1. Overview

tmux, a terminal multiplexer, is commonly used to manage many terminal sessions in a single window. One of tmux‘s most notable characteristics is its ability to properly manage sessions, windows, and tabs. Customizing the appearance of these tmux tabs can help to increase productivity and improve workflow.

In this tutorial, we’ll look at how to change the color of the active tmux tab, making it easier to identify which tab is active.

2. Modifying the .tmux.conf File

Directly modifying the .tmux.conf file provides a straightforward way to change numerous features of tmux, including the current tab color. To modify this file and set the current tab color, we can use any text editor of our choice, such as Vim, Nano, and others:

$ vim ~/.tmux.conf

Within the file, we add the line that specifies the style of the active window:

set-window-option -g window-status-current-style bg=#FF0000

This line specifies the style of the active window, the -g flag applies the option to all tmux windows, and the window-status-current-style option specifies the style of the active window. bg=#FF0000 changes the background color of the active tab to red. We can substitute this hexadecimal value with any other color of our choice.

We then exit the .tmux.conf file and reload the tmux configurations:

$ tmux source-file ~/.tmux.conf

This command reloads the tmux configuration file, ensuring that all modifications take effect.

By modifying the .tmux.conf file, we take complete control over the tmux configuration, allowing us to tailor different aspects of tmux‘s behavior and appearance to our tastes. Additionally, this method is easy, efficient, and doesn’t involve the installation of any additional plugins or themes, hence it’s available to all users.

3. Using tmux Powerline

tmux powerline is a popular tmux status line and launcher that allows for significant customization. It also offers the option to alter the active tab’s appearance.

The setup involves cloning the tmux powerline repository and integrating it into the tmux configuration. Additionally, it involves modifying the default theme to alter the active tab color:

$ git clone https://github.com/erikw/tmux-powerline.git ~/.tmux-powerline
$ echo "source ~/.tmux-powerline/powerline.conf" >> ~/.tmux.conf
$ sed -i "s/default/default/#FF0000/" ~/.tmux-powerline/themes/default.sh
$ tmux kill-server

In the snippet above, the first command makes use of git to clone the tmux powerline repository and save it to the .tmux-powerline directory in our home directory. Then we add the source line ~/.tmux-powerline/powerline.conf to the .tmux.conf file using echo.

Furthermore, the third command utilizes sed, to change the default active tab color to our preferred color. We can replace #FF0000 with the desired hexadecimal color. Finally, the last command stops the current tmux server. This restarts and reloads the tmux powerline settings with the new active tab color.

4. Using tmux Theme

tmux themes allows us to further customize the appearance of tmux, which includes changing the current tab color. Furthermore, tmux themes often include predefined configurations that can be readily applied.

To use tmux themes, we’ll clone a theme repository, modify the background color of the active tab in the tmux configuration file, and reload tmux to make the changes:

$ git clone https://github.com/jimeh/tmux-themepack.git ~/.tmux-themepack
$ set -g window-status-current-bg '#FF0000'
$ tmux source-file ~/.tmux.conf

In this example, we download the tmux theme from its source and save it in the .tmux-themepack directory with the first command. Then, within the theme file, we find the option that sets the color of the active tab and modify it to set our preferred color. Lastly, the third command directs tmux to reload the .tmux.conf file and apply any modifications made to it.

5. Using tmux Plugin Manager

tmux Plugin Manager (TPM) streamlines the installation and management of tmux plugins, especially those that allow for custom theming.

To configure TPM, we clone the TPM repository and define TPM plugins for customization. Thereafter, we choose the active tab color, and reload tmux to update the changes:

$ git clone https://github.com/tmux-plugins/tpm ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm
$ set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tpm'
$ set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tmux-themepack'
$ set -g @themepack_active_tab_bg '#FF0000'
$ tmux source-file ~/.tmux.conf

In the command above, we clone the TPM repository from GitHub and save it to the ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm directory. Then, we define TPM as a plugin in our tmux configuration file. In the third command, we install the tmux-themepack plugin during the initialization process.

Furthermore, utilizing TPM to manage tmux plugins allows us to simply install and setup plugins that offer custom theming choices, such as changing the current tab color. TPM simplifies plugin installation, increasing the customizability of our tmux system.

6. Conclusion

Customizing the current tab color in tmux is an effective way to increase productivity, improve workflow, and create a more personalized and productive terminal environment.

In this article, we’ve learned various ways to customize tmux, including manually modifying the .tmux.conf file, using tmux powerline, applying tmux themes, and managing plugins with the tmux plugin manager.

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