pretty terminal

Why modify? Because it’s cool, that’s why.

  • Do you use a Mac? If yes, continue. If no, … well you get nothing, you lose, good day sir.
  • Do you use Terminal? If yes, continue. If no, try here.
  • Do you hate the Terminal default parameters and the available alternatives? If yes, continue!

So what’s this about? Really it’s about me not liking the color palette of my Terminal and wanting to change two basic features:

  1. Get access to a much larger set of potential color palettes to use within Terminal.
  2. Specify the colors in the output of a few commands like grep and especially ls. It turns out this is way easier with Linux than with Mac, which, well, of course.

Let’s deal with each of these separately…

Get a big palette

There are a lot of sites out there that will help you generate a suite of custom colors. I wanted to be as simple as possible and not design any of them myself, rather, just look through a list of these custom palettes and pick which one (or ten) I wanted. This color editor does exactly that, and because it’s through a Git repository it’s very straightforward to implement.

No idea what I’m talking about with Git? Start with their page, read this long explanation, and if you’re still game, download it.

Alternatively, check out one of my first blogs that outlines programs I initially install on a new machine – including Git!

Install directions are right on the page but I didn’t follow them exactly. Here’s what I did instead:

Step 1 – scroll through the main page and find a palette you like. Remember the name. I liked this one

Step 2 – Open up your Terminal program and clone the repo as follows:

Side note: I have a generic Repos subdirectory within $HOME to place most of my cloned repos… that’s used in the example below

cd $HOME/Repos
git clone

Step 3 – Continue using terminal to find the path to the file you want specifically. Remember the name from Step 1?

cd $HOME/Repos/osx-terminal-themes/schemes

This should produce an output along the lines of: /Users/do/Repos/osx-terminal-themes/schemes (but you won’t have do)…

Step 4 – Click on the “Terminal” icon and open up Preferences. There are four main icons across the top of the Preferences window – click on the one labeled Profiles. From that Profiles window, click on the gear-shaped icon at the bottom (often called a settings icon in a lot of software), then click “import“. From that point you just navigate to whatever directory your output of the pwd command generated from Step 3 and select the file name you wanted from Step 1. This should generate a new icon in that Profiles window and you can click on the Default icon right next to the gear you clicked on previously to make this new color scheme the one that you get every time you open the Terminal program (otherwise you just need to go into Preferences and select it each time).

This gives you a really broad palette of color shemes, but you are of course limited by whatever is among these presets. If you look through these files themselves, they’re in a funky .xml code – here’s a snippet:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

If you understand (a) XML, and (b) want to sift through the list of ANSI color codes, well good on you, it’s all right there for the mixing and (endlessly) matching. If you’re like me, you’re hoping someone has programatically come up with a GUI that just lets you select all this by color, and generates the script that these custom palettes are based on. And of course there is…

Try this site. My brief advice: look for the Scheme Browser window in the bottom/middle, and play with those selections first. If you find one you like, click Export only after you’ve selected your terminal type, which turns out to be You can download the text file or just copy and paste the output generated into a new file, and provided you know what the path to that file is, you can follow the same instructions above to use that uber custom design.

But default, whatever palette you choose – custom or not – won’t necessarily retrieve colored outputs of your grep and ls commands. We’ll change that next.

Give me color!

What’s the motivation here? I like color and I it bothers me when I can’t automatically differentiate between directories and files. It turns out there is a sort of generic response to this problem, which essentially amounts to a “turn coloring on” command – see this site for a blog post about doing just that. If that’s really all you need, you can also customize that a bit further with this handy color generator page.

Getting any color to differentiate say files from directories is nice, but I deal with a lot of different file types and it’s helpful to easily differentiate certain file types from one another (ex. file.txt vs. file.csv) – see this thread for another example and discussion. What I really wanted was a way to customize any file type as well as directories.

Truthfully, all we’re really going to do is something that is a specific example of a more generic process – mucking with the .bashrc (or alternatively .bash_profile) file to generate a few alias commands so we don’t have to type and retype our custom colored outputs from grep and ls commands. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy with a Mac as it would be with a Linux machine, so we’re going to have to do a little bit of a workaround to get it all together.

