How to Install and Use the Linux bat Command

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The bat command is a clone of the ubiquitous cat command. It modernizes cat with a more readable design and features like syntax highlighting and a Git integration. This guide details how bat compares with its predecessor and shows you how to install and start using it on your Linux system.

Before You Begin

  1. Familiarize yourself with our Getting Started with Linode guide and complete the steps for setting your Linode’s hostname and timezone.

  2. This guide uses sudo wherever possible. Complete the sections of our How to Secure Your Server guide to create a standard user account, harden SSH access, and remove unnecessary network services.

  3. Update your system.

    • On Debian and Ubuntu, run the following commands:

        sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade
      
    • On AlmaLinux and CentOS, run the following command:

        sudo yum update
      
    • On Fedora, run the following command:

        sudo dnf upgrade
      
Note
The steps in this guide are written for a non-root user. Commands that require elevated privileges are prefixed with sudo. If you’re not familiar with the sudo command, see the Linux Users and Groups guide.

bat vs. cat

You may be familiar with the Linux cat command. It is included in most distributions by default and gets referenced frequently as a quick way of viewing the contents of a file contents while on the command line.

Like cat, bat also gives you a simple command-line method for displaying file contents. But bat comes with a more modern display and several added features that set it apart.

For one, bat adds syntax highlighting. This, combined with other display enhancements — easier-to-follow formatting, pagination, graphical non-printing characters — makes bat exceptional for reading files that contain code.

bat also comes ready to integrate with several other command-line tools, chief among them is Git. By default, bat provides annotations to indicate modified lines for files tracked by Git. You can even use bat to view past versions of files under version control.

How to Install bat

For many Linux distributions, you can get bat from the package manager. This is the case for Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora distributions.

  • For Debian and Ubuntu, install bat using the following command:

      sudo apt install bat
    

    On Debian and Ubuntu, bat uses the batcat command by default because of a conflict with an existing package, bacula-console-qt. You can, however, use the following commands to link the bat command:

      mkdir -p ~/.local/bin
      ln -s /usr/bin/batcat ~/.local/bin/bat
    
    Note
    If you have installed the bacula-console-qt package, be sure to remove it before executing the commands listed above. Otherwise, if you choose to keep bacula-console-qt installed, you must stick with using the batcat command instead of bat.
  • For Fedora:

      sudo dnf install bat
    

For AlmaLinux and CentOS, a few more steps are required. For those distributions, follow the steps below to download the appropriate bat release and install it.

  1. If you do not already have it, install tar, which you use to extract the bat package in a later step.

     sudo yum install tar
    
  2. Check the CPU architecture of your Linux system using the following command:

     uname -a
    

    Here is an example of what your output might look like.

    Linux hostname 4.18.0-305.7.1.el8_4.x86_64 #1 SMP Thu Jul 1 02:00:00 EDT 2021 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

    In this example — and in the commands that follow — the CPU architecture is x86_64.

  3. Identify the latest version of bat from the release page. Find the corresponding .tar.gz package with your system’s CPU architecture, followed by unknown-linux-musl in the name. Copy the URL for that release package. The URL is needed in the next step.

  4. Copy the package’s URL, and use the following command to download the package as bat.zip.

     curl -o bat.zip -L https://github.com/sharkdp/bat/releases/download/v0.18.2/bat-v0.18.2-x86_64-unknown-linux-musl.tar.gz
    
  5. Extract the package.

     tar -xvzf bat.zip
    
  6. Move the bat files to /usr/local.

     sudo mv bat-v0.18.2-x86_64-unknown-linux-musl /usr/local/bat
    
  7. Add an alias for bat to your .bashrc file. Likely, the file is located in your user’s home directory, as in: ~/.bashrc. You can create the alias by adding the following line to the end of the file.

    File: ~/.bashrc
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    [...]
    
    alias bat="/usr/local/bat/bat"
        

Once you have installed bat, by whatever method, you can verify the installation using the version command.

bat --version
bat 0.18.2

How to Use bat

Getting started with bat is similar to the basic usage of the cat command. You issue the bat command, followed by the path to a file you want to view.

