The Bash Prompt

Customizing Your Bash Prompt

Is your bash prompt so ugly it makes you sad? Well look no further, in this article I am going to show you how to make your prompt the envy of the neighborhood.

The Prompt

The Bash prompt is the command-line interface feature in Unix-like operating systems, it is provided by the Bash shell (Bourne Again SHell). The prompt is the area where the user types commands and interacts with the system. It typically appears as a string of characters followed by a cursor, signaling that the shell is ready to accept input.

The PS variable (1-4)

The PS1 variable is what you use to create your primary prompt, this is the prompt most people think of and it is the prompt that lets the user know that the shell is ready to accept commands.

The PS2 variable is the secondary prompt, we won’t spend time on this, just be aware that it is the prompt that appears when the shell expects additional input to complete a command, for example when there is an unmatched parenthesis or quotation mark.

The PS3 variable is used with the select command, often used with a case statement. This is commonly used in the creation of menu scripts.

Lastly, the PS4 variable is used in conjunction with the xtrace, or -x, option and is displayed before each command is executed.

Stock Prompt

When you first install and open the Bash shell, the default prompt can be rather uninspiring, providing minimal information and lacking aesthetic appeal, it will most likely look something like this:

Bash prompt Bash prompt

Custom Prompt

Fortunately, customizing the Bash prompt is a simple yet effective way to personalize your command-line experience. By incorporating different character sequences, you can not only enhance the visual appeal but also display relevant information that suits your preferences. In the following steps, I’ll guide you through the basics of customizing your Bash prompt and soon, you’ll find yourself navigating the command line with a tailored and visually pleasing prompt that suits your style and preferences, something similar to this:

Image 1 Image 2 Image 2

The Character Sequences

To make changes to the prompt we need to use character sequences. Character sequences are used to change the appearance of your prompt, including color settings for text and background, and style settings for text including underline, bold, blinking, and bright

Before we begin, there are 2 character sequences you need to be aware of before you attempt to style your prompt and they are as follows:




These two sequences are important because they are used to enclose and indicate non-printing sequences. While these styling sequences are used to add color and style or other escape sequences to your prompt, they do not actually take up space on the command line so when you include these escape/style sequences without enclosing them in \[ and \], Bash may miscalculate the length of the prompt leading to misplacement of the cursor and this leads to character printing issues and other weird functional issues. By enclosing the non-printing sequences with \[ \] you tell the terminal to ignore these sequences when calculating the length of the prompt to ensure proper cursor placement and avoid unexpected behavior.

So take care to note in the following examples the escape sequences and the printed components of the prompts and which are wrapped and which are not.


Color is one customization you can use to create your ideal prompt, the following is a list of the color character codes, they are used in a sequence like this:

color fg number bg number
Black 30 40
White 37 47
Blue 34 44
Cyan 36 46
Green 32 42
Red 31 41
Yellow 33 43
Magenta 35 45

So for example:

PS1="\[\e[31m\]This is red text\[\e[m\] "  

Will create a prompt that looks like this:
This text red text.


PS1="\[\e[41m\]This is red background\[\e[m\] "

Will create a prompt that looks like this:
This is red background


Text color is nice, but what if you want to dress it up a little more, you can add a little style with an underline, bright/bold colors, dim colors, blinking text, or reversed text using the following codes:

style number
normal 0
bold/bright 1
dim 2
underline 4
blinking 5
reversed 7

Apply the style character your would lke to use as follows:



So for example:

PS1="\[\e[4;32m\]This is green underlined text\[\e[m\] "  

will create a prompt that looks like this:
This is green underlined text



So for example:

PS1="\[\e[1;32m\]This is bright green text\[\e[m\] "

will create a prompt that looks like this: (depending on your terminal colors and settings)
This is bright green text

note the 4; or the 1; in the character sequenct, the 1; is for bright, the 4; is for underline.


Now that you know how to add color and style to your prompt, lets add the real important stuff, the stuff that gives you the needed information about where you are, what you are, who you are, and more.
The following table is a list of charater sequences and the description of what they display:

Character sequences Displays
\a The “alarm” character. Triggers a beep or a screen flash
\d The current date, displayed in the format Weekday Month Date (e.g., Wednesday May 13).
\D{format} The current date and time displayed according to format as interpreted by strftime. If format is omitted, \D{} displays current 12-hour A.M./P.M. time (e.g., 07:23:01 PM).
\e An escape character (ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) 27)
\e[numberm Denotes the beginning of a sequence to display in color. Number is a number, or pair of numbers, which specifies what color and style to use. See below for a list of colors and their number pairs.
\e[m Denotes the end of a sequence to display in color.
\h The hostname of the machine, up to the first “.” For instance, if the system’s hostname is myhost.mydomain, \h displays myhost
\H The full hostname of the machine.
\j Number of jobs being managed by the shell.
\l The shell’s terminal device identifier, usually a single-digit number.
\n A newline
\r Carriage return
\s The name of the shell (the basename of the process that initiated the current bash session).
\t Current time displayed in 24-hour HH:MM:SS format (e.g., 19:23:01).
\T Current time displayed in 12-hour HH:MM:SS format (eg. 07:23:01).
\@ Current time displayed in 12-hour HH:MM:SS A.M./P.M. format (e.g., 07:23:01 P.M.).
\A Current time in 24-hour HH:MM format, (e.g., 19:23).
\u The username of the current user.
\v Bash version number (e.g., 4.3).
\V Bash version and patch number (e.g., 4.3.30).
\w The current directory. The user’s home directory is abbreviated as a tilde ("~"). For example, /usr/bin, ~, or ~/documents
\W The basename of the current working directory (e.g., bin, ~, or documents).
\! The history number of the current command.
\# The command number of the current command (command numbers are like history numbers, but they reset to zero when you start a new bash session).
\nnn The ASCII character whose octal value is nnn.
\ A backslash
\[ Marks the beginning of any sequence of non-printing characters, such as terminal control codes.
\] Marks the end of a non-printing sequence.

So now that we have a nice list of the different characters you can use and what they will display, how do you use them? Well it is simple, say you want your prompt to show the name of the current user in white and the current working directory basename in red, that would look like this:

PS1="\u \[\e[31m\]\W\[\e[m\] "

With this configuration, your prompt will look like this:
(I will use Jake as my user name, and home as the current dir)
Jake ~

Or say you don’t care about color and you just want to display the date, just do this:

PS1="\d : "

This will display a prompt that looks like this:
Wednesday May 13 :

Now that we have a good idea of what character sequences do and how to use them the question becomes, where do we configure this? There are a couple of ways you can implement your own prompt. First, if you are just looking to change the prompt for the current session, you can just open your terminal, and enter the following:

bash-5.25: PS1="<enter your prompt configuration here>"

This will change your prompt for the current session, but it will return to normal once you close your terminal. If you want to change it permanently, all you have to do is set the PS1 variable to whatever you like in either your .bash_profile, or in your .bashrc (you can use your .profile as well, if you prefer, but the other 2 files are more commonly used). Once set in one of the bash files, just close your terminal and reopen it or use the following command, and your prompt will be permanently set, at least set until your edti your PS1 variable again.


Now take your new knowledge and understanding of the PS1 variable and customize and configure to your hearts desire.