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Zsh is a powerful shell that operates as both an interactive shell and as a scripting language interpreter. While being compatible with the Bourne shell (not by default, only if issuing emulate sh), it offers advantages such as improved tab completion and globbing.

The Zsh FAQ offers more reasons to use Zsh.


Before starting, users may want to see what shell is currently being used:

$ echo $SHELL

Install the zsh package. For additional completion definitions, install the zsh-completions package as well.

Initial configuration

Make sure that Zsh has been installed correctly by running the following in a terminal:

$ zsh

You should now see zsh-newuser-install, which will walk you through some basic configuration. If you want to skip this, press q. If you did not see it, you can invoke it manually with

$ zsh /usr/share/zsh/functions/Newuser/zsh-newuser-install -f
Note: Make sure your terminal's size is at least 72×15 otherwise zsh-newuser-install will not run.

Making Zsh your default shell

See Command-line shell#Changing your default shell.

Tip: If replacing bash, users may want to move some code from ~/.bashrc to ~/.zshrc (e.g. the prompt and the aliases) and from ~/.bash_profile to ~/.zprofile (e.g. the code that starts the X Window System).

Startup/Shutdown files

Tip: See A User's Guide to the Z-Shell for explanation on interactive and login shells, and what to put in your startup files.
  • If $ZDOTDIR is not set, $HOME is used instead.
  • If option RCS is unset in any of the files, no configuration files will be sourced after that file.
  • If option GLOBAL_RCS is unset in any of the files, no global configuration files (/etc/zsh/*) will be sourced after that file.

When starting Zsh, it will source the following files in this order by default:

  • /etc/zsh/zshenv Used for setting system-wide environment variables; it should not contain commands that produce output or assume the shell is attached to a tty. This file will always be sourced, this cannot be overridden.
  • $ZDOTDIR/.zshenv Used for setting user's environment variables; it should not contain commands that produce output or assume the shell is attached to a tty. This file will always be sourced.
  • /etc/zsh/zprofile Used for executing commands at start, will be sourced when starting as a login shell. Please note that on Arch Linux, by default it contains one line which source the /etc/profile.
    • /etc/profile This file should be sourced by all Bourne-compatible shells upon login: it sets up $PATH and other environment variables and application-specific (/etc/profile.d/*.sh) settings upon login.
  • $ZDOTDIR/.zprofile Used for executing user's commands at start, will be sourced when starting as a login shell.
    • $HOME/.profile is not sourced by zsh.
  • /etc/zsh/zshrc Used for setting interactive shell configuration and executing commands, will be sourced when starting as an interactive shell.
  • $ZDOTDIR/.zshrc Used for setting user's interactive shell configuration and executing commands, will be sourced when starting as an interactive shell.
  • /etc/zsh/zlogin Used for executing commands at ending of initial progress, will be sourced when starting as a login shell.
  • $ZDOTDIR/.zlogin Used for executing user's commands at ending of initial progress, will be sourced when starting as a login shell.
  • $ZDOTDIR/.zlogout Will be sourced when a login shell exits.
  • /etc/zsh/zlogout Will be sourced when a login shell exits.
Note: The paths used in Arch's zsh package are different from the default ones used in the man pages (FS#48992).
Warning: It is not recommended to replace the default one line in /etc/zsh/zprofile with something else, otherwise it will break the integrity of other packages which provide some scripts in /etc/profile.d/.

Configure Zsh

Although Zsh is usable out of the box, it is almost certainly not set up the way most users would like to use it, but due to the sheer amount of customization available in Zsh, configuring Zsh can be a daunting and time-consuming experience.

Simple .zshrc

Included below is a sample configuration file, it provides a decent set of default options as well as giving examples of many ways that Zsh can be customized. In order to use this configuration save it as a file named .zshrc.

Tip: Apply the changes without needing to logout and then back in by running source ~/.zshrc.

Here is a simple .zshrc:

autoload -Uz compinit promptinit

# This will set the default prompt to the walters theme
prompt walters

Configuring $PATH

See A User's Guide to the Z-Shell and also the note in #Startup/Shutdown files for details.

The incantation typeset -U path, where the -U stands for unique, tells the shell that it should not add anything to $PATH if it is there already:

typeset -U path
path=(~/.local/bin /other/things/in/path $path[@])

Command completion

Perhaps the most compelling feature of Zsh is its advanced autocompletion abilities. At the very least, enable autocompletion in .zshrc. To enable autocompletion, add the following to your ~/.zshrc:

autoload -Uz compinit

The above configuration includes ssh/scp/sftp hostnames completion but in order for this feature to work, users must not enable ssh's hostname hashing (i.e. option HashKnownHosts in ssh client configuration).

