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Tmux Tilish

This is a plugin that makes tmux behave more like a typical dynamic window manager. It is heavily inspired by i3wm, and most keybindings are taken directly from there. However, I have made some adjustments to make these keybindings more consistent with vim: using hjkl instead of jkl; for directions, and using vim's definitions of "split" and "vsplit". There is also an "easy mode" available for non-vim users, which uses arrow keys instead of hjkl.

The plugin has been verified to work on tmux v1.9, v2.6, v2.7, v2.9, and v3.0. Some features are only available on newer versions of tmux (currently v2.7+), but I hope to provide at least basic support for most tmux versions in active use. If you encounter any problems, please file an issue and I'll try to look into it.

Why?

Okay, so who is this plugin for anyway? You may be interested in this if:

  • You're using or interested in using tmux, but find the default keybindings a bit clunky. This lets you try out an alternative keybinding paradigm, which uses a modifier key (Alt) instead of a prefix key (Ctrl + b). The plugin also makes it easier to do automatic tiling via tmux layouts, as opposed to splitting panes manually.
  • You use i3wm, but also do remote work over ssh + tmux. This lets you use similar keybindings in both contexts.
  • You also use other platforms like Gnome, Mac, or WSL. You want to take your i3wm muscle memory with you via tmux.
  • You're not really using i3wm anymore, but you did like how it handled terminals and workspaces. You'd like to keep working that way in terminals, without using i3wm or sway for your whole desktop.
  • You use a window manager that is similar to i3wm, e.g. dwm, and want to have that workflow in tmux too.

Quickstart

The easiest way to install this plugin is via the Tmux Plugin Manager. Just add the following to ~/.tmux.conf, then press Ctrl + b followed by Shift + i to install it (assuming default prefix key):

set -g @plugin 'jabirali/tmux-tilish'

For tmux v2.7+, you can customize which layout is used as default for new workspaces. To do so, add this to ~/.tmux.conf:

set -g @tilish-default 'main-vertical'

Just replace main-vertical with one of the layouts from the tmux man page:

Description Name
split then vsplit main-horizontal
only split even-vertical
vsplit then split main-vertical
only vsplit even-horizontal
fully tiled tiled

The words "split" and "vsplit" refer to the layouts you get in vim when running :split and :vsplit, respectively. (Unfortunately, what is called a "vertical" and "horizontal" split varies between programs.) If you do not set this option, tilish will not autoselect any layout; you can still choose layouts manually using the keybindings listed below.

After performing the steps above, you should read the list of keybindings. For further configuration options:

It is also recommended that you add the following to the top of your .tmux.conf:

set -s escape-time 0
set -g base-index 1

The first line prevents e.g. Esc + h from triggering the Alt + h keybinding, preventing common misbehavior when using vim in tmux. This option is automatically set by tmux-sensible, if you use that. The second line makes workspace numbers go from 1-10 instead of 0-9, which makes more sense on a keyboard where the number row starts at 1. However, tilish explicitly checks this setting when mapping keys, and works fine without it.

Keybindings

Finally, here is a list of the actual keybindings. Most are taken from i3wm. Below, a "workspace" is what tmux would call a "window" and vim would call a "tab", while a "pane" is what i3wm would call a "window" and vim would call a "split".

Keybinding Description
Alt + 0-9 Switch to workspace number 0-9
Alt + Shift + 0-9 Move pane to workspace 0-9
Alt + hjkl Move focus left/down/up/right
Alt + Shift + hjkl Move pane left/down/up/right
Alt + Enter Create a new pane at "the end" of the current layout
Alt + s Switch to layout: split then vsplit
Alt + Shift + s Switch to layout: only split
Alt + v Switch to layout: vsplit then split
Alt + Shift + v Switch to layout: only vsplit
Alt + t Switch to layout: fully tiled
Alt + f Switch to layout: fullscreen (zoom)
Alt + r Refresh current layout
Alt + n Name current workspace
Alt + Shift + q Quit (close) pane
Alt + Shift + e Exit (detach) tmux
Alt + Shift + c Reload config

The Alt + 0 and Alt + Shift + 0 bindings are "smart": depending on base-index, they either act on workspace 0 or 10.

The keybindings that move panes between workspaces assume a US keyboard layout. However, you can configure tilish for international keyboards by providing a string @tilish-shiftnum prepared by pressing Shift + 1234567890. For instance, for a UK keyboard, you would configure it as follows:

set -g @tilish-shiftnum '!"£$%^&*()'

Your terminal must support sending keycodes like M-£ for the above to work. For instance, a UK keyboard layout works fine on urxvt, but does not work by default on kitty or alacritty, which may require additional configuration.

Easy mode

To make the plugin more accessible for people who do not use vim as well, there is also an "easy mode" available, which uses arrow keys instead of the vim-style hjkl keys. This mode can be activated by putting this in your .tmux.conf:

set -g @tilish-easymode 'on'

The revised keybindings for the pane focus and movement then become:

Keybinding Description
Alt + Move focus left/down/up/right
Alt + Shift + Move pane left/down/up/right

Prefix mode

Note that this feature is currently only available in tmux v2.4+. The "prefix mode" uses a prefix key instead of Alt, and may be particularly interesting for users of editors like kak and emacs that use Alt key a lot. To activate this mode, you define a prefix keybinding in your tmux.conf. For instance, to use Alt + Space as your tilish prefix, add:

set -g @tilish-prefix 'M-space'

Actions that would usually be done by Alt + key are now accomplished by pressing the prefix and then key. For example, opening a split is usually Alt + Enter, but with the above prefix this becomes Alt + Space then Enter. Note that the tilish prefix is different from the tmux prefix, and should generally be bound to a different key. For the prefix key, you can choose basically any keybinding that tmux supports, e.g. F12 or C-s or anything else you may prefer.

