Jul 09, 2022
These days many people use a fancy shell prompt. I’ve tried fancy shell prompts, and I actually used one for a while. Later on, however, I ran into a few problems with my large prompt.
When working with a terminal on a screen with little available space, longer shell prompts would wrap onto the next line.
When writing longer commands (typically with something
make and then calling valgrind with
options, which I did quite often as a C programmer),
the commands would wrap onto the next line. This isn’t
really a problem unless you’re using a very small terminal,
but I use smaller terminals.
I use the terminal a lot. I’d probably say that
st is my
most used program besides maybe
firefox-bin. I always have
terminals open, even if I’m not directly using one. I leave
cmus open on another monitor. What this
means is that larger (especially multi-line) prompts require
you to clear the screen quite often. This is trivial, but it
becomes annoying having to scroll back up to look at the output
of a previous command, when you only ran it a couple commands
If you think that I’m being unreasonable by complaining about line breaks, most project style standards enforce a line length limit of 80 characters, a primary example being the Linux kernel.
The following is an example of my shell prompt over time:
[(exit code) (time taken) (git) user@hostname path/to/cwd] $ [path/to/cwd] $ [bold(path/to/cwd)] $ path/to/cwd %
I stopped showing the current directory because I found that after
changing directories I would almost always
ls anyway, which would
almost always let me know where I was. In the rare case that I didn’t
know (or had left a terminal open and forgotten where I was),
fairly easy to type (though this is in my opinion the main downside
of removing the current directory from your prompt).
I also found that having a shell prompt with a consistent width was
very beneficial for scripting. You can look at my build of
an example. Using Luke Smith’s script
to copy the output of the previous command worked much better when
using a consistent shell prompt.
I’ve also found that it lets me focus better on what I’m actually doing. The more crowded my shell is the less I feel I actually have any space to type commands. You can’t make aliases for everything, so it helps to have the extra terminal real estate.
If you really want a little more information, you could change the
color of the
% to indicate the result of the previous command or
something else. If it’s red, the previous command failed. If it’s
bolded, you’re root, etc.
If you don’t use the terminal much, or just want the extra information, then you can do as you’d like. But I’ve found that the more I used the terminal, the smaller I made my shell prompt.