For autocompletion with an arrow-key driven interface, add the following to:

zstyle ':completion:*' menu select

To activate the menu, press Tab twice.

For autocompletion of command line switches for aliases, add the following to:


For enabling autocompletion of privileged environments in privileged commands (e.g. if you complete a command starting with sudo, completion scripts will also try to determine your completions with sudo), include:

zstyle ':completion::complete:*' gain-privileges 1
Warning: This will let zsh completion scripts run commands with sudo privileges. You should not enable this if you use untrusted autocompletion scripts.
Note: This special kind of context-aware completion is only available for a small number of commands.

Key bindings

Zsh does not use readline, instead it uses its own and more powerful Zsh Line Editor (ZLE). It does not read /etc/inputrc or ~/.inputrc.

ZLE has an emacs mode and a vi mode. If one of the $VISUAL or $EDITOR environment variables contain the string vi then vi mode will be used; otherwise, it will default to emacs mode. Set the mode explicitly with bindkey -e or bindkey -v respectively for emacs mode or vi mode.

Add the following to your ~/.zshrc to set up key bindings using key sequences from terminfo(5):

# create a zkbd compatible hash;
# to add other keys to this hash, see: man 5 terminfo
typeset -g -A key


# setup key accordingly
[[ -n "${key[Home]}"      ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Home]}"      beginning-of-line
[[ -n "${key[End]}"       ]] && bindkey -- "${key[End]}"       end-of-line
[[ -n "${key[Insert]}"    ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Insert]}"    overwrite-mode
[[ -n "${key[Backspace]}" ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Backspace]}" backward-delete-char
[[ -n "${key[Delete]}"    ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Delete]}"    delete-char
[[ -n "${key[Up]}"        ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Up]}"        up-line-or-history
[[ -n "${key[Down]}"      ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Down]}"      down-line-or-history
[[ -n "${key[Left]}"      ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Left]}"      backward-char
[[ -n "${key[Right]}"     ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Right]}"     forward-char
[[ -n "${key[PageUp]}"    ]] && bindkey -- "${key[PageUp]}"    beginning-of-buffer-or-history
[[ -n "${key[PageDown]}"  ]] && bindkey -- "${key[PageDown]}"  end-of-buffer-or-history
[[ -n "${key[ShiftTab]}"  ]] && bindkey -- "${key[ShiftTab]}"  reverse-menu-complete

# Finally, make sure the terminal is in application mode, when zle is
# active. Only then are the values from $terminfo valid.
if (( ${+terminfo[smkx]} && ${+terminfo[rmkx]} )); then
	autoload -Uz add-zle-hook-widget
	function zle_application_mode_start {
		echoti smkx
	function zle_application_mode_stop {
		echoti rmkx
	add-zle-hook-widget -Uz zle-line-init zle_application_mode_start
	add-zle-hook-widget -Uz zle-line-finish zle_application_mode_stop

See ZshWiki:Keybindings for more information.

History search

You need to set up #Key bindings to use this. To enable history search add these lines to .zshrc file:

autoload -Uz up-line-or-beginning-search down-line-or-beginning-search
zle -N up-line-or-beginning-search
zle -N down-line-or-beginning-search

[[ -n "${key[Up]}"   ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Up]}"   up-line-or-beginning-search
[[ -n "${key[Down]}" ]] && bindkey -- "${key[Down]}" down-line-or-beginning-search

By doing this, only the past commands matching the current line up to the current cursor position will be shown when Up or Down keys are pressed.


Zsh offers the options of using a prompt theme or, for users who are dissatisfied with the themes (or want to expand their usefulness), the possibility to build a custom prompt.

Prompt themes

Prompt themes are a quick and easy way to set up a colored prompt in Zsh. See zshcontrib(1) for more information about them.

