Configuring tmux

Configuring tmux

Being able to reboot a machine and return to the same tmux session is extremely useful. This article talks you through setting up a basic, yet extendable, configuration to achieve this.

3 minute read

Part of my working environment changed recently, causing me to investigate ways to preserve a tmux session over a reboot.

I initially investigated a short script, which didn’t pass muster for two reasons:

  1. it was manual to save and restore
  2. I couldn’t make it behave sesnsibly
  3. it didn’t restore running tasks (where possible)

A short detour via a Google search led me to the wonders of tmux plugins.

I’d been using a messy and klunky tmux configuration for so long this felt like the perfect time to kill two birds with one stone.

I felt this would be useful at work, so initially wrote this as some instructions to get them off the4 starting blocks. Annoyingly I couldn’t quite make things behave as expected, so after sinking more than a few hours of my personal time into making this work properly, I decided to make a version of the final instructions available on my own site, so I could share the fruits of my labour with anyone.



Before you do anything at all, make sure you have installed a “recent” version of tmux. This post was tested with tmux 2.9a and tmux 3.0a (check yours with tmux -V).


Also, make sure you have installed the tmux plugin manager:

# git should create intermediate directories for you
git clone ~/.tmux/plugins/tpm

Know your tmux prefix

If you aren’t sure what you’re configured to use (^b seems to be the default)


# file: "copy & paste into terminal"
cat > ~/.tmux.conf <<EOF
# make sure we include the main plugin
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tpm'

# DO NOT be tempted to set -g @plugin in included files
# It seems that there's a scoping bug if you try to do this
source-file ~/.tmux-personal.conf

# force a value for continuum-save-interval;
# seems to avoid a reported issue
set -g @continuum-save-interval '10'

# List of useful plugins
set -g @plugin "arcticicestudio/nord-tmux"
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tmux-sensible'
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tmux-resurrect'
set -g @plugin 'tmux-plugins/tmux-continuum'

# Initialize TMUX plugin manager
# (keep this line at the very bottom of tmux.conf)
run -b '~/.tmux/plugins/tpm/tpm'

To avoid warnings, touch the file you included:

touch ~/.tmux-personal.conf

Make sure you aren’t polluted by past config:

tmux kill-server

Fetch your plugins:

  • prefix, I

You should see:

TMUX environment reloaded.
Done, press ENTER to continue.

Check you have the (four) expected plugins:

ls -1 ~/.tmux/plugins

You’re now up-and-running with a tmux that will (self) restore after a reboot. NOTE: the auto-backups are set to run every 15 minutes, so please wait at least that long before testing the resurrection does actually take place.

custom tmux configuration

To separate the basic config, and your customisations, you might want to create personal configuration in a separate file to include:

# file: "copy & paste into terminal"
cat > ~/.tmux-personal.conf <<'EOF'
# unbind default prefix and set it to ctrl-x
unbind C-b
set -g prefix C-x
bind C-x send-prefix

# switch between two latest windows
bind-key C-x last-window

# inherit the shell you were using when you
# started the server/session
set -g default-shell "${SHELL}"

# we aren't computers, start window numbering at 1
set -g base-index 1
setw -g pane-base-index 1

bind-key -n C-S-Left swap-window -t -1
bind-key -n C-S-Right swap-window -t +1

# reload without reaching for the shift key
bind-key r run-shell ' \
    tmux source-file ~/.tmux.conf > /dev/null; \
    tmux display-message "Sourced .tmux.conf!"'


Confirming Continuum is ‘active’

You can check that the autosave plugin is ‘activated’ by checking for in the output from:

tmux show-options -g status-right

for example (using nord-tmux):

❯ tmux show-options -g status-right
status-right "#(/Users/chisel/.tmux/plugins/tmux-continuum/scripts/{prefix_highlight}#[fg=brightblack,bg=black,nobold,noitalics,nounderscore]#[fg=white,bg=brightblack] %Y-%m-%d #[fg=white,bg=brightblack,nobold,noitalics,nounderscore]#[fg=white,bg=brightblack] %H:%M #[fg=cyan,bg=brightblack,nobold,noitalics,nounderscore]#[fg=black,bg=cyan,bold] #H "

Confirming a save interval has been set

Check you have a save interval set:

❯ tmux show-option -g @continuum-save-interval
@continuum-save-interval 10

Confirming the resurrection folder exists

Check the resurrection folder (doesn’t always exist initially; wait a few minutes):

ls -lrth ~/.tmux/resurrect

Be patient, it seems to wait until “save interval: has passed before making the first autosave.

When it’s up and running you should see something like:

ls -lrth ~/.tmux/resurrect
total 8
-rw-r--r--  1 chisel  staff    90B 10 Apr 10:45 tmux_resurrect_20200410T104505.txt
lrwxr-xr-x  1 chisel  staff    34B 10 Apr 10:45 last@ -> tmux_resurrect_20200410T104505.txt

Testing Session Restores

You can test the restore works by:

  • opening a new window in tmux
  • running top, and leaving it running
  • return to first window
  • wait … wait .. wait … until the next auto-backup
  • tmux kill-server
  • tmux
  • wait a couple of seconds and your last saved session should be restored

Further Reading