tmux Lets Command-line Junkies Multiplex Their Terminals

Serious command-line users will definitely love tmux, a utility that allows you to split your terminal window into multiple screens.

If you’re already a terminal junkie, you might notice that this sounds a lot like GNU Screen, and you’re right. But while Screen is useful for having multiple terminals on one screen, it’s painful to set up, with lots of obscure commands and features. tmux (which stands for “terminal multiplexer”) is a lot more user-friendly, or at least as friendly as an application running under the command line and intended for technical users is going to get.

tmux screenshot

tmux is developed by the OpenBSD team. If you’re already using the security-focused operating system, it’s already included by default. It’s also available for every Linux and Unix version out there.

tmux is immediately useful for keeping your terminal sessions alive no matter what happens, which is extremely useful for working over Wi-Fi while logged in over SSH. You can detach your session from a server, walk over to another machine, log in and attach it from there. If you’re an IRC junkie and you have access to a shell account, you can use this and stay active, running a client like Irssi, while it’s detached.

The best part is the ability to split one terminal into multiple windows. If you press “Ctrl-B”, followed by “c”, you’ll create a new window. You can switch among your windows by hitting “Ctrl-B” and the number. It works a lot like tabs in your browser.

You can split one window into multiple panes, either vertically or horizontally. As the screenshot above shows, you can go completely nuts, having as many panes and windows, and as many sessions as you like, or at least until you tick off the sysadmin. You can also do neat things like grow and resize your panes, rotate them,

It’s a lot easier to see it in action (and to try it!) rather than just read a description. Fortunately, there are plenty of screencasts available on YouTube demonstrating tmux, like this one:

This is only scratching the surface. If this post has piqued your curiosity, you’ll want to check out the manual. There are so many options that you can spend a lifetime customizing tmux to your liking, as with any good Unix app.

Don’t miss our look at Telehack, a faithful recreation of the retro Internet as well as our list of the 6 best text-only applications, which will be good to use with tmux.