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Byobu - Multiple windows in Terminal

Byobu is a light, powerful, text-based window manager based on GNU Screen. Using Byobu, you can quickly create and move between different windows over a single SSH connection or TTY terminal, monitor dozens of important statistics about your system, detach and reattach to sessions later while your programs continue to run in the background.

Last update: 2022-05-07

Install Byobu#

Byobu is an easy-to-use wrapper around the tmux (or screen) terminal multiplexer. Byobu’s primary features include multiple console windows, split panes within each window, notifications and status badges to display the status of the host, and persistent sessions across multiple connections.

Byobu in action

Byobu’s primary features include multiple console windows, split panes within each window, notifications and status badges to display the status of the host, and persistent sessions across multiple connections.

Ubuntu should come with Byobu installed by default. To check that Byobu is installed, try running this command to output its version.

byobu --version

If it is not installed, install it with a simple command:

sudo apt install -y byobu

Byobu can be configured to run by default at every text login (SSH or TTY). That behavior can be toggled with the byobu-enable and byobu-disable commands.

Insert below line to the end of ~/.bashrc will run Byobu whenever a local terminal is run:

_byobu_sourced=1 . /usr/bin/byobu-launch 2>/dev/null || true

When running Byobu for the first time, it will start with just in a single window. The bottom of the screen has the status bar, which displays OS and version, a list of open windows, and various system metrics like pending updates, RAM usage and time and date.

A session is simply a running instance of Byobu. A session consists of a collection of windows, which are basically shell sessions, and panes, which are windows split into multiple sections.

Press Ctrl-F6 or type exit to end a session.

Key Bindings#

Byobu is a configuration layer on top of GNU Screen. As such, all of GNU Screen’s keybindings work in Byobu exactly as in Screen. Moreover, Byobu provides a comprehensive, advanced set of commands bound to the F-keys on most keyboards.

Windows Management

Key Description
F2 Create a new window
Shift-F2 Split the screen horizontally
Ctrl-F2 Split the screen vertically
F3 Move to the previous window
Shift-F3 Move focus to the next split
F4 Move to the next window
Shift-F4 Move focus to the previous split
Shift-Arrows Move focus

Session management

Key Description
Ctrl-D Exit the session
F6 Detach from the session and logout
Shift-F6 Detach from the session, but do not log out
Ctrl-F5 Reconnect any SSH/GPG sockets or agents


Key Description
F5 Refresh all status notifications
F7 Enter scroll back/search mode
F8 Rename the current window
F9 Launch the Byobu Configuration Menu
F12 GNU Screen’s Escape Key
Alt-Page Up Scroll back through this window’s history
Alt-Page Down Scroll forward through this window’s history
Shift-F5 Collapse all splits
Shift-F12 Toggle all of Byobu’s keybindings on or off

Copy & Paste, Search

Each window in Byobu has up to 10000 lines of scroll back history, so a user can enter and navigate using the Alt-PageUp and Alt-PageDown keys. Exit this scroll back mode by hitting Enter.

Copy and paste text from scroll back mode:

  • Press the Space bar to start highlighting text
  • Use up/down/left/right/page up/page down to select the text
  • Press Enter to copy the text
  • Paste the text using alt-insert or ctrl-a-]

Search up and down in scroll back mode:

  • Press / to search down
  • Press ? to search up

Actually, in scroll back mode, Byobu support vi-like commands:

h - # Move the cursor left by one character
j - # Move the cursor down by one line
k - # Move the cursor up by one line
l - # Move the cursor right by one character
0 - # Move to the beginning of the current line
$ - # Move to the end of the current line
G - # Moves to the specified line (defaults to the end of the buffer)
ctrl + b - # Page up
ctrl + f - # Page down

/ - # Search forward
? - # Search backward

n - # Moves to the next match, either forward or backward

Mouse mode#

Type F12, then : (to enable the internal terminal), then enter the command

set mouse on

for other commands, run list-commands

Or press Alt-F12 to toggle mouse.

Actions in the mouse mode:

  • Switch between active panes and windows. Click on a window name or pane to switch.
  • Scroll, with the mouse wheel or trackpad
  • Resize panes by dragging and dropping

To enable mouse support by default for all these operations, add these lines to ~/.byobu/profile.tmux:

set -g mouse on
set -g mouse-select-pane on
set -g mouse-select-window on
set -g mouse-resize-pane on
set -g mouse-utf8 on

The Backend Multiplexer#

By default, Byobu will use tmux as the backend multiplexer. However, if a user prefers to use screen, they can easily change the enabled backend.

Select the byobu backend:
1. tmux
2. screen


Byobu uses default border characters from tmux which shows bold borderlines.

Those borderlines are made up of rows and columns in the console, and they are indivisible. In a text-based terminal there is no structural element smaller than one character “cell” (which is about the size of that block cursor). The only way to reduce the size of the borders is to reduce the size of all rows/columns.

Fortunately, we can manipulate the colors to give the appearance of a thinner border: set the foreground to the desired color and set the background to the background color of panes. For the latter default value is often sufficient.

For example, change the borderline to orange, add these lines to ~/.byobu/profile.tmux:

set -g pane-active-border-style fg=colour208,bg=default