Change the Shell in Mac OS X Terminal

Mar 21, 2012 - 12 Comments

Change the Shell in Mac OS X

Tired of bash? Prefer zsh, ksh, tcsh, fish, or sh? You can quickly change the default shell in Terminal app, in addition to changing a users default login shell for when logging in remotely with SSH or otherwise. Here’s how to do both.

How to Change Terminal Apps Default Shell in Mac OS X

This adjusts the new shell that is used upon Terminal app launch, new terminal windows, and new terminal tabs, becoming the new default Mac shell.

  • Open Preferences from the Terminal menu, click the “Startup” tab
  • Under “Shells open with” choose “Command (complete path)” and set the new shell

Change Shell in Terminal

Default shell options that can be switched to that are bundled with OS X include the following paths:


Placing any of those in the ‘Command (complete path)’ box will set the new shell as the terminal window default.

Note this changes the default shell used by Terminal app, which is different from the default login shell, that is changed through the following step instead…

Change a User Default Login Shell in Mac OS X

You can also change the default shell through the command line itself using the chsh command, which is shorthand for ‘change shell’. This will be necessary if you want the default shell to be different when logging in with SSH or telnet. You’ll need to authenticate each change as well, the command will ask directly or you can prefix it with sudo. Here’s how to set the default user shell to zsh, bash, tcsh, ksh, sh, or any other shell for that matter.

Change the user login default shell to zsh:
chsh -s /bin/zsh

chsh -s /bin/ksh

chsh -s /bin/tcsh

bash (default):
chsh -s /bin/bash

chsh -s /bin/sh

other shells:
Simply adjust the path for chsh to set, like so:
chsh -s /path/to/alternate/shell/like/fish

We covered the first part of this years ago and it hasn’t changed since, even with OS X Lion and OS X Mountain Lion, and Mavericks.

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Posted by: William Pearson in Command Line, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Linda Green says:

    whats the command line for terminal shell with a dollar sign

  2. Richard Jones says:

    You may also need to edit /etc/shells to allow changing to an unusual shell (such as /usr/local/bin/bash).

  3. […] executed command while replacing the erroneous syntax. You’ll need to be using the default bash shell for this to […]

  4. […] enter the new shell on a session basis to start testing it out, if you like what you’re using change the default shell to fish with the following command (/bin/bash is the OS X default shell, if you want to go […]

  5. Br.Bill says:

    Point for chiggsy for mentioning zsh.

    FWIW, /bin/zsh exists on my stock Lion install (I suspect it’s there on any stock Lion install).

  6. chiggsy says:

    Use directory services. For example:

    sudo dscl . -change /Users/chiggsy UserShell /bin/bash /opt/local/bin/zsh

  7. sys0p says:

    Or right mouse Click in System preferences > accounts > yourLoginName and change it system wide :)

  8. Ernie says:

    What is the difference between the following:





    • Death Jester says:

      When you want to create Scripts, to automate something on your system (e.g. renaming a lot of files, or what ever) the different shells provide different commands…

    • Carlos says:

      It’s really a difference in scripting and some shells offer different binaries than others. Bash is the most common, there is little reason not to use it.

  9. Death Jester says:

    With MacPorts installed you also able to install newer versions of the Bash (e.g. 4.2.20) and start it by default.

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