Tmux vs Screen

Tmux is an evolved implementation of a “terminal multiplexer”, as compared to GNU’s screen utility. This tool allows you to create multiple windows and panes in a terminal much like browser tabbing, or putting one window on the left side of your screen, while having another on the right side (splitting down the middle) - all in the terminal. There are several other advantages that will be explained later.

Basic Usage

tmux can be given commands either by the command line (<prefix>-:), or by keybindings, and while most of the following commands will have both, I will most likely only reference my most favored of methods. It is up to you research alternative methods if you don’t like my own methods. Alternatively, tmux can be configured with custom keybindings in the file ~/.tmux.conf. This is advanced usage, but I highly recommend looking into customizing your config.

One of the key parts of tmux is its prefix character. This is usually a combination of keys. By default it is Ctrl-b. GNU’s screen utility used Ctrl-a, and Ctrl-t is also a favorite option among tweakers. However, whichever key combination is chosen (or set in the ~/.tmux.conf), it will be referenced below with prefix or <prefix>.

Starting and stopping

tmux can be started directly from the command line:

$ tmux

After starting it, you will see a green bar at the bottom of your terminal, showing various information about windows and panes (see below). To see all running instances for your user:

$ tmux ls

The first number is the session title (this can be changed - see below) and the second is information on that session. To get out of a running tmux session without killing it:


To finally kill that session:

$ tmux kill-session -t <session-title>

Sessions, and windows, and panes, oh my!

Sessions contain windows which contain panes.

  • Sessions are groups of windows. They are usually specified with the -t flag on the tmux command line.
  • Windows are much like workspaces in a display manager - only one can be displayed at a time
  • Panes are sub splits of windows


A new session is created with issuing the raw tmux command. However, a new session can be created while in an existing tmux session by issuing new from the tmux command line (once again, the command line is triggered with <prefix>-:).


When creating a new session, a new initial window is created as well (as a necessity). However, to create another window, issue the command new-window from the tmux command line. To cycle through the windows, you can press <prefix>-n, which will go left to right, or enter prev from the tmux command line.

The most reliable way to remove a window is by exiting the shell session. This is typically by issuing the command exit from the regular command line, which would log off an existing shell session, which also can be done with Ctrl-d. Otherwise, you can use tmux commands to close the window - either <prefix>-& or kill-window.


The power in panes is the way they split the terminal so that the output of several shells can be all viewed in one terminal screen. Many current terminal emulators provide the functionality to split the terminal view, and so does tmux. For the basic usage, a vertical split is <prefix>-%, and a horizontal split is <prefix>-". And adjusting the size of the splits is done with <prefix>-(Ctrl-up|down|left|right). It is best to hold down the Ctrl key, and not lift it inbetween the prefix and the up|down|left|right to adjust the pane size).

Sharing Screens

If you were to think of tmux as a screen where both alice and bob had their hands on one keyboard and once screen, you can. This leads to very interesting ways to work a la “pair programming” or just having another set of eyes on what you’re doing to upgrade a system. Since tmux works using unix sockets, any user can share that socket with any other user that they want to access it - as long as both of the users are on the same server.

If you want to share a tmux socket on the OSC’s network, there must be one user that starts the session (alice), and one user that joins the session (bob). The user that starts the session (alice) should make a socket in /tmp and make it world-readable (see below for 1-on-1 security measures):

alice@stallman2 $ tmux -S /tmp/shared-socket new -s sharedsession
alice@stallman2 $ chmod 777 /tmp/shared-socket

Then the second user (bob) would attach to this session:

bob@stallman2 $ tmux -S /tmp/shared-socket attach -t sharedsession

Shared Socket Security

Obviously, making a socket world-writable is not the best course of action. If you are only sharing the socket with one other user, you should make the socket readable and writable by that user’s group:

alice@stallman2 $ chown alice:bob /tmp/shared-socket
alice@stallman2 $ chmod g+rwx /tmp/shared-socket

Exposing this socket as world-readable is just asking for trouble especially if using root privileges in that session.

Recommended customizations

While the above are the default basics that you have to know about tmux in order to start using it, the real fun comes when the default configs are changed. Some recommended configuration options are:

And besides that there are much much more functionality that tmux provides to users, and I would strongly encourage users to read the tmux man pages to find a workflow that works for them.