To use a theme, make sure that prompt theme system is set to autoload in .zshrc. This can be done by adding these lines to:

autoload -Uz promptinit

Available prompt themes are listed by running the command:

$ prompt -l

For example, to use the walters theme, enter:

$ prompt walters

To preview all available themes, use this command:

$ prompt -p
Manually installing prompt themes

It is possible to install themes manually, without external configuration manager tools. For a local installation, first create a folder and add it to the fpath array, eg:

$ mkdir ~/.zprompts && fpath=( "$HOME/.zprompts" $fpath )

Now create a symbolic link of your theme file in this folder:

$ ln -s mytheme.zsh ~/.zprompts/prompt_mytheme_setup

If instead you wish to install a theme globally, do:

# ln -s mytheme.zsh /usr/share/zsh/functions/Prompts/prompt_mytheme_setup

Now you should be able to activate it using:

$ prompt mytheme

If everything works, you can edit your .zshrc accordingly.

Customized prompt

Additionally to a primary left-sided prompt PS1 (PROMPT, prompt) that is common to all shells, Zsh also supports a right-sided prompt RPS1 (RPROMPT). These two variables are the ones you will want to set to a custom value.

Other special purpose prompts, such as PS2 (PROMPT2), PS3 (PROMPT3), PS4 (PROMPT4), RPS1 (RPROMPT), RPS2 (RPROMPT2) and SPROMPT, are explained in zshparam(1).

All prompts can be customized with prompt escapes. The available prompt escapes are listed in zshmisc(1).


Zsh sets colors differently than Bash, you do not need to use ANSI escape sequences. Zsh provides convenient prompt escapes to set the foreground color, background color and other visual effects; see zshmisc(1) for a list of them.

Colors can be specified using a decimal integer, the name of one of the eight most widely-supported colors or as a # followed by an RGB triplet in hexadecimal format. See the description of fg=colour in zshzle(1) for more details.

Most terminals support the following colors by name:

Name Number
black 0
red 1
green 2
yellow 3
blue 4
magenta 5
cyan 6
white 7

Color numbers 0–255 for terminal emulators compatible with xterm 256 colors can be found in the xterm-256color chart.

With a correctly set TERM environment variable, the terminal's supported maximum number of colors can be found from the terminfo(5) database using echoti colors. In the case of 24-bit colors, also check the COLORTERM environment variable with echo $COLORTERM. If it returns 24bit or truecolor then your terminal supports 16777216 (224) colors even if terminfo shows a smaller number.

  • The colors 0–15 may differ between terminal emulators and their used color schemes.
  • Many terminal emulators display bold with a brighter color.
  • Prompt escapes can be tested with command print -P "prompt escapes", for example:
    $ print -P '%B%F{red}co%F{green}lo%F{blue}rs%f%b'
  • If you use 24-bit colors, you might want to load the zsh/nearcolor module in terminals that do not support them. E.g.:
    [[ "$COLORTERM" == (24bit|truecolor) || "${terminfo[colors]}" -eq '16777216' ]] || zmodload zsh/nearcolor
    See zshmodules(1) for details about the zsh/nearcolor module.

Tango-view-fullscreen.pngThis article or section needs expansion.Tango-view-fullscreen.png

Reason: Add an example using a color from the 16–255 range and one with 24-bit color. (Discuss in Talk:Zsh#)

This is an example of a two-sided prompt:

PROMPT='%F{green}%n%f@%F{magenta}%m%f %F{blue}%B%~%b%f %# '

And here is how it will be displayed:

username@host ~ % [0]

Sample .zshrc files

See dotfiles#User repositories for more.

Configuration Frameworks

  • Antigen — A plugin manager for zsh, inspired by oh-my-zsh and vundle.
https://github.com/zsh-users/antigen || antigen-gitAUR
  • Antibody — A performance-focused plugin manager similar to Antigen.
https://github.com/getantibody/antibody || antibodyAUR
  • oh-my-zsh — A popular, community-driven framework for managing your Zsh configuration. It comes bundled with a ton of helpful functions, helpers, plugins, themes.
https://github.com/robbyrussell/oh-my-zsh || oh-my-zsh-gitAUR
  • Prezto — A configuration framework for Zsh. It comes with modules, enriching the command line interface environment with sane defaults, aliases, functions, auto completion, and prompt themes.
https://github.com/sorin-ionescu/prezto || prezto-gitAUR
  • ZIM — A configuration framework with blazing speed and modular extensions. Zim is very easy to customize, and comes with a rich set of modules and features without compromising on speed or functionality.
https://github.com/zimfw/zimfw || zsh-zim-gitAUR

Tips and tricks

Autostart X at login

See xinit#Autostart X at login.

The "command not found" hook

pkgfile includes a "command not found" hook that will automatically search the official repositories, when entering an unrecognized command.

You need to source the hook to enable it, for example:

source /usr/share/doc/pkgfile/command-not-found.zsh
Note: The pkgfile database may need to be updated before this will work. See pkgfile#Installation for details.

