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Z shell

Last updated: 2021 February 17

  1. Installation
  2. UPDATE: Powerlevel10k
  3. Configuration
  4. Appearance Customization
  5. ls with icons and colors
  6. Syntax Highlighting
  7. Other Fixes
  8. Unresolved Issues

The most up-to-date version of my .zshrc configuration is in my dotfiles repository. For more info on setting up/saving/retrieving dotfiles with git, see this section. If adding existing dotfiles to a new system, install ZSH and Oh-My-ZSH before cloning the dotfiles repo (otherwise it looks like the .zshrc gets overwritten).


Install zsh with:

sudo apt install zsh

Set zsh as your default terminal:

sudo chsh -s $(which zsh)

You have to log out in order for that to take effect, but you can run it directly from your existing shell by running zsh.

Install oh-my-zsh for nicely configuring Zsh:

sh -c "$(curl -fsSL"

The powelevel9k theme for Zsh is a highly configurable and fancy-looking theme. To install it, you need to clone the source to your Zsh themes folder:

git clone ~/.oh-my-zsh/custom/themes/powerlevel9k

Then, in your ~/.zshrc file, set the theme:


We also need to edit this file to use a Nerd Fonts font (one with extra icons). Add this:


Pick a font from that link above and download one of the ttf/otf fonts to your ~/.fonts/ directory. Then, using Gnome Tweaks (or whatever your equivalent), set the Monospace font to your chosen Nerd Font variant. (I’m currently using the Hack font.) You may need to logout or restart for it to show up here. Once I set the font, I also had to restart the shell (Alt+F2 r) for the change to show up in the terminal.

UPDATE: Powerlevel10k

I’ve now switched to Powerlevel10k, but I’m not yet using any of its special features – just as a faster version of Powerlevel9k.

Install it:

git clone --depth=1 $ZSH_CUSTOM/themes/powerlevel10k

Set it as the theme in ~/.zshrc:



These are a useful set of plugins (which does in your ~/.zshrc): plugins=(git extract z history-substring-search)

  • extract lets you easily extract tar/zip files without remembering all the necessary letters
  • z is like cd but searches your history for places you go often
  • history-substring-search lets you search your history by starting to type things. You need to set keybindings (I use up/down arrow keys) in ~/.zshrc:
    bindkey '^[[A' history-substring-search-up
    bindkey '^[[B' history-substring-search-down

I also added my reboot required alias to ~/.zshrc:

alias rr='if [ -f /var/run/reboot-required ]; then echo "reboot required"; else echo "No reboot needed"; fi'

And a shortcut to opening the config file:

alias zshconfig="nano ~/.zshrc"
  • virtualenv

Appearance Customization

The powerlevel9k wiki has a Show Off Your Config section if you want to check out some variants or examples. There is another section with basics on Stylizing Your Prompt.

Also, a quick note on colors: using things like “green” or “black” will use that value as specified by the colors you have configured in your terminal, rather than the number-based extra colors in the Stylizing wiki.

You can also search for the unicode values associated with custom symbols on the Nerd Fonts cheat sheet.

You can set the separator between segments by setting these in ~/.zshrc:


There are many options provided in the powerline extra symbols (included with Nerd Fonts).

My most up to date ~/.zshrc file can be found in my dotfiles repository.

ls with icons and colors

While we’re add it, let’s make ls look pretty too by giving it nicer colors and icons. First we need to install dependencies:

sudo apt install ruby ruby-dev ruby-colorize

and then install colorls from Ruby:

sudo gem install colorls

We can also add an alias in ~/.zshrc to map lc because colorls is long:

alias lc='colorls'

But now the colors probably don’t match your terminal. First we have to copy an existing YAML file containing color configuration:

cp $(dirname $(gem which colorls))/yaml/dark_colors.yaml ~/.config/colorls/dark_colors.yaml

If this complains about “no such file or directory,” it probably means that you don’t have a config folder for colorls. You can make one with:

mkdir ~/.config/colorls

Now you can edit this YAML file to your heart’s content. I opted for lazily taking someone else’s version that uses the terminal profile’s ANSI colors, as found in this GitHub issue.

Sources: OMG Ubuntu, colorls GitHub

Syntax Highlighting

Get code-like syntax highlighting as you type in your terminal. I’m using the zsh-syntax-highlighting plugin through Oh My ZSH.

First, install the system dependency. The installation page directs you to the place to get it. For Ubuntu/Pop, this involved a process of copying/pasting stuff into the terminal to get the repository added and installing.

Then clone the repository directly into your ZSH plugins directory. (This should automatically put it in the right spot.)

git clone $ZSH_CUSTOM/plugins/zsh-syntax-highlighting

In your .zshrc file, look for the line with plugins=(...). Within this, add the zsh-syntax-highlighting plugin. For example:

plugins=(git extract z history-substring-search zsh-syntax-highlighting)

Restart your terminal and you should see colors when you type.

Other Fixes

VS Code

To fix the broken icons in Visual Studio Code, add the following line to your settings: "terminal.integrated.fontFamily": "Hack Nerd Font". And substitute whatever font you’re using. Note that the font name doesn’t exactly match the file name.

The colors are also different from whatever you specify in your external terminal. Someone made a website to generate VS Code terminal color schemes. But my default (Tango) wasn’t included, so I copied the default colors into the settings section like this:

"workbench.colorCustomizations": {
    "terminal.ansiBlack": "#2E3436",
    "terminal.ansiBlue": "#3465A4",
    "terminal.ansiBrightBlack": "#555753",
    "terminal.ansiBrightBlue": "#729FCF",
    "terminal.ansiBrightCyan": "#34E2E2",
    "terminal.ansiBrightGreen": "#8AE234",
    "terminal.ansiBrightMagenta": "#AD7FA8",
    "terminal.ansiBrightRed": "#EF2929",
    "terminal.ansiBrightWhite": "#EEEEEC",
    "terminal.ansiBrightYellow": "#FCE94F",
    "terminal.ansiCyan": "#06989A",
    "terminal.ansiGreen": "#4E9A06",
    "terminal.ansiMagenta": "#75507B",
    "terminal.ansiRed": "#CC0000",
    "terminal.ansiWhite": "#D3D7CF",
    "terminal.ansiYellow": "#C4A000"

Since then, I’ve also switched to my own dark/bold Material color scheme, which I’ve put into gnome-terminal and Tilix. (The color scheme for Tilix is included in my dotfiles.)

"workbench.colorCustomizations": {
    "terminal.ansiBlack": "#263238",
    "terminal.ansiRed": "#F44336",
    "terminal.ansiGreen": "#4CAF50",
    "terminal.ansiYellow": "#FFC107",
    "terminal.ansiBlue": "#3F51B5",
    "terminal.ansiMagenta": "#673AB7",
    "terminal.ansiCyan": "#00BCD4",
    "terminal.ansiWhite": "#E0E0E0",
    "terminal.ansiBrightBlack": "#607D8B",
    "terminal.ansiBrightRed": "#E57373",
    "terminal.ansiBrightGreen": "#81C784",
    "terminal.ansiBrightYellow": "#FFD54F",
    "terminal.ansiBrightBlue": "#7986CB",
    "terminal.ansiBrightMagenta": "#9575CD",
    "terminal.ansiBrightCyan": "#80DEEA",
    "terminal.ansiBrightWhite": "#FAFAFA",

Unresolved Issues

  • I get single-pixel lines next to the segment separators (across all the terminals I’ve tried)