All these keybindings are repeat'able, so you do not have to press the prefix key again if you type multiple commands fast enough. Thus, pressing Alt + Space followed by hj would move to the left and then down, without requiring another prefix activation. The tmux option repeat-time can be used to customize this timeout. Personally, I find the default 500ms timeout somewhat short, and would recommend that you increase this to at least a second if you use tilish:

set -g repeat-time 1000

Application launcher

In i3wm, the keybinding Alt+d is by default mapped to the application launcher dmenu, which can be practical to quickly open apps. If you have fzf available on your system, tilish can offer a similar application launcher using the same keyboard shortcut. To enable this functionality, add the following to your ~/.tmux.conf:

set -g @tilish-dmenu 'on'

Basically, pressing Alt+d will then pop up a split that lets you fuzzy-search through all executables in your system $PATH. Selecting an executable runs the command in that split. When you want to start an interactive process, this can be more convenient than using Alt+Enter and typing the command name. This is currently only available in tmux v2.7+.

Terminal compatibility

It is worth noting that not all terminals support all keybindings. It has been verified to work out-of-the-box on alacritty, kitty, urxvt, terminator, and gnome-terminal on Linux. Note that in gnome-terminal, it only works if you don't open any GUI tabs; if you do so, the terminal itself steals the Alt+0-9 keybindings.

On wsltty (Windows), it works if you disable the keyboard shortcut Alt+Enter in the terminal settings. Some terminals that work automatically on Linux, e.g. alacritty, also require unbinding Alt+Enter on Windows. This alacritty.yml does so:

key_bindings:
  - { key: Return, mods: Alt, action: ReceiveChar }

If you use xterm, almost none of the Alt keys work by default. That can be fixed by adding this to ~/.Xresources:

XTerm*eightBitControl: false
XTerm*eightBitInput: false
XTerm.omitTranslation: fullscreen
XTerm*fullscreen: never

Usage inside i3wm

If you use tilish inside i3wm or sway, keybindings like Alt+Enter may spawn a new terminal in your window manager instead of a new terminal pane inside tmux. The window manager always takes priority — so if both i3wm and tilish define the same keybinding, i3wm will intercept the keybinding before tmux sees it.

The best way to solve this is perhaps to change your window manager modifier key to Super, also known as the "Windows key". As described in the i3wm user guide, this can be done by changing $mod to Mod4 in your i3wm config. That way, pressing e.g. Alt+Enter opens a new terminal pane inside tmux, while Super+Enter opens a new terminal in i3wm.

Alternatively, tilish also supports a Prefix mode. This is in my opinion less ergonomic than the default tilish keybindings. However, it does not require the use of Alt, and is therefore compatible with the default i3wm keybindings.

Integration with vim

There are two great plugins known as tmux-navigate and vim-tmux-navigator, which both allow seamless navigation between vim splits and tmux splits. The former has an advantage that it also works over ssh connections, and that it plays better with the fullscreen (zoom) feature of that tilish maps to Alt+f. If you use either plugin, you can tell tilish to make it setup the keybindings for you. (If you don't tell tilish, it uses fallback keybindings that don't integrate with vim.)

Navigate

It is perhaps easiest to setup tmux-navigate. Just load navigate after tilish in your tmux.conf, and set the option @tilish-navigate to on to integrate them. Thus a full working minimal example of a tpm-based tmux.conf would be:

# List of plugins.
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tpm'
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tmux-sensible'
set -g @plugin 'jabirali/tmux-tilish'
set -g @plugin 'sunaku/tmux-navigate'

# Plugin options.
set -g @tilish-navigate 'on'

# Install `tpm` if needed.
if "test ! -d ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm" \
   "run 'git clone https://github.com/tmux-plugins/tpm ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm && ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm/bin/install_plugins'"

# Activate the plugins.
run -b "~/.tmux/plugins/tpm/tpm"

No further setup is required; tilish sets up the keybindings, and navigate handles seamless navigation of vim/nvim splits. However, if you also want this seamless navigation over ssh connections, you should install the accompanying vim plugin; see their website for more information.

Navigator

To install vim-tmux-navigator, you should first install the plugin for vim or nvim, as described on their website. Then place this in your ~/.config/nvim/init.vim (nvim) or ~/.vimrc (vim):

noremap <silent> <m-h> :TmuxNavigateLeft<cr>
noremap <silent> <m-j> :TmuxNavigateDown<cr>
noremap <silent> <m-k> :TmuxNavigateUp<cr>
noremap <silent> <m-l> :TmuxNavigateRight<cr>

You then just have to tell tilish that you want the integration:

set -g @tilish-navigator 'on'

A minimal working example of a ~/.tmux.conf with tpm would then be:

# List of plugins.
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tpm'
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tmux-sensible'
set -g @plugin 'jabirali/tmux-tilish'

# Plugin options.
set -g @tilish-navigator 'on'

# Install `tpm` if needed.
if "test ! -d ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm" \
   "run 'git clone https://github.com/tmux-plugins/tpm ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm && ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm/bin/install_plugins'"

# Activate the plugins.
run -b "~/.tmux/plugins/tpm/tpm"

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