To really show off the capabilities of bat, this guide uses some example code provided in the Flask-RESTful GitHub project. You can get the code by installing Git (if you do not already have it) and cloning the repository. Replace apt with dnf if you are on Fedora, and yum if you are on AlmaLinux or CentOS.

sudo apt install git
git clone https://github.com/flask-restful/flask-restful.git

Now, you can open up one of the Python files in this repository using bat.

bat flask-restful/examples/todo.py

Python code in bat

By default, bat uses less to paginate its results. However, you can also have bat print to the command line, just like in cat with the --paging=never flag.

bat --paging=never flask-restful/examples/todo.py

Like cat, bat gives the option to show non-printing characters, making it easier to track spaces, tabs, line breaks, etc. But bat has the added advantage of using special characters and highlighting to represent non-printing characters more clearly.

bat --show-all flask-restful/examples/todo.py

Python code with non-printing characters in bat

Git Integration

bat also integrates with Git. To see it at work, open the todo.py file with your preferred text editor, and make some changes to it. Then, open the file again with bat. You can see that bat includes Git annotations on the modified lines.

Python code with Git annotations in bat

Using a command combination between Git and bat, you can even bat to view past versions of files in a Git repository.

The method uses Git’s show command, which requires you to specify a file version. Refer to the Specifying Revisions section of Git’s revisions documentation for the various ways of doing that.

The example below looks at past commits on the todo.py file shown above. It then gets a past version of the file using one of the commit’s identifiers.

  1. Change into the repository’s directory. This example assumes you cloned the repository to your current user’s home directory (~).

     cd ~/flask-restful
    
  2. Get a list of commits on the file.

     git log examples/todo.py
    
    commit 871f4e69e7758cb983056b469ec4ae40963ed1bb
    Author: Josh Friend <[email protected]>
    Date:   Mon Jul 20 09:28:15 2015 -0400
    
        Fix examples using type=str
    
        closes #461
    
    commit 8bdba92ef54645ada501a39edc0bc68d34127b64
    Author: Josh Friend <[email protected]>
    Date:   Sat Mar 21 22:57:40 2015 -0400
    
        fix references to flask.ext.* (fixes #420)
    
    commit 566431a24dac4dcf236fe06850fe96a9a3ab1890
    Author: Victor Neo <[email protected]>
    Date:   Mon Dec 24 01:46:18 2012 +0800
    
        Update documentation full example and sync with todo.py example.
    
    commit a4465e3e9cc4c30e7f53e0b908f734a42ed32da4
    Author: Ryan Horn <[email protected]>
    Date:   Tue Oct 16 21:07:16 2012 -0700
    
        Flask-RESTful
  3. Decide on a version you want; this example uses the earliest commit listed. Copy its commit identifier, and use that identifier in the following command:

     git show a4465e3e9cc4c30e7f53e0b908f734a42ed32da4:examples/todo.py | bat -l rs
    

    Past version of a Git file shown in bat

How to Customize Syntax Highlighting in bat

You can customize the syntax highlighting in bat. Whether you want a different color palette or you need to add highlighting support for a specific language, bat gives you customization options.

Set the Highlighting Theme for bat

bat comes with a host of themes for syntax highlighting. You can get a list of them, along with samples, using the command below:

bat --list-themes

Excerpt from the list of bat themes

To select the theme you want to use, follow one of the options listed below:

  • Use the --theme flag when running bat. With this method, you have to use the --theme flag each time you run the bat command.

      bat --theme="Solarized (dark)" ~/flask-restful/examples/todo.py
    
  • Set the BAT_THEME environment variable for the shell session. This approach keeps the theme so long as your shell session is alive.

      export BAT_THEME="Solarized (dark)"
    
  • Set the BAT_THEME environment variable in your .bashrc to make the theme selection persistent across your shell sessions.

    File: ~/.bashrc
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    [...]
    
    export BAT_THEME="Solarized (dark)"
        

Add Languages for Syntax Highlighting in bat

You can get a list of languages that your bat installation supports for syntax highlighting with the --list-languages option.

bat --list-languages

If bat lacks highlighting for a language you want, you can add it yourself. bat supports Sublime Text syntax files — .sublime-syntax. There is also a package manager for Sublime Text called Package Control that is used to install packages and keep them up-to-date.

The following steps show you how to add a language once you find a .sublime-syntax file you want to use. This example uses a package found on Package Control for the Fennel programming language.

  1. Create a syntaxes directory in the bat configuration directory.

     mkdir -p "$(bat --config-dir)/syntaxes"
    
  2. Place the .sublime-syntax file in this directory. This example clones the Git repository for the Fennel language package, which has the syntax file in its base.

     cd "$(bat --config-dir)/syntaxes"
     git clone https://github.com/gbaptista/sublime-text-fennel.git
    
  3. Have bat parse the syntax files.

     bat cache --build
    
  4. Verify that your language option — Fennel, in this case — has been added to the list of languages in bat.

     bat --list-languages
    
    [...]
    Fennel                            fnl
    [...]

More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

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