I would like my default bash shell to go straight into tmux instead of my always having to type tmux every time.


18 Answers 18


@StarNamer's answer is generally accurate, though I typically include the following tests to make sure that

  1. tmux exists on the system
  2. we're in an interactive shell, and
  3. tmux doesn't try to run within itself

So, I would add this to the .bashrc:

if command -v tmux &> /dev/null && [ -n "$PS1" ] && [[ ! "$TERM" =~ screen ]] && [[ ! "$TERM" =~ tmux ]] && [ -z "$TMUX" ]; then
  exec tmux


  • 1
    Nice, I have needed command before but didn't realize it existed. Jun 21, 2015 at 0:25
  • 3
    this exec statement doesn't let you exit tmux without quitting the entire terminal! :| Aug 2, 2015 at 20:43
  • 6
    @LouisMaddox: exec replaces the current process with a new one - in this case, it replaces the bash login shell with tmux, so when tmux exits then there is no other terminal to fall back to :) Dec 8, 2015 at 12:21
  • 1
    @rjt That's correct, this starts a new session by design. If you prefer to attach to an existing tmux session simply replace exec tmux with your preferred flavor of tmux attach
    – user7089
    Feb 20, 2019 at 12:54
  • 23
    instead of exec tmux I use exec tmux new-session -A -s main so I will always have a session called main and attach to it (instead of creating a new one everytime I connect to my remote machine) but it will not crash like using tmux attach in case there is no session available (found here: unix.stackexchange.com/a/176885/256942) Aug 13, 2019 at 8:55

Start tmux on every shell login, from Arch wiki, seems to work. Simply add the following line of bash code to your .bashrc before your aliases; the code for other shells is very similar:

[[ $TERM != "screen" ]] && exec tmux
  • 2
    For me this also required [[ $- != *i* ]] && return to not being an infinite loop (from the same page) Apr 14, 2013 at 1:45
  • 10
    This is a bad solution since the TERM might be set to some other value by the user's .tmux.conf file. Better to check whether the TMUX variable is set or not.
    – Kusalananda
    Dec 30, 2016 at 13:21
  • Can confirm this works for zsh as well. Jun 8, 2020 at 12:47

Adding a line like

[ -z "$TMUX"  ] && { tmux attach || exec tmux new-session && exit;}

in your bashrc file will probably do the job. Note this line will exit ssh and terminate the connection once you detach or exit tmux. I like this configuration as it saves key strokes to terminate the connection. But if you don't love this(which I think is very unlikely) and would rather remain in the login shell after termination, just remove the exit part:

[ -z "$TMUX"  ] && { tmux attach || exec tmux new-session;}

Also note you shouldn't wrap tmux attach with exec, as this would cause the connection to be closed when there are no tmux sessions to attach to.

  • I've added this line to my .bashrc, but now when I start a terminal, I get some messages: /home/z/.tmux.conf:10: no current session (the message repeats for lines 11, 13, 14, 15). Those lines are things like "set default-command "exec bash"" and "set default-terminal "screen-256color".
    – Matt G
    Feb 3, 2019 at 2:40
  • @MattG Feel like it's something wrong with the tmux configuration file. Feb 3, 2019 at 18:40
  • I was unable to login with this setting. Running Ubuntu 20.04.
    – Richard
    Jan 12, 2021 at 18:05
  • @Richard what's the error message? Jan 12, 2021 at 18:59
  • After logging in, something would fail and take be back to the login screen. See my answer for a fix.
    – Richard
    Jan 13, 2021 at 19:33

I'm successfully using

case $- in *i*)
    [ -z "$TMUX" ] && exec tmux

in my .zshrc. If you're using bash, put it in your .bashrc instead.

I also just tried setting tmux as my default shell (chsh -s $(which tmux)) and it seems to break direct command execution via SSH, e.g. ssh $some_server echo foo will not produce any output.

  • Why are you using case $- in *i*)? Jul 8 at 20:34
  • 1
    @AhmadIsmail $- contains the current shell options, including i if the shell is interactive (i.e. a user prompt is requested, rather than directly executing a command). case … in *i*) is a fairly portable way to check if a variable contains the letter i anywhere (no need to break out expr or [[ and regular expressions for something so simple).
    – n.st
    Jul 12 at 4:39
  • 1
    And for the last part, $TMUX is set inside tmux sessions, so we can check if it's unset/empty to only spawn tmux if we are not already inside a tmux session.
    – n.st
    Jul 12 at 4:40

Go to terminal preferances. enter image description here

And then click to "command" bar. enter image description here

Check the "Run a custom command instead of my sell" and write whatever command you want to execute at the startup of your terminal.

