Tango-edit-clear.pngThis article or section needs language, wiki syntax or style improvements.Tango-edit-clear.png

Reason: Lacks clarity on what "the colors" are, i.e. in #Virtual console they are about the representations of the 16 base colors (RGB values for yellow, red, blue, etc.), while in #Login screen they are about the base colors themselves. See also console_codes(4) and User:Isacdaavid/Linux_Console (Discuss in Talk:Color output in console#)

The colors in the Linux virtual console—see console(4)—running on the framebuffer can be changed. This is done by writing the escape code \\e]PXRRGGBB, where X is the hexadecimal index of the color from 0-F, and RRGGBB is a traditional hexadecimal RGB code.

For example, to reuse existing colors defined in ~/.Xresources, add the following to the shell initialization file (such as ~/.bashrc):

if [ "$TERM" = "linux" ]; then
    _SEDCMD='s/.*\*color\([0-9]\{1,\}\).*#\([0-9a-fA-F]\{6\}\).*/\1 \2/p'
    for i in $(sed -n "$_SEDCMD" $HOME/.Xresources | awk '$1 < 16 {printf "\\e]P%X%s", $1, $2}'); do
        echo -en "$i"

Login screen

The below is a colored example of the virtual console login screen in /etc/issue. Create a backup of the original file with mv /etc/issue /etc/issue.bak as root, and create a new /etc/issue:

echo -e '\e[H\e[2J' > issue
echo -e '                                                            \e[1;30m| \e[34m\\s \\r' >> issue
echo -e '       \e[36;1m/\\\\                      \e[37m||     \e[36m| |                   \e[30m|' >> issue
echo -e '      \e[36m/  \\\\                     \e[37m||     \e[36m|     _               \e[30m| \e[32m\\t' >> issue
echo -e '     \e[1;36m/ \e[0;36m.. \e[1m\\\\   \e[37m//==\\\\\\\\ ||/= /==\\\\ ||/=\\\\  \e[36m| | |/ \\\\ |  | \\\\ /     \e[30m| \e[32m\\d' >> issue
echo -e '    \e[0;36m/ .  . \\\\  \e[37m||  || ||   |    ||  || \e[36m| | |  | |  |  X      \e[1;30m|' >> issue
echo -e '   \e[0;36m/  .  .  \\\\ \e[37m\\\\\\\\==/| ||   \\\\==/ ||  || \e[36m| | |  | \\\\_/| / \\\\     \e[1;30m| \e[31m\\U' >> issue
echo -e '  \e[0;36m/ ..    .. \\\\   \e[0;37mA simple, lightweight linux distribution.  \e[1;30m|' >> issue
echo -e ' \e[0;36m/_\x27        `_\\\\                                             \e[1;30m| \e[35m\\l \e[0mon \e[1;33m\\n' >> issue
echo -e ' \e[0m' >> issue
echo -e  >> issue

Save the file and make it executable with chmod +x /etc/issue.

See also:

X window system

Most Xorg terminals, including xterm and urxvt, support at least 16 basic colors. The colors 0-7 are the 'normal' colors. Colors 8-15 are their 'bright' counterparts, used for highlighting. These colors can be modified through X resources, or through specific terminal settings. For example:

! Black + DarkGrey
*color0:  #000000
*color8:  #555753
! DarkRed + Red
*color1:  #ff6565
*color9:  #ff8d8d
! DarkGreen + Green
*color2:  #93d44f
*color10: #c8e7a8
! DarkYellow + Yellow
*color3:  #eab93d
*color11: #ffc123
! DarkBlue + Blue
*color4:  #204a87
*color12: #3465a4
! DarkMagenta + Magenta
*color5:  #ce5c00
*color13: #f57900
!DarkCyan + Cyan (both not tango)
*color6:  #89b6e2
*color14: #46a4ff
! LightGrey + White
*color7:  #cccccc
*color15: #ffffff
Warning: Color resources such as foreground and background can be read by other applications (such as emacs). This can be avoided by specifiying the class name, for example XTerm.foreground.

See also:

Display all 256 colors

Prints all 256 colors across the screen.

$ (x=`tput op` y=`printf %76s`;for i in {0..256};do o=00$i;echo -e ${o:${#o}-3:3} `tput setaf $i;tput setab $i`${y// /=}$x;done)

Display tput escape codes

Merge-arrows-2.pngThis article or section is a candidate for merging with Bash/Prompt_customization.Merge-arrows-2.png

Notes: More context on tput is provided in that article (Discuss in Talk:Color output in console#)

Replace tput op with whatever tput you want to trace. op is the default foreground and background color.

$ ( strace -s5000 -e write tput op 2>&2 2>&1 ) | tee -a /dev/stderr | grep -o '"[^"]*"'

Enumerate supported colors

The following command will let you discover all the terminals you have terminfo support for, and the number of colors each terminal supports. The possible values are: 8, 15, 16, 52, 64, 88 and 256.

$ for T in `find /usr/share/terminfo -type f -printf '%f '`;do echo "$T `tput -T $T colors`";done|sort -nk2
Eterm-88color 88
rxvt-88color 88
xterm+88color 88
xterm-88color 88
Eterm-256color 256
gnome-256color 256
konsole-256color 256
putty-256color 256
rxvt-256color 256
screen-256color 256
screen-256color-bce 256
screen-256color-bce-s 256
screen-256color-s 256
xterm+256color 256
xterm-256color 256

Enumerate terminal capabilities

Merge-arrows-2.pngThis article or section is a candidate for merging with Bash/Prompt_customization.Merge-arrows-2.png

Notes: More context on tput is provided in that article (Discuss in Talk:Color output in console#)

This command is useful to see what features that are supported by your terminal.

$ infocmp -1 | sed -nu 's/^[ \000\t]*//;s/[ \000\t]*$//;/[^ \t\000]\{1,\}/!d;/acsc/d;s/=.*,//p'|column -c80
bel	cuu	ich	kb2	kf15	kf3	kf44	kf59	mc0	rmso	smul
blink	cuu1	il	kbs	kf16	kf30	kf45	kf6	mc4	rmul	tbc
bold	cvvis	il1	kcbt	kf17	kf31	kf46	kf60	mc5	rs1	u6
cbt	dch	ind	kcub1	kf18	kf32	kf47	kf61	meml	rs2	u7
civis	dch1	indn	kcud1	kf19	kf33	kf48	kf62	memu	sc	u8
clear	dl	initc	kcuf1	kf2	kf34	kf49	kf63	op	setab	u9
cnorm	dl1	invis	kcuu1	kf20	kf35	kf5	kf7	rc	setaf	vpa

Color scheme scripts

See [3] for scripts which display a chart of your current terminal scheme.

See also