The ttyctl command

Tango-view-fullscreen.pngThis article or section needs expansion.Tango-view-fullscreen.png

Reason: ttyctl -f does not protect against echo -e '\e(0\e)B'. Provide an alternative using escape sequences in PROMPT.[1] (Discuss in Talk:Zsh#)

The ttyctl command can be used to "freeze/unfreeze" the terminal. Many programs change the terminal state, and often do not restore terminal settings on exiting abnormally. To avoid the need to manually reset the terminal, use the following:

ttyctl -f

Remembering recent directories


Zsh can be configured to remember the DIRSTACKSIZE last visited folders. This can then be used to cd them very quickly. You need to add some lines to your configuration file:

if [[ -f $DIRSTACKFILE ]] && [[ $#dirstack -eq 0 ]]; then
  dirstack=( ${(f)"$(< $DIRSTACKFILE)"} )
  [[ -d $dirstack[1] ]] && cd $dirstack[1]
chpwd() {
  print -l $PWD ${(u)dirstack} >$DIRSTACKFILE



## Remove duplicate entries

## This reverts the +/- operators.

Now use

$ dirs -v

to print the dirstack. Use cd -<NUM> to go back to a visited folder. Use autocompletion after the dash. This proves very handy if using the autocompletion menu.

Note: This will not work if you have more than one zsh session open, and attempt to cd, due to a conflict in both sessions writing to the same file.


cdr allows you to change the working directory to a previous working directory from a list maintained automatically. It stores all entries in files that are maintained across sessions and (by default) between terminal emulators in the current session.

See zshcontrib(1).

Help command

Zsh help command is called run-help. Unlike bash, zsh does not enable it by default. To use help in zsh, add following to your zshrc:

autoload -Uz run-help
unalias run-help
alias help=run-help

run-help will invoke man for external commands. Default keyboard shortcut is Alt+h or Esc+h.

run-help has assistant functions, they need to be enabled separately:

autoload -Uz run-help-git
autoload -Uz run-help-ip
autoload -Uz run-help-openssl
autoload -Uz run-help-p4
autoload -Uz run-help-sudo
autoload -Uz run-help-svk
autoload -Uz run-help-svn

For example run-help git commit command will now open the man page git-commit(1) instead of git(1).

Fish-like syntax highlighting

Fish provides a very powerful shell syntax highlighting. To use this in zsh, you can install zsh-syntax-highlighting from offical repository and add following to your zshrc:

source /usr/share/zsh/plugins/zsh-syntax-highlighting/zsh-syntax-highlighting.zsh

Persistent rehash

Typically, compinit will not automatically find new executables in the $PATH. For example, after you install a new package, the files in /usr/bin/ would not be immediately or automatically included in the completion. Thus, to have these new executables included, one would run:

$ rehash

This 'rehash' can be set to happen automatically.[2] Simply include the following in your zshrc:

zstyle ':completion:*' rehash true

On-demand rehash

As above, however pacman can be configured with hooks to automatically request a rehash, which does not incur the performance penalty of constant rehashing as above. To enable this, create the /etc/pacman.d/hooks directory, and a /var/cache/zsh directory, then create a hook file:

Operation = Install
Operation = Upgrade
Operation = Remove
Type = Package
Target = *
Depends = zsh
When = PostTransaction
Exec = /usr/bin/env touch /var/cache/zsh/pacman

This keeps the modification date of the file /var/cache/zsh/pacman consistent with the last time a package was installed, upgraded or removed. Then, zsh must be coaxed into rehashing its own command cache when it goes out of date, by adding to your ~/.zshrc:

zshcache_time="$(date +%s%N)"

autoload -Uz add-zsh-hook

rehash_precmd() {
  if [[ -a /var/cache/zsh/pacman ]]; then
    local paccache_time="$(date -r /var/cache/zsh/pacman +%s%N)"
    if (( zshcache_time < paccache_time )); then

add-zsh-hook -Uz precmd rehash_precmd

If the precmd hook is triggered before /var/cache/zsh/pacman is updated, completion may not work until a new prompt is initiated. Running an empty command, e.g. pressing enter, should be sufficient.

