How to Use tmux the Terminal Multiplexer

Updated by Linode Contributed by Alexandru Andrei

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What is tmux?

Tmux is a terminal multiplexer. It creates a host server on your Linode and connects to it with a client window. If the client is disconnected, the server keeps running. When you reconnect to your Linode after rebooting your computer or losing your Internet connection, you can reattach to the tmux session and the files you were working with will still be open, and the processes you had running will still be active.

By attaching multiple sessions, windows, and panes to a tmux server, you can organize your workflow and easily manage multiple tasks and processes.

Install tmux

Install tmux with your distribution’s package manager.

On Debian or Ubuntu:

sudo apt install tmux

Attach and Detach from a tmux Session

  1. When tmux is started it creates a new session with one window and one pane. Start a session:


    Your terminal window should have a green menu bar at the bottom, similar to the one below:

    Tmux menu

  2. Detach from the session:

    tmux detach

    This will return you to the basic terminal.

  3. Once a session has been started, it will continue to run as long as the Linode is running, or until you stop the session. You can log out of your current session, and reattach to the previous session.

    tmux attach

tmux Commands

There are three ways to issue commands to tmux:

  • shortcuts: tmux uses what is called a prefix key, which is CTRL+b by default. tmux will interpret the keystroke following the prefix as a tmux shortcut. For example: to detach from your session using a shortcut: press CTRL+b, release both keys and then press d.
  • command mode: Enter command mode by pressing Prefix then :. This will open a command prompt at the bottom of the screen, which will accept tmux commands.
  • command line: Commands can also be entered directly to the command line within a tmux session. Usually these commands are prefaced by tmux. The tmux attach command used in the previous section was an example of this type of command.

Most tmux tasks can be accomplished using any of these three methods.

You can change the prefix key by editing the .tmux.config file. For the remainder of this guide, Prefix will be used to refer to either the default CTRL+b or the combination you have chosen in your configuration file.

Manage tmux Windows

When a tmux session starts, a single window is created by default. It is possible to attach multiple windows to the same session and switch between them as needed. This can be helpful when you want to run multiple jobs in parallel.

Command Result
Prefix + c Create a new window
Prefix + p Switch to the previous window
Prefix + n Switch to the next window
Prefix + 0-9 Switch to a window using it’s index number
Prefix + w Choose a window from an interactive list
exit Close a window
Prefix + & Force kill-all processes in an unresponsive window

By default, tmux names each window according to the process that spawned it (most commonly bash). To give windows names that are easier to remember and work with, you can rename a window with Prefix + ,.

Manage tmux Panes

Each window can be divided into multiple panes. This is useful when you want outputs from multiple processes visible within a single window.

Command Result
Prefix + Split the active pane horizontally
Prefix + % Split the active pane vertically
Prefix + arrow key Switch to another pane
Prefix + ALT+arrow Resize the active pane
Prefix + z Zoom in on the active pane. Press the same combination again to exit zoom mode
exit Close the active pane
Prefix + x Force kill an unresponsive process in a pane

Manage tmux Sessions

Sometimes even multiple windows and panes aren’t enough and you need to separate the layouts logically by grouping them into separate sessions. Open the command prompt with Prefix then :, then start a new session:

It’s also possible to type shorter versions of a command, for example: “new-se”. But this will work only if it there isn’t another command that starts with the same string of characters.
Command Result
Prefix + ( Switch to the previous session
Prefix + ) Switch to the next session
Prefix + s Display an interactive session list
tmux ls List all available sessions
tmux attach -t 0 Zoom in on the active pane. Press the same combination again to exit zoom mode
tmux kill-server Destroy all sessions and kill all processes

Create a tmux Configuration File

  1. As you get comfortable with tmux, you may want to change some of the defaults. Using a text editor, create a configuration file in your user’s home directory:

    # Uncomment the lines with the options you want to activate (by deleting the preceding "#")
    # Allow mouse interaction
    # set-option -g mouse on
    # Change prefix key to CTRL+A. "C-" stands for CTRL, "M-" stands for ALT key
    # set-option -g prefix C-a
    # unbind-key C-b
    # bind-key C-a send-prefix
    # Display CPU load average for the last 1,5 and 15 minutes, in the status bar
    set -g status-right "#(cut -d ' ' -f -3 /proc/loadavg) %H:%M %d-%b-%y"
  2. When you have saved your changes to this file, load the new configuration. Enter the tmux command mode by pressing Prefix then :, then use the following command:

    source-file ~/.tmux.conf
  3. With the mouse option enabled you can use the pointer to interact with tmux panes, windows and status bar. For example you can click on a window name in the status bar to switch to it or you can click and drag a pane line to resize it.

  4. Other configuration options are available in the tmux manual.

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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This guide is published under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.