byobu: A shortcut to a prettier screen

I spend a lot of time using screen, whether it’s on my main machine, or through ssh to another. It’s an amazing tool that really deserves more attention, but starts off rather droll. So in that sense, customizing screen is more or less necessary.

As a shortcut to hand-editing configuration files, byobu gives you a decent screen arrangement and nicely coordinated colors, along with configuration menus, window management controls and an interface to the underlying screen program. By default, it looks attractive; this is the AUR conversion.

Or at least, as attractive as you can expect for a program that really only displays a couple of bars of text, against the console. Pressing F9 under the default key settings will allow you to arrange byobu to your taste, so if you run a light-colored terminal and want a matching color scheme, you can pick one you like.

byobu also has some interesting power meters and system information that some higher-end hardware would find useful. Most, if not all, of those are adjustable through the built-in menus, as well as some specialized windows (built from core commands) that will take closer peeks at your system.

Whether or not you like byobu might depend on how long you’ve been using screen. I had to shift my own .screenrc file out of the way before byobu would start up for me in Arch; if you have a long series of settings you prefer, it might be more work to incorporate them into byobu than you like.

A couple of other points that you might want to consider:

  • The function key controls for byobu might get in the way of some of your applications. You can adjust those to a different set of course, which I had to do almost immediately because I need the function keys for mc. screen’s default keyset is available as an option too.
  • screen is still what drives byobu, so if your version has a patch (such as the vertical split patch), you’ll have that function in byobu too. I believe the default screen in Arch does not have that patch; look for the AUR screen-vs package.

I’ve used byobu under Ubuntu and Arch, and see the package in Debian and elsewhere. If you want to get started with screen and want a jump start on prettifying it, this might be a good way to learn. 🙂


11 thoughts on “byobu: A shortcut to a prettier screen

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  3. Rahul

    I have installed screen 4.0.3 successfully but still when I press C-a S it gives me a horizontal window split. Can you tell me what is the shortcut to vertical window split?

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      If you’re using the vertical screen patch, it’s C-a v. If you’re using byobu, it’s C-a | (pipe symbol). If you installed from source in 4.0.3, you might not have the patch applied. Check the screen help pages (C-a ?) and see if the command is listed. 😉

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  5. ScannerDarkly

    With ssh do you think it is necessary for byobu to be installed on remote computers? A lot I connect to are Solaris boxes so I can never reattach to my sessions there.

    Splitting doesn’t work so great with byobu under Ubuntu. Yet again the AUR shows its power by taking something from another distro and improving on it

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Do you mean, is it necessary for byobu to installed on a remote machine in order to use screen on a host machine? No, I don’t see any necessary connection between one or the other. I generally allow screen to run on a remote machine and simply reconnect to it after issuing the ssh command.

      But maybe I misunderstand your question … 😐

  6. ScannerDarkly

    Rephrase: In an ssh scenarip, is it better to run screen/byobu on the computer you use to connect to remote hosts, or on the remotehosts themselves, or both?

    Also, on some distros this is what happens:

    There’s no prompts after I split?

  7. theresa

    excellent blog entry, job well done!
    i’ve got the vertical and horizontal splits working, thanks very much for the hint.
    BUT how do i navigate to the other splits screens? i’m currently stuck in the first split.
    Also HOW do I undo it? How do I unsplit it back to normal screen without having to exit byobu?

    thanks again!


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