Alternative on-demand rehash using SIGUSR1

As above, however the hook file looks like this:

Operation = Install
Operation = Upgrade
Operation = Remove
Type = Package
Target = *

Depends = zsh
Depends = procps-ng
When = PostTransaction
Exec = /usr/bin/pkill zsh --signal=USR1
Warning: This sends SIGUSR1 to all running zsh instances. Note that the default behavior for SIGUSR1 is terminate so when you first configure this all running zsh instances of all users (including login shells) will terminate if they have not sourced the trap below.
catch_signal_usr1() {
  trap catch_signal_usr1 USR1
trap catch_signal_usr1 USR1

This method will instantly rehash all zsh instances, removing the need to press enter to trigger precmd.

Bind key to ncurses application

Bind a ncurses application to a keystroke, but it will not accept interaction. Use BUFFER variable to make it work. The following example lets users open ncmpcpp using Alt+\:

ncmpcppShow() { BUFFER="ncmpcpp"; zle accept-line; }
zle -N ncmpcppShow
bindkey '^[\' ncmpcppShow

An alternate method, that will keep everything you entered in the line before calling application:

ncmpcppShow() { ncmpcpp <$TTY; zle redisplay; }
zle -N ncmpcppShow
bindkey '^[\' ncmpcppShow

File manager key binds

Key binds like those used in graphic file managers may come handy. The first comes back in directory history (Alt+Left), the second let the user go to the parent directory (Alt+Up). They also display the directory content.

cdUndoKey() {
  zle       reset-prompt
  zle       reset-prompt

cdParentKey() {
  pushd ..
  zle      reset-prompt
  zle       reset-prompt

zle -N                 cdParentKey
zle -N                 cdUndoKey
bindkey '^[[1;3A'      cdParentKey
bindkey '^[[1;3D'      cdUndoKey

xterm title

If your terminal emulator supports it you can set its title from Zsh. This allows dynamically changing the the title to display relevant information about the shell state, for example showing the user name and current directory or the currently executing command.

xterm title is set with the xterm escape sequence \e]2;\a. For example:

$ print -n '\e]2;My xterm title\a'

will set the title to

My xterm title

An simple way to have a dynamic title is to set the title in a hook functions precmd and preexec. See zshmisc(1).

By using print -P you can take advantage of prompt escapes.

  • Title printing can be split up in multiple commands as long as they are sequential.
  • GNU Screen sends the xterm title to the hardstatus (%h). If you want to use Screen's string escapes (e.g. for colors) you should set the hardstatus with the \e_\e\\ escape sequence. Otherwise, if string escapes are used in \e]2;\a, the terminal emulator will get a garbled title due to it being incapable of interpreting them.
  • Do not use -P option of print when printing variables to prevent them from being parsed as prompt escapes.
  • Use q parameter expansion flag when printing variables to prevent them from being parsed as escape sequences.
autoload -Uz add-zsh-hook

function xterm_title_precmd () {
	print -Pn '\e]2;%n@%m %~\a'
	[[ "$TERM" == 'screen'* ]] && print -Pn '\e_\005{g}%n\005{-}@\005{m}%m\005{-} \005{B}%~\005{-}\e\\'

function xterm_title_preexec () {
	print -Pn '\e]2;%n@%m %~ %# ' && print -n "${(q)1}\a"
	[[ "$TERM" == 'screen'* ]] && { print -Pn '\e_\005{g}%n\005{-}@\005{m}%m\005{-} \005{B}%~\005{-} %# ' && print -n "${(q)1}\e\\"; }

if [[ "$TERM" == (screen*|xterm*|rxvt*) ]]; then
	add-zsh-hook -Uz precmd xterm_title_precmd
	add-zsh-hook -Uz preexec xterm_title_preexec

Terminal emulator tab title

Some terminal emulators and multiplexers support setting the title of the tab. The escape sequences depend on the terminal:

Terminal Escape sequences Description
GNU Screen \ek\e\\ Screen's window title (%t).
Konsole \e]30;\a Konsole's tab title.


Change the default shell before removing the zsh package.

Warning: Failure to follow the below procedure may result in users no longer having access to a working shell.

Run following command:

$ chsh -s /bin/bash user

Use it for every user with zsh set as their login shell (including root if needed). When completed, the zsh package can be removed.

Alternatively, change the default shell back to Bash by editing /etc/passwd as root.

Warning: It is strongly recommended to use vipw(8) when editing /etc/passwd as it helps prevent invalid entries and/or syntax errors.

For example, change the following:

username:x:1000:1000:Full Name,,,:/home/username:/bin/zsh

To this:

username:x:1000:1000:Full Name,,,:/home/username:/bin/bash

See also