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Getting Started with Tmux [Beginner's Guide]

tmux is an excellent productivity tool for pro Linux users who love the terminal. It certainly has a learning curve involved though.

Christopher Murray

Warp Terminal

With tmux, you can create multiple terminal sessions that can be opened (attached) and closed (detached) or displayed simultaneously, all from one window.

Using Multiple panes in TMUX. This is a  single terminal window, running different virtual terminal sessions.
Multiple Panes in Tmux

Learning how to use a terminal multiplexer will save you a lot of headaches if you spend a lot of time in the terminal. This is especially true if your work involves accessing remote machines via command line only.

Screen vs tmux

Tmux is considered to be the next evolutionary step forward from the GNU Screen multiplexer.

If you’re used to the screen command, you’ll find it easy to get started right away. There are many similarities between the two applications. We had a great response to our screen command article, and I feel like our readers will really enjoy using some of the updated features of tmux.

If you are already comfortable with the screen command, you can quickly scan this article for the differences. For some commands, I may point out similarities or differences. Aside from these notes, this article will not presume any previous knowledge.

If you are a little lost and don’t know what this article is about yet, that is totally fine. We’re going to walk through everything together. I will show you how to install tmux and how to perform basic operations.

Install tmux

Tmux is a popular application, and it should be available in your Linux distribution’s official repository. You can install it using the package manager of your distribution.

On Debian and Ubuntu-based distributions, you can install it using the following command:

sudo apt install tmux

Using tmux

As we touched on, tmux is a great application to make you more productive. It is a powerful piece of software, but it can be a little confusing to get started with.

I will guide you through critical features one at a time. My goal is to ease you in and show you the basic functionality. There are so many ways to customize tmux, that we won’t be able to cover everything in this article. If you are curious about an article on advanced features and functionalities, let us know in the comment section!

Create a session in tmux

Open a terminal and use the following command:

christopher@linuxhandbook:~$ tmux

This should bring you into tmux. You will see a command prompt as usual, but you will now see a taskbar style menu on the bottom of the terminal that will say something like 0:bash*The asterisk indicates that this is your active window.

Running tmux command in the terminal will open the tmux session, which can be identified from the newly appeared bottom panel
Starting a Tmux Session

Let’s create a couple of windows that you can switch between. You can do this by using the prefix [CTRL + b] + c.

You should see on the taskbar that something named 1:bash has been added. Let’s add two more before you continue further.

It should now look like the screenshot below. You should have a total of four new terminal windows (you’ll only see one window at a time).

Various TMUX sessions running in a single terminal window
Different Tmux Sessions

The automatic window name

Tmux can actually identify certain programs and rename your windows automatically (if you haven’t named your window explicitly). For example, if you run the top command in a window, you’ll notice that the window name is changed from bash to top.

TMUX has identidied the running command as "top" and renamed the window to "top" from bash
Tmux automatically renaming window

Session vs Window vs Pane (split) in tmux

Before you go any further, you should know the difference between session, window, and pane in tmux.

Consider the sessions as notebooks, windows as chapters, and window panes as its pages.

A session can have multiple windows. A window is basically a terminal. You can split a window between several vertical and horizontal panes. This means a terminal window can have multiple terminals in it.

You can create a tmux session for a specific topic/project. For example, if you manage three servers, maybe you can create one session for each server to perform tasks. Use a window for monitoring system resources and another for performing some maintenance tasks. The system monitoring window can have multiple panes to monitor memory, CPU, and disk usage.

TMUX Session, Windows and Panes are shown
Sessions, Windows, and Panes

Switching between windows in a tmux session

Remember that CTRL+b (simultaneously) is like your “tmux key”. It tells the software that you want to enter a command. Look at the table below to get started navigating the tmux interface.

Go to Previous Window Go to Next Window Go to Nth Window
[CTRL + b] + p [CTRL + b] + n [CTRL + b] + {0, 1, 2, 3, etc.}

Now you can move “back and forth” or select a specific instance by its ID number. Try those things out until it feels comfortable.

Ready? Awesome. Let’s check out some of the other functionalities.

If you are an experienced Screen user, you may be used to using the [CTRL + a] prefix. Editing the configuration file allows you to change the prefix if you would like. I actually found the alternate key combo improved my efficiency, but I also understand old habits are hard to break.

Switch using window list

Another option uses [CTRL + b] + w. This gives you a visual overview of sessions. You can use the arrow keys to select the desired windows/panes.


Using interactive window switch in Tmux

Name or rename windows in tmux

You can name your current window with the following key combination:

[CTRL + b] + ,
Rename a Window in TMUX
Rename a Window

Name your tmux session

You may find it helpful to name your sessions with meaningful titles to keep things organized. Let’s try naming your first session with tmux.

You can name it anything that we want, but in this case, I will name it “free”. Enter the following command:

tmux new -s free

You should now have a new session of tmux running. If you look in the bottom-left area of the window, you will see the name of your session rather than the generic ‘bash’.

