Byobu: Like Screen, but Better

By Juliet Kemp (Send Email)
Posted Oct 4, 2010


More on open source software

I'm a big fan of screen, but I only recently encountered Byobu, a neat enhancement of it.

Enhance Screen on your screen with Byobu, open source software that makes Screen more user friendly and functional.

Fire up Byobu (available via apt-get install for Debian/Ubuntu or from the project's homepage), and the first thing you'll notice is the multi-colored labels along the bottom of the screen

In fact, there are two info bars here. The top one shows what screens you have available on the left (handy if you want to jump between screens using Ctrl-A [num] rather than scrolling around all of them), and system name and IP address on the right. The bottom bar shows various other system status info. By default, this includes architecture, security updates available (in white on red), uptime, load average, CPU info, memory info and date/time.

This is all customizable -- to change what is shown, hit F9, and use the "Toggle status notifications" menu. There are assorted other status options available, or you can write your own custom scripts in ~/.byobu/bin and show the output of those. Check out the man page for more info.

You can also launch Byobu with sets of windows already loaded up for you. The set of windows loaded by default is defined in ~/.byobu/windows. Here's mine:

screen -t CLI bash
screen -t email mutt
screen -t remote juliet@myremotehost.com

The -t option sets the title for that window. (For other screen options, check the screen manpage.) You can also define sets of windows in files ~/.byobu/windows.NAME, then use them by setting the BYOBU_WINDOWS variable in bash. The next time you fire up Byobu, that set of windows will be used.

Finally, in case you're interested: "byobu" is a Japanese word for decorative folding screen, used as a room divider. It's certainly a great improvement on plain screen as a workspace divider.

Juliet Kemp has been messing around with Linux systems, for financial reward and otherwise, for about a decade. She is also the author of "Linux System Administration Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach" (Apress, 2009).

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