  • I tried this before getting here. However, I can't use the tmux a || tmux new-session command. When there's a session to connect, it connects, but, otherwise, the terminal closes immediately. This forced me to use another TTY to revert the configuration (which may be scary for newby users). Apr 10 at 12:41

I combined the extensive checks, with the conditional session checking, and put my own spin on it, to create a default session that is connected to or else created. Unless you are inside of another tmux session, or other protective conditions are met.

if command -v tmux &> /dev/null && [ -n "$PS1" ] && [[ ! "$TERM" =~ screen ]] && [[ ! "$TERM" =~ tmux ]] && [ -z "$TMUX" ]; then
  tmux a -t default || exec tmux new -s default && exit;

Based on these answers:




There is command chsh which changes login shell. Consult man chsh.

Make tmux your login shell, but don't forget to configure the default-shell setting for tmux first!

Example of ~/.tmux.conf:

set-option -g default-shell "/bin/bash"

You need to test this first, before setting tmux as your login shell.

  • 7
    tmux is not a shell, it's a terminal multiplexer like GNU screen. Interestingly, it does support the -c option according to the man page, so it may work like a shell just enough to use it as your login shell, but I suspect it won't work properly in all situations, e.g. graphical logins via gdm/kdm.
    – Mikel
    Jul 20, 2012 at 15:32
  • 1
    Although this is sensible and backed by the documentation, it seems to break direct command execution via SSH (something like ssh $some_server echo foo).
    – n.st
    May 11, 2014 at 2:11
  • 5
    tmux as of at least 1.8 on Ubuntu adds itself to /etc/shells, so it is a valid login shell.
    – claytron
    Mar 26, 2015 at 17:14
  • 5
    This requires you configure the default-shell setting in the tmux configuration to point to an actual shell.
    – Kusalananda
    Jan 14, 2017 at 13:35

Adding to @Louis Maddox 's answer, I would execute tmux part with;

(exec tmux attach || exec tmux new-session)
  • I use exec sh -c 'tmux a || tmux', which (after looking at your answer) will probably make bad things happen if tmux can't start for any reason..... thanks, I'll use yours from now on :) Dec 8, 2015 at 12:22
  • 2
    tmux new -A -s mysession will probably work too.
    – poolie
    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:16

None of the above responses worked for me - exec tmux prevents me closing tmux without quitting the shell (whether it's opened with Ctrl + T or from the application menu).

I use Linux Mint, which lets you map certain hotkeys to commands, and (un-kosher as it may be to some..) I've got bash shells with commands starting up there, e.g. Win+Alt+B does some sort of convoluted bash -exec(vim) statement to edit my .bashrc, so it acts like a regular shell.

tmux loaded rather than vim under that situation after placing the above at the top of my .bashrc. I've wrapped the tmux executing line in another if statement, checking that it's running in interactive mode.

if command -v tmux>/dev/null; then
        if [ ! -z "$PS1" ]; then # unless shell not loaded interactively, run tmux
                [[ ! $TERM =~ screen ]] && [ -z $TMUX ] && tmux

You could wrap all that onto one line but for readability I think that's fine.

  • Adding a ampersand would solved that issue like so. [[ ! $TERM =~ screen ]] && [ -z $TMUX ] && exec tmux &
    – DJ Chateau
    Oct 6, 2015 at 20:21

This is in my ~/.profile (I'm using ksh93):

if [[ -z "$TMUX" ]]; then
    if tmux has-session 2>/dev/null; then
        exec tmux attach
        exec tmux

If the TMUX environment variable is unset/empty, then we're not already in a tmux session, so...

If tmux has-session returns with a zero exit status (true), there is an available session to attach to. Attach to it.

If not, create a new session.

It's also possible to use tmux as your login shell. If you do this, however, make sure to set default-shell to an actual shell in your ~/.tmux.conf file (see the tmux manual for more info about this).


You could (and as of now probably should) use sudo chsh $(logname) command to set /usr/bin/tmux, or whatever is the path to it, as a default shell, then add the following to ~/.tmux.conf:

set-option -g default-shell </path/to/your/favourite/shell>
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but tmux ain't a shell, is a shell/screen multiplexer. What OP meant by "shell" is launching tmux by default, with the default shell in each pane. Point is, you can't set default-shell to tmux afaik because it ain't a shell and if you could anyway, it could result in tmux complaining about "tmux session inside a tmux session" if you would open a new pane inside tmux which would use the default shell.
    – Eksapsy
    May 2, 2021 at 12:37
  • @Eksapsy You are wrong. I have had my default shell set to /usr/bin/tmux for the last 5 years and that's how it is supposed to work, it doesn't complain about anything. After it fires up it starts another tmux session (see the second paragraph of man7.org/linux/man-pages/man1/tmux.1.html), and using the option mentioned above, it fires up ZSH in that session's window. You can have any binary whatsoever as your a login shell. tmux does handle being login shell without an issue, even when logging in via SSH. May 2, 2021 at 13:25
  • @Eksapsy FTR, here's what man tmux says about tmux -c: Execute shell-command using the default shell. If necessary, the tmux server will be started to retrieve the default-shell option. This option is for compatibility with sh(1) when tmux is used as a login shell. May 2, 2021 at 13:36
  • Im sorry but to me your instructions didn't work either. tmux doesn't exist as a shell in /etc/shells. I added it manually, even if you're not supposed to do that, and chsh to tmux anyway. Didn't work again. Then added set-option -g default-shell /usr/bin/zsh. Didn't work either. The most important thing here though is, that tmux didn't appear as a shell in /etc/shells at all. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but it only shows that this is not the default best way to do things? Usually when you install a shell it sets itself inside /etc/shells on its own.
    – Eksapsy
    May 2, 2021 at 15:23
  • 1
    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Eksapsy
    May 2, 2021 at 16:51

The following solution is built upon the given solutions. The difference being, If you are using a DE and try to use 'Right Click > Open In Terminal' then it will open in current location.

function tmux-as-default-terminal() {
  if command -v tmux &> /dev/null && [[ -z "$TMUX" ]]
    notmuxsession=$(tmux list-clients | wc -l)
    if tmux has-session -t default${notmuxsession}
        exec tmux attach-session -t default${notmuxsession} -c $PWD
        exec tmux new-session -s default${notmuxsession} -c $PWD

tmux-as-default-terminal "$@"

this make tmux open by default on all new shell of user

cmd='[ $TERM == screen ] || exec tmux'
echo -e "$cmd\n$(cat ~/.bashrc)" > ~/.bashrc
  • 1
    This is little more than a rewrite of the accepted answer, from eight years ago —  better answers have been posted since then. Mar 6, 2020 at 7:50

I had an issue where I could not login (on Ubuntu 20.04). I added the following tweak to huangzonghao's answer:

# autoload tmux - place at EOF (end-of-file) within ~/.bashrc
# if shell is interactive, and TMUX var is set...
[[ $- == *i* ]] && [[ -z "${TMUX}" ]] && { tmux attach || exec tmux new-session && exit; }

Add the below line to ~/.config/fish/conf.d/omf.fish

if not set -q TMUX
    set -g TMUX tmux new-session -d -s base
    eval $TMUX
    tmux attach-session -d -t base

The above worked on Fedora 34. However, on exit, only tmux is exited and the running session remains active.


There seem to be two classes of answers here:

  1. Those that just "start tmux" (exec tmux) using various techniques and (preferably) wrappers for error handling. E.g. exec tmux

  2. Those that first attempt to attach to an existing tmux and then fallback to the first method if an existing session doesn't exist. E.g. tmux attach || exec tmux.

This second method can be simplified and made more efficient with:

exec tmux new -A

The -A flag to new (short for new-session):

  • Checks to see if an existing tmux session exists
  • Attaches to it if if so
  • Starts a new session if not

In addition to being more concise than the longer form, it's also theoretically slightly more efficient, since tmux only has to start once, rather than potentially twice (once to check, again to actually run if it wasn't running).

I use a slightly longer form personally:

exec tmux new -AD -t main -s main


  • Makes sure that there is only one session-group and session running (named main)
  • Detaches any other running tmux client.

I do still recommend wrapping this in an if statement per user7089's answer.


Add this into your ~/.tmux.conf

set -g default-command /usr/local/bin/fish
  • 6
    I think you misunderstood the question mate! ;)
    – PhilT
    May 6, 2017 at 5:29

As Mikel already stated in his comment to have tmux as your login shell can have side effects. But you can make tmux your default shell, literally. A user's default shell is defined in /etc/passwd. So you can become root and edit /etc/passwd, e.g. sudo vi /etc/passwd search for the line that begins with your username. It probably ends with :/bin/bash. Change /bin/bash to /usr/bin/tmux and now tmux is your default login shell.

However, no guarantee that this won't cause problems!

What may work better is to NOT do anything that requries root privileges. I would try to create a file in my home directoy named .bash_login and start tmux from within that file: `echo "tmux" >~/.bash_login.

This should work, but you have to try and find our yourself, b/c the bash documentation is not very exact about what file is read and executed when.

  • 2
    What your first paragraph describes is what chsh does! Except that your way requires being root and is error-prone. Running tmux from .bash_login is more likely to break remote logins. Jul 20, 2012 at 23:10

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