Start a new tmux session with the name "free"
Start a named session

If you already created a session, you may name it or rename it using the following key combination:

[ctrl+b] + $
Rename the current session in TMUX, while being inside the session
Rename current session

Detach a session (come out of tmux session but keep it running in the background)

Before you continue, let’s begin running free with the watch command, which will update the results every 2 seconds.

watch free

If you are not familiar with free or watch, I recommend that you check out the watch and free command. Knowledge of their functionality, however, is not essential for using them with tmux.

Okay, so once the program begins, go ahead and detach the session. Use this key combination:

[ctrl + b] + d

This should return you to a standard command prompt. Keep in mind that the tmux session is still running in the background, and you can enter it again whenever you want.

Detached from a session in TMUX
Detached from a session

List tmux sessions

What happened to your session? It is still running in the background. You can re-open the session by name or by ID number, but what if you forget the session name?

There is a list function built into tmux:

tmux ls

This will list all your current tmux sessions. Running it will produce output like this:

christopher@linuxhandbook:~$ tmux ls
free: 1 windows (created Sat Feb 29 03:16:31 2020) [80x23]

As you can see, it also lists how many windows a session has.

List TMUX sessions using "tmux ls" command. It will list the number of windows a particular session has
List Sessions

Re-enter a session in Tmux (also known as attach)

To reopen your tmux session, you can use the tmux command with attach or attach-session option like this:

tmux attach -t session_name_or_number

Here is an animation that shows all these steps until this point in the demonstration.

Tmux Commands Animated Overview

Creating multiple panes in tmux

Now that you have an understanding of the basics, you can go further and create multiple panes.

Horizontal (Left/Right) Vertical (Top/Bottom)
[CTRL + b] + % [CTRL + b] + "

Let’s get some practice with these commands by creating a vertical split followed by a horizontal split.

[ctrl + b] + " 
[ctrl + b] +  %

If you’ve entered the commands in that order, you should have three panes that look this:

Vertical and Horizontal split in one TMUX window
Vertical and Horizontal Split

You can use [CTRL + b] + space key to toggle the layout of the currently focused pane.

Layout change in TMUX session
Layout change

Switching between panes

To switch between the splits you can use the tmux prefix [CTRL + b] + arrow keys.

[ctrl+b] + arrow keys

This cycles the panes in the direction you choose. The selected pane will be highlighted in green.

Switch between different panes in TMUX
Switching panes

Zoom into a pane

You can also “zoom” into a selected pane with the [CTRL +b ] + z. This will bring the selected screen to full size. To exit the zoom mode, hit [CTRL + b] + z again.

Zoom into one particular pane in TMUX
Zoom into pane

Killing or closing panes

This is an important one. You can close a pane (splits) by using the prefix [CTRL + b] + x.

It will ask you for the confirmation:

kill-pane 0? (y/n)
Terminating a Pane in Tmux
Close a Pane

Killing or closing windows in tmux

In order to close the current window (tabs), use:

[ctrl + b] + &

It will ask for your confirmation:

kill-window window_name? (y/n)
Terminate a Window in Tmux
Terminate a Window

Killing sessions in tmux

To kill the current tmux session you are using, you’ll have to kill all the windows first. That’s not very convenient, is it?

You can selectively kill a tmux session using its name or number like this:

tmux kill-session -t session_name_or_number
Terminate a Tmux session
Terminate a Session

It will kill the session even if you are inside the session.

If you want to kill all the sessions except the one you are currently using (or the last one you used), use this command:

tmux kill-session -a
Terminate all other sessions except the currently attached session
Terminate all other sessions except the currently attached session

To kill all tmux sessions in one go, you can use this magical command:

tmux kill-server
Terminate Tmux sessions using kill-server command
Terminate all Sessions

Download tmux cheat sheet

You learned the basics of tmux but remembering all the commands is not easy, specially in the beginning. This is why I am summarizing all the commands in the table below. You may also download it in PDF form.

Commands and Key Combinations Explanation
tmux Start new session
tmux new -s name Start new session with name
tmux ls List all the sessions
tmux kill-session -t name Kill the mentioned session
tmux kill-session -a Kill all sessions except the current or last used session
tmux kill-server Kill all tmux sessions
tmux attach -t name Attach/enter the mentioned session
[CTRL + b] + d Detach/exit the current session
[CTRL + b] + $ Name or rename current session
[CTRL + b] + c Create new window
[CTRL + b] + , Name or rename current window
[CTRL + b] + w List all windows
[CTRL + b] + & Kill the current window
[CTRL + b] + n/p/N Move to next/previous/Nth window
[CTRL + b] + % Create horizontal pane (New left and right panes)
[CTRL + b] + “ Create vertical pane (New top and bottom panes)
[CTRL + b] + space key Toggle the layout of the current panes
[CTRL + b] + z Zoom into the current pane
[CTRL + b] + x Kill the current pane


Thank you for following along with our introduction to tmux. As you can see, there are a wide variety of applications. I hope that this basic overview has given you some ideas about how you can use tmux to improve your workflow.

As always, if you have any questions, please leave them below in the comment section.

Christopher Murray