How to Customize your Terminal Prompt

Dec 11, 2006 - 46 Comments

Terminal Whether you use the Terminal occasionally or regularly, you might find it appropriate to change the way it looks beyond the color scheme and transparency settings. How about changing the actual command line prompt? It’s quite easy, and can be a fun way to further customize your Macs appearance. This how-to will involve some really minor usage of the command line, which we assume you’re somewhat familiar with if you are wanting to change the way it looks.

The default command line prompt in Mac OS X is something like:

ComputerName:CurrentDirectory User$


MacBook:~/Desktop Admin$

Kind of boring and not the best, right? It’s quite easy to change. We’re going to assume you use the default bash shell, so you’ll be editing either the file .bashrc by default, or .profile if you installed fink. At the Terminal prompt, type:

nano .bashrc

Now type:

export PS1=" "

Between the quotation marks, you can add the following lines to customize your Terminal prompt:

  • \d – Current date
  • \t – Current time
  • \h – Host name
  • \# – Command number
  • \u – User name
  • \W – Current working directory (ie: Desktop/)
  • \w – Current working directory, full path (ie: /Users/Admin/Desktop)

So, let’s say you want your Terminal prompt to display the User, followed by the hostname, followed by the directory, the .bashrc entry would be:

export PS1="\u@\h\w$ "

which will look like:

Admin@MacBook~Desktop/$ "

Cool huh? You can also change the prompt itself to anything, it doesn’t have to be the $ sign, simply replace it with whatever else you’d like to use, : for example would be:

export PS1="\u@\h\w: "

which is the same as above, but : instead of $

Admin@MacBook~Desktop/: "

So, play around and see what you prefer. By the way, if you’re new to the Terminal text editor nano, you save a file by hitting control-o, and you exit the file and program by hitting control-x. You can also just use a standard text editor, like TextWrangler or TextEdit.

If you’d rather change things to look more graphical, there’s also a simple how-to designed to make your Terminal prompt include an emoji character (yes, the same emoji icons that people use for text messaging), you can read there here if you are interested.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Command Line, Customize, How to, Mac OS X


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  1. anonymous says:

    I think


    creates a line break in the prompt, too. It’s not ideal, I guess, but when you’re in a really deep directory, it’s good not to have the prompt all the way on the right edge of the screen, but it’s also nice to see the entire directory without asking (pwd) all the time.

    Also play around with


    for another time format,


    for shell name


    for shell version. I am sure there are more, but enjoy!

  2. nick says:

    I like to update the title of the terminal window as well, so here’s mine as it stands currently:

    case $TERM in
    xterm* | aterm | rxvt | screen )
    XTITLE=”\[\e]0;\u@\h (\w)\a\]” ;;
    * )
    XTITLE=”” ;;
    PS1=”$XTITLE””[\u@\h:\w]\n\\$ ”

    While I’m here and in case anyone uses GNU/screen, it’s worth mentioning:

  3. fak3r says:

    This is not an OS X trick, in fact I post my .bashrc online: and use it on FreeBSD/Linux at home, and Solaris, AIX, HP-UX at work. I’ve shared this with many co-workers and friends too, and it’s easy enough to modify if you need to. It gives output like this:

    [09:51:54] [uname@hostname ~/home]$

    I like having the time on each line, it makes it very easy to deal with logs to compare when an even happened. With 10 terms open having the uname and hostname listed is great, and the path is a standard, but this one truncates so it doesn’t push your $ all the way over to the side. I’ve tweaked this for years, but this is how I use it day to day.



  4. Nick says:

    A good PS1 for dark backgrounds, colorful and informative.

    PS1=”\n33[1;33m-33[1;34m-(33[1;37m\u33[1;34m@33[1;33m\h33[1;34m)-33[1;33m-33[1;34m-(33[1;33m\w33[1;34m)-33[1;33m-\n\[33[1;33m\]-\[33[1;34m\]-\[33[1;33m\]-#\[33[1;37m\] “

  5. Nate says:

    This one looks pretty nice (I’ve been using it for years)
    export PS1=’\u@\h[\w]\$ ‘

    looks like this:
    where /usr changes to your current dir and the $ changes to # if you are r00t.

