I have 256 colors working just fine in konsole,. I thought I'd give tmux a try because, unlike screen, it seems to support vi mode. However I find that the colors of my prompt show up and this is most likely because I have a 256 color mode prompt. What do I need to do to get tmux to recognize all 256 colors?

  • 3
    tmux -2 I had to do this in terminator and I was somewhat surprised. The -2 flag tells tmux to force the usage of 256 colors ... whether your terminal likes it or not ... dun dun dunnn :P
    – Dylan
    Oct 31 '15 at 14:27

10 Answers 10


The Tmux FAQ explicitly advises against setting TERM to anything other than screen or screen-256color or tmux or tmux-256color in your shell init file, so don't do it!

Here's what I use:

~$ which tmux
tmux: aliased to TERM=xterm-256color tmux

and in in my .tmux.conf:

set -g default-terminal "screen-256color"

Aliasing tmux to "tmux -2" should also do the trick.

And don't forget to restart your tmux server: (see @mast3r answer)

tmux kill-server && tmux
  • 9
    I like the way to set it in the .tmux.conf best... using the shell to set it just doesn't seem right Aug 24 '10 at 5:38
  • 6
    Weird. You don't need tmux -2 on OSX but you need it with Gnome Terminal. Thanks for the info, added to my aliases!
    – F.X.
    Dec 8 '12 at 16:53
  • 1
    In Kubuntu 13.10 the .tmux.conf setting alone did not get me my 256 colors back (which took out highlighting in vim visual mode) but the alias worked. Would certainly prefer a .tmux.conf file only solution. Dec 7 '13 at 21:53
  • 1
    ssh'd into an Ubuntu machine (from OS X Terminal), the .tmux.conf default-terminal was all I needed. Mar 13 '14 at 16:19
  • 2
    for me it seems like all I need to do is TERM=screen-256color tmux without creating a .tmux.conf file. Am I missing something? Apr 26 '15 at 12:41

Try setting 256 colors explicitly in your bashrc or zshrc:

export TERM=xterm-256color


export TERM=screen-256color

If you have problems with tmux not clearing the background colors correctly when using the screen term setting, you can try:

export TERM=screen-256color-bce
  • 2
    the first one is my default TERM setting... I just tried the other 2 and my prompt still doesn't show colors once I enter tmux. (I would like to note that tmux does show colors at the bottom)... it seems that when I enter tmux that it resets the TERM to TERM=screen... perhaps theres a way to override this in a config? Aug 23 '10 at 9:17
  • nvm... I guess putting it in a my shell's rc does work... how annoying that it ignores the TERM env variable that's set when I execute tmux... I guess I'll have to put a conditional in my rc. Aug 23 '10 at 9:21
  • 1
    -bce is not compatible with tmux. Tmux does not support background color erase: Jan 15 '12 at 14:32
  • 1
    I had this problem with roxterm. Hopefully adding roxterm to this will help people find the same solution that I had. I would end up in vim and selecting lines would make them dissappear. Extremely difficult to search for. roxterm by default sets up with just $TERM=xterm, which is no good.
    – BeepDog
    Jul 8 '14 at 1:54
  • 9
    -1, you shouldn't set either unconditionally in your shell initialization file. Setting it to xterm-256color will override it inside tmux as well, and setting it to screen-256color outside of tmux could lead to display bugs.
    – nyuszika7h
    Nov 5 '14 at 14:23

As per the tmux FAQ, add this to your ~/.tmux.conf:

set -g default-terminal "screen-256color"

Then add this alias for tmux:

alias tmux='tmux -2'

No need to override the TERM variable in your profile or when starting tmux.

More information: http://vim.wikia.com/wiki/256_colors_setup_for_console_Vim

  • 4
    Configuring tmux was enough for me; I did not need to set alias (though it probably wouldn't hurt).
    – anishpatel
    May 10 '17 at 6:33
  • Configuring tmux alone works for me. The alias was not sufficient. Jun 23 '18 at 5:39

The newest version of ncurses ships with a tmux-256color terminfo entry (the FAQ does mention this). As an example, a benefit of using tmux-256color over screen-256color is that italics is properly rendered (screen doesn't support italics).

So if you are using tmux 2.6 or above, and have the latest ncurses package, the following will work as well:

set -g default-terminal "tmux-256color"

For people who have latest tmux, the .tmux.conf option from the accepted answer should work.

I only want to add that you will probably need to restart tmux for the new configuration to take effect:

tmux kill-server && tmux

Interestingly, this isn't mentioned anywhere in the answers and took me a while to figure out.

  • 8
    not knowing about the server restart gobbled up a few hours of my life.
    – Lmwangi
    Mar 28 '20 at 8:35
  • 2
    I just created account here to tell you that, it saved my life. I was about to giveup on tmux. But this ans saved tmux in my life ;) I can't upvote :(.
    – Netro
    Apr 17 '20 at 7:00
  • 1
    This just saved my life too after an hour of endless searching, felt like I was going insane. I'm going to propose this as an edit with credit to you in the top answer for visibility Jul 1 '20 at 16:19

I could not explain why this works but it solved the problem for me.


set-option -g default-command bash
  • 1
    I tried this as the last resort and surprisingly it worked!
    – v0d1ch
    Oct 5 '19 at 21:52
  • Yes! This solution also worked on 18.04 and 20.04. Thank you very much. Jun 7 '20 at 17:35
  • this actually solved the issue on Pop-OS 20.04
    – tcapelle
    Oct 5 '20 at 14:02

Really important note here if you're running an Ubuntu older than Bionic (18.04). If you're running tmux 2.1 or older, and you probably are, basically no advice you read online about tmux will work..for anything.

tmux -V is an easy test for this. If you see 2.1 or older, you can build tmux from source, or you can add an unofficial repository. I updated my tmux with:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:/hnakamur/tmux
sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Personally, after upgrading to 2.6, 1) my keys are working better, 2) online advice actually works, 3) my colors are not insane. Big improvement.

(Here's a link to the repository page, btw): https://launchpad.net/~hnakamur


Following lines in ~/.tmux.conf worked for me --

set -g default-terminal "xterm-256color"
set-option -ga terminal-overrides ",xterm-256color:Tc"

Tested on

  • Tmux 2.7, Ubuntu 16.04,18.04
  • Tmux 2.9, CentOS
  • Worked for me as well. Thanks! (Tmux 3.0a, Ubuntu 20.04, Terminal emulator: Konsole) Nov 25 at 6:49

This is my solution.... I edit my .bashrc file and adding this

if [ "$TERM" != "xterm-256color" ]; then
      export TERM=xterm-256color

Hopefully it works in yours

  • 18
    Why bother with the if? You could just set the variable. Oct 11 '17 at 5:28

Feeling grateful for all other answers here giving me hints, but then it seems unnecessary to modify global TERM setting AND ~/.tmux.conf.

I ended up using an alias to set the TERM only when I'm about to use tmux. Just add this one-liner at the end of your ~/.bashrc (or whatever shell configuration file you use).

alias tmux='TERM=xterm-256color tmux'

That's it. Interestingly, after tmux launchs, the TERM would automatically be reset to "screen", but the colors work anyway. So I guess tmux would also be happy (for not messing up with its TERM environment?).

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