Tmux for mere mortals

Tmux has liberated me from tiling window mangers. Not that I didn’t like those, but I occasionally have to work with macOS or default GNOME setups. And over the years I realised that I only need a terminal multiplexor to do terminal tiling for me, the rest of the windows are just fine to be full-screen in separate workspaces.

So, I ended up doing 80% of my work in terminals with tmux. But, the prefix thing? Pardonnez-moi, but usability matters. Pressing a chorded prefix hotkey only to press another chorded hotkey to perform a single action is clear nonsense.

With this in mind, I decided to customize my tmux to use only simple chorded hotkeys without a prefix for most common actions, and to make them easy to remember. Additionally, my goal was not to override anything in the default tmux configuration to be able to use default tmux as well, if I have to (i.e. when ssh’ed to some remote server). Finally, I wanted it to be similar in German/US keyboards, as well as work for MacBooks and regular laptops.

Here’s what I came up with:

keys-without-shift

Intuitive? Now, same hotkeys with Shift key are used to modify things:

keys-with-shift

That’s pretty much everything I ever needed from tmux. For other, less frequent actions I accept to use the default bindings, from time to time.

Additionally, I would like tmux to use my primary clipboard on all systems, so that I would only have to copy text with my mouse or keyboard selection. Resizing panes is also usable with a mouse.

As for the status bar, I’m not a big fan of being overloaded with information, so I only show window names there, or in the case then window has only an open shell - current directory name.

Nothing else.

Here’s the tmux.conf (or you may always have a look at my dotfiles for a newer version:

set-option -g default-terminal screen-256color
set -g history-limit 10000
set -g base-index 1
set-option -g renumber-windows on
set -s escape-time 0
bind-key -n M-n new-window -c "#{pane_current_path}"
bind-key -n M-1 select-window -t :1
bind-key -n M-2 select-window -t :2
bind-key -n M-3 select-window -t :3
bind-key -n M-4 select-window -t :4
bind-key -n M-5 select-window -t :5
bind-key -n M-6 select-window -t :6
bind-key -n M-7 select-window -t :7
bind-key -n M-8 select-window -t :8
bind-key -n M-9 select-window -t :9
bind-key -n M-0 select-window -t :0
bind-key -n M-. select-window -n
bind-key -n M-, select-window -p
bind-key -n M-< swap-window -t -1
bind-key -n M-> swap-window -t +1
bind-key -n M-X confirm-before "kill-window"
bind-key -n M-v split-window -h -c "#{pane_current_path}"
bind-key -n M-b split-window -v -c "#{pane_current_path}"
bind-key -n M-R command-prompt -I "" "rename-window '%%'"
bind-key -n M-f resize-pane -Z
bind-key -n M-h select-pane -L
bind-key -n M-l select-pane -R
bind-key -n M-k select-pane -U
bind-key -n M-j select-pane -D
bind-key -n M-Left select-pane -L
bind-key -n M-Right select-pane -R
bind-key -n M-Up select-pane -U
bind-key -n M-Down select-pane -D
bind-key -n "M-H" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -L; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n "M-J" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -D; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n "M-K" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -U; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n "M-L" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -R; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n "M-S-Left" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -L; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n "M-S-Down" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -D; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n "M-S-Up" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -U; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n "M-S-Right" run-shell 'old=`tmux display -p "#{pane_index}"`; tmux select-pane -R; tmux swap-pane -t $old'
bind-key -n M-x confirm-before "kill-pane"
bind-key -n M-/ copy-mode

# Linux system clipboard
bind -T copy-mode-vi Enter send-keys -X copy-pipe-and-cancel "xclip -in -selection clipboard"
bind-key -T copy-mode-vi MouseDragEnd1Pane send -X copy-pipe-and-cancel "xclip -in -selection clipboard"

# macOS system clipboard
#bind -T copy-mode-vi Enter send-keys -X copy-pipe-and-cancel "pbcopy"
#bind-key -T copy-mode-vi MouseDragEnd1Pane send -X copy-pipe-and-cancel "pbcopy"

set -g mouse on
set-option -g status-keys vi
set-option -g set-titles on
set-option -g set-titles-string 'tmux - #W'
set -g bell-action any
set-option -g visual-bell off
set-option -g set-clipboard off
setw -g mode-keys vi
setw -g monitor-activity on
set -g visual-activity on
set -g status-style fg=colour15
set -g status-justify centre
set -g status-left ''
set -g status-right ''
set -g status-interval 1
set -g message-style fg=colour0,bg=colour3
setw -g window-status-bell-style fg=colour1
setw -g window-status-current-style fg=yellow,bold
setw -g window-status-style fg=colour250
setw -g window-status-current-format ' #{?#{==:#W,#{b:SHELL}},#{b:pane_current_path},#W} '
setw -g window-status-format ' #{?#{==:#W,#{b:SHELL}},#{b:pane_current_path},#W} '
# For older tmux:
#setw -g window-status-format ' #W '
#setw -g window-status-current-format ' #W '

Now tmux feels like a regular desktop app and truly boosts the productivity in the terminal. What do you think?

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Apr 25, 2020

See also: How to configure zsh and more.