I am a bit lost here on customizing the search/find highlight color or font format if you will. I understand that using LESS_TERMCAP_* we can alter the font format of less display. Full capabilities are here.

But I couldn't get how to change the search highlight! I want to add background color and change fore color to make them different from the standard output colors. Negating the standard output is preferred.

Also, one more question. A parameter with special characters (like @0), how can we write their LESS_TERMCAP_ variable?

It's getting really annoying not being able to even guess which one to use to change the colors! Thanks in advance for shedding some light on the matter.

  • 1
    It is LESS_TERMCAP_so.
    – jimmij
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:44
  • Working! Thanks. But how can I able to tell without asking every time I want to know which key to use?
    – joker
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:57
  • It is not well documented, you need to read sources, or just experiment a bit. There are only 4 capabilities supported in less: _so(standout), _mb(blinking), _md(bold) and _us(underline), so not much to experiment with.
    – jimmij
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


There is a list of different termcaps global variables that are read by less; the relevant ones are found in the code as:

tmodes("so", "se", &sc_s_in, &sc_s_out, "", "", &sp);
tmodes("us", "ue", &sc_u_in, &sc_u_out, sc_s_in, sc_s_out, &sp);
tmodes("md", "me", &sc_b_in, &sc_b_out, sc_s_in, sc_s_out, &sp);
tmodes("mb", "me", &sc_bl_in, &sc_bl_out, sc_s_in, sc_s_out, &sp);

The tmodes function prefixes its first two arguments with LESS_TERMCAP_ and uses the value of the env variable with that name for, as described by user jimmij:

  • so standout, se exit standout,
  • us underline, ue exit underline,
  • md bold, me exit underline,
  • mb blinking, me exit blinking (and underline).

You can have your matches appearing in red using:

$ export LESS_TERMCAP_so=$(echo -e '\e[1;91m')
$ export LESS_TERMCAP_se=$(echo -e '\e[0m')

See this Wikipedia page for more on ANSI escape sequences (including background coloring, bold, ...).

It's worth noting that less reads much more LESS_TERMCAP_* variables than just these (for keys, for instance).

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