  6. Gary says:

    Don’t forget to run:

    . .bashrc

    … to effect the change in your bash session. That’s dot space dot bashrc.

  7. gid says:

    I myself am partial to:

    PS1=’\u@\h \[\e[33m\]\W\[\e[0m\] \[`if [[ $? = 0 ]]; then echo ‘\”\e[32m=)\e[0m’\”; else echo ‘\”\e[31m=(\e[0m’\” ; fi`\] $ ‘

    works with linux/bash anyway =)

    • colin says:

      needed to change to export PS1=”\u@\h \[\e[33m\]\W\[\e[0m\] \[\`if [[ \$? == 0 ]]; then echo ‘\e[32m=)\e[0m'; else echo ‘\e[31m=(\e[0m’ ; fi\`\] $ “

  8. […] OS X Daily » How to Customize your Terminal Prompt – Mac OS X Apps, Tips, Tricks, News, Updates, Everything Mac OS X Posted in bookmarks | Trackback | […]

  9. anonymous says:

    a very nice article by IBM just reminded me of your site:

  10. Alpharetta says:

    !!!! swweetttt

  11. LOSTfan says:

    Did the LOST prompt. Awesome!

  12. mel says:

    I was frustrated until I realized that you have to quit terminal and restart before the customization takes effect. ah…the joys of customization…

  13. mrc says:

    for whatever reason, it appears that my .bashrc file is not being executed when i start up Terminal. i can set the “run command” for the basic window profile to execute the . .bashrc command to change the prompt, but it seems like it should work automatically. have i missed something?

  14. Ivan Storck says:

    I’m having the same problem as mrc – it seems like .bashrc is not being executed. I have even quit and restarted Terminal. Any ideas?

  15. nick says:

    I had the same problem re: .bashrc not being executed…try making the same edits as above to .bash_profile instead. worked for me.

  16. Dave says:

    I’m running Tiger and you can use the same code in your ~/.profile file. I assume this will change only the settings for that user, though.

  17. Braxo says:

    To have this work after saving .bashrc you can put the exact code into .bash_profile.

    But even better, keep the code in .bashrc and in .bash_profile put the line:

    “source ~/.bashrc” without the quotes if you want the prompts to be the same in login and non-login sessions.

    For my prompt, I chose this: [17:19:21] User@Host::/current_directory >:

    With Terminal set to Pro style, and the time, @, :: and >: are yellow and User, Host are teal and directory green. Contents of my .bashrc is:

    export PS1=”\e[33;40m[\t] \e[36;40m\u\e[33;40m@\e[36;40m\h\e[33;40m::\e[32;40m\w\e[33;40m >: \e[0m”

  18. Hawkeye says:

    No need to quit the and restart… merely open a new Terminal window (this creates a new session). Or you could simply invoke a new bash session by:

    bash -l

  19. Flüge Bangkok says:

    I switched from vista to mac OS just 2 weeks ago, so I ‘m still a mac beginner.
    Thank u yery much for ur tips.
    It looks now much better than before. I always wanted to change the actual command line prompt but never succeeded to do it.
    I have followed your instructions and also added \T for another time format, \s for shell name \v for shell version, it is really easy .

  20. Flüge Bangkok says:

    I switched from vista to mac OS just 2 weeks ago, so I ‘m still a mac beginner.
    Thank u yery much for ur tips.
    It looks now much better than before. I always wanted to change the actual command line prompt but never succeeded to do it.
    I have followed your instructions and also added \T for another time format, \s for shell name \v for shell version, it is really easy .