  • don’t know what an alias is? that’s okay – try this
  • don’t know what a .bash_profile or .bashrc are? I didn’t either! try this… turns out the answer is different depending on Linux or Mac OS

Note that you do not need to have a custom color palette selected within your Terminal app to generate a custom color output generated from things like ls and grep commands. While these will work with the steps described above, the first half of this post isn’t required.

Step 1 – find your .bashrc file: Unless you’ve made a lot of changes already, by default your Terminal app should open to something like /Users/{yourname}/; in my case when I open up a new Terminal app it looks like /Users/do. From there you should automatically have .bash_profile that is accessible by throwing a “do not ignore hidden files” argument as follows:

## where are you?

## if not home, go there:
cd $HOME

## bring up .bashrc
ls -a

This should generate a list of files in your Users/{yourname} directory including the .bashrc. You’ll be able to edit that profile by appending the following info using your favorite text editor (ex. nano, vim) in a few moments. Just remember where that file is for now.

Step 2 – Mac my Mac more like Linux.
After searching online for hours (not an exaggeration) I realized that everything I was querying was getting answered by Linux users, and none of their solutions worked for me because – and this is important – a Mac OS is not a Linux OS. I need to keep reminding this to myself constantly…

What you need to do is trick the Mac’s command-line interface into behaving more like a Linux OS. The most straightforward way of doing this is by installing something a package called coreutils. See this post for an explanation of a few ways to install the program. Because I used Homebrew as my package manager, this was pretty straightforward; it’s also just as simple if you use Conda instead (see below).

brew install coreutils
  • If you use Conda instead of Homebrew, you’ll use conda install -c bioconda coreutils
  • If you don’t know anything about package mangers, try this.

With package managers like Homebrew and Conda you won’t need to do anything else and can use these new commands right away. If something in subsequent steps isn’t working try closing your current shell and starting opening up a new Terminal window.

Step 3 – Edit your .bashrc script .
Remember where your .bashrc file went (see Step 1)?
Let’s open that up and add the following using whatever text editor you want (I used nano by typing nano .bashrc:

## color my grep output
alias grep="grep --color=always"

## color my 'ls' outputs according to specific file extensions
export LS_COLORS
alias ls="gls --color=auto"

When you close the text editor you’ll need to restart the shell by closing and opening a new window, or you can source the profile directly with . ~/.bashrc and just carry on.

So what exactly is in that custom script? Two things, both defined by the alias commands we’ve communicated:

  • alias grep indicates that you will always get colored output in your grep commands. Real simple. If you don’t want color, or want to modify the output of that color you can look into further modifications in the grep manual.
  • alias ls is specifying to automatically color whatever the specifications are in the LS_COLORS environmental variable, which is something we defined in the LS_COLORS="di=1... line.

It turns out the LS_COLORS="di=1... line is the really important one in the sense that it gives you the flexibility for all the customization of associating certain file extensions with certain colors. See this post for a wonderful explanation of these in great detail. So what did I specify in the above LS_COLORS=... command?

  • di=1 indicates that I want to make all directories bold relative to all other things listed (ie. files of any kind).
  • *.csv=0;31 indicates to color any file extension with a .csv value as red. Why? Again, see this post to understand the relationship of these numeric values with corresponding colors (ok, quickly, the first value just means “use default” and the second value in this case is specifying a color).
  • fi=0;34 indicates that all files will be colored blue .
  • *.txt=0;35 as you might have guessed now just specifies a different color for anything that is a .txt file .

Notably, whatever the default colors is in your Profile scheme is what will be shown. All we’re doing is overrriding those defaults. What this amounts to is generating a heirarchy of colors – so we start with the base coloring (which is defined by your Profile scheme) and then modify certain features by specifying what kinds of files/directories get which features/colors applied. There’s plenty of other ways to modify, but I find this the easiest and simplest.

Good luck!

Categories computery

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