A Good Terminal Setup

Posted January 1, 2013


Terminal. Even in the modern age of indisputably fantastic IDE's and other GUI development tools, developing from the terminal provides some benefits that standard desktop development still fails to match. Arguing those benefits is not the point of this article though!

Here I'll cover what I believe is a very solid terminal development setup. Is it the best? Most definitely not. With every additional month in my software development career my development environment continues to improve. I've no doubt my environment a year from now will be significantly better than it is now. I've just reached a point where I'm fairly comfortable saying I've arrived at a pretty productive, lightweight, and above all fun environment for my day to day development.

Disclaimer: I spend most of my day writing python, bash, and ruby. If you're writing mostly Java or C++, you're likely spending a lot of your day in an IDE, and the terminal becomes distinctly less attractive.


This is a guide on terminal setup, but you'll need a UNIX-like environment to follow along. I do most of my development on a Macbook Air. OS X is a great environment for my style of development.

iTerm2, not Terminal.app

If you're coming from Windows, Terminal.app likely looks pretty sweet. Don't be fooled—grab iterm2 right away and don't look back. The colors are better, the fonts look better, the settings are better. It is better.


Brew is an OS X package manager and it is fantastic. Get it.


Are you still cding around everywhere? Welcome to the 21st century, grab yourself an autojump and take a seat. Autojump basically just manages a database of folders you've visited and lets you jump between them by just specifying part of the path.

So, instead of:

[~/]: cd path/to/my/project

you can do

[~/]: j project

Much faster.


This is the latest addition to my environment. Tmux is a Terminal MUltipleXer. It's basically a window manager for you terminal, where each window/pane is its own shell session. So you can split your terminal in half and have a file open in one split and an ssh session to your serve in the other half.

iTerm2 provides this same functionality at the GUI level, but I'm a big fan of having heavily customizable tools and tmux appears to have better prospects in this regard. It also has this thing called copy-mode, where you can do a vi-like visual block selection thing to copy text from one window to another without using the mouse. The mouse is evil. This is a win.


This is by far my highest recommended tool of this entire article. Vim changed my development speed and enjoyment immensely. Editing text used to be a point, click, then type a little then point, click, then type a little experience. Now it is a type a little, then a little more, then continue typing, then keep typing experience.

Has Vim made me a better developer? No. Your editor can't do that. But it has lowered the barriers to my text-editing experience. Additionally, Vim is fun. It just is. Wrangling text in Vim is a pleasant experience and there are times where I reach for an open side-project just because I feel like spending some time in vim. Vim really lowered the barrier from my brain to code on a screen.

Check out my vimrc.


Time to talk shells. bash is great, but I've found zsh to be better. It has sexier prompts, better autocompletion, and awesome goodies like command syntax coloring.

Seriously, the tab completion alone elevates it far above bash. Add to that the ability to define wonderful prompts (with the help of oh-my-zsh), and vi-mode, and you're already well on your way to having a kickass command line experience.