  21. Flug USA says:

    Thank you
    you have really saved my time.I was searching for a long time for a help to cutomize my command prompt.
    At the begining I have forgotten the dot space dot bashrc thing in . .bashrc so the changes couldn’t be affected but shortly after I fixed it. :)
    That was very helpful especially coz I’m lost fan and I got a nice Lost ’style for my prompt with the following command
    export PS1=”\u@\h\w at \t :” .
    I’m expecting more tips for mac users in you blog:)
    keep up the good work

  22. Ajmaal Firdowzi says:


    I am a banker & I just bought a Mac computer with my bonus I last week. Its the first time that I am using a Mac operating computer & I didn’t quite understand how to use it properly though I am able to get familiar with the basic operations.
    I was able to find this post on Mac terminal skins – but is quite hard & complicated to understand for me. Its the first post that came across for me since I mostly use that blog for information.
    Its a good blog, but then, I found yours & its really great there are so many & topics to discuss. Although its hard for me to understand some things in this, I guess that blog posts will be a fast track to get familiar Mac operating systems.

    I thank you you for this amazing post. Keep it up. I will keep in touch.

    Thanks again.

  23. Ronnie Silverio says:

    Thank you!
    This helped me out in customizing my prompt in Snow Leopard. To make my prompt more permanent, instead of having to reload .bashrc everytime I opened up a terminal window, I edited the /etc/bashrc file. You’ll need to use sudo since it’s a read only file. Here’s what mine looks like:

    \w$ ‘

    So you get the username@host on the first line and then the second line you get the PWD$.

  24. Gregor says:

    thanks, that was really helpfull!

  25. Advant says:

    Like fak3r, I like having the time in there plus username@host. Makes it easier to go through the logs and keep things straight.

  26. I made a kind of DSL in Ruby to generate valid strings that represent colored text in the terminal, I use it to generate my prompt:

  27. arzenigh says:

    thx a lot !!! :)

  28. samuelgilman says:

    Thanks, very helpful.

  29. […] Eine (englischsprachige) Anleitung findest Du dort:…rminal-prompt/ Hier die komplette Dokumentation zum Bash-Prompt: […]

  30. erickjohncuevas says:

    How will i set the prompt to only like this “$ ” and when i change to root will show only “# “.


  31. […] one is easy, you can lots of posts for that, you can even do it in mac osx, but problem is, changing value for PS1 in .bashrc, effects all terminal windows, and there is no […]

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  33. […] weren’t quite in the order that I wanted. So I went back to my search results, and I found this. Here are the relevant bits: export PS1=" […]

  34. ultramantis says:

    One thing is that in 10.6.7 it seams you have to create a file .bash_profile and put in the commands to change the command line. I used

    export PS1=”[\#]\w>”

    so it has the command number \# and the complete path name \w

  35. $ ln -s .bashrc .bash_profile

  36. […] you want to customize the Terminals appearance a bit beyond the prompt and a custom background, you can make the Terminal much more readable by using this nice trick to […]

  37. Bud Simrin says:

    Thank you so much. My prompt is now cleaned up.

    In my new iMac with Lion, the terminal prompt was unknown34ce6f4c0ea5 ~ bud$. From this discussion I discovered that the hostname being used was \h = unknown23de6f4c0da2. I replaced \h with my correct computer name as shown in the Sharing preference pane.

    Does anyone have an idea how \h got messed up, and do I have to worry about this crazy hostname affecting other things? The hex number looks like a MAC address except I don’t think I have that particular address anywhere although it differs from my wi-fi hardware Mac address by only 4 of the characters.

  38. Rich says:

    This formatting works until the command extends to a second line, at which point the first line is overwritten.

  39. Steve Rowe says:

    This is a great addition to the command prompt……

    Another i personally use is editing the ~/.bash_rc file and adding the following line in order to view octal and normal drwxr etc permissions when typing list at the prompt (as apposed to typing ls -al)

    alias list=”ls -la | awk ‘{k=0;for(i=0;i<=8;i++)k+=((substr(\$1,i+2,1)~/[rwx]/)*2^(8-i));if(k)printf(\" %0o \",k);print}'"

    (The command above is all one line)

    Hope this helps others see what the permissions are on files and folders at a glance.


  40. Jeffrey Walton says:

    Perhaps its my bad luck…. Mac OS X 10.7 (mid-2008 MBP):

    export PS1=”\h::\W $” results in a prompt of:
    authoriz-fd8998::~ $

    Damn I wish Apple would test their stuff before unleashing it on the world…..

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