Chapter 2: What to put in your startup files

There are probably various changes you want to make to the shell's behaviour. All shells have `startup' files, containing commands which are executed as soon as the shell starts. Like many others, zsh allows each user to have their own startup files. In this chapter, I discuss the sorts of things you might want to put there. This will serve as an introduction to what the shell does; by the end, you should have an inkling of many of the things which will be discussed in more detail later on and why they are interesting. Sometimes you will find out more than you want to know, such as how zsh differs from other shells you're not going to use. Explaining the differences here saves me having to lie about how the shell works and correcting it later on: most people will simply want to know how the shell normally works, and note that there are other ways of doing it.

2.1: Types of shell: interactive and login shells

First, you need to know what is meant by an interactive and a login shell. Basically, the shell is just there to take a list of commands and run them; it doesn't really care whether the commands are in a file, or typed in at the terminal. In the second case, when you are typing at a prompt and waiting for each command to run, the shell is interactive; in the other case, when the shell is reading commands from a file, it is, consequently, non-interactive. A list of commands used in this second way --- typically by typing something like zsh filename, although there are shortcuts --- is called a script, as if the shell was acting in a play when it read from it (and shells can be real hams when it comes to playacting). When you start up a script from the keyboard, there are actually two zsh's around: the interactive one you're typing at, which is waiting for another, non-interactive one to finish running the script. Almost nothing that happens in the second one affects the first; they are different copies of zsh.

Remember that when I give examples for you to type, I often show them as they would appear in a script, without prompts in front. What you actually see on the screen if you type them in will have a lot more in front.

When you first log into the computer, the shell you are presented with is interactive, but it is also a login shell. If you type `zsh', it starts up a new interactive shell: because you didn't give it the name of a file with commands in, it assumes you are going to type them interactively. Now you've got two interactive shells at once, one waiting for the other: it doesn't sound all that useful, but there are times when you are going to make some radical changes to the shell's settings temporarily, and the easiest thing to do is to start another shell, do what you want to do, and exit back to the original, unaltered, shell --- so it's not as stupid as it sounds.

However, that second shell will not be a login shell. How does zsh know the difference? Well, the programme that logs you in after you type your password (called, predictably, login), actually sticks a `-' in front of the name of the shell, which zsh recognises. The other way of making a shell a login shell is to run it yourself with the option -l; typing `zsh -l' will start a zsh that also thinks it's a login shell, and later I'll explain how to turn on options within the shell, which you can do with the login option too. Otherwise, any zsh you start yourself will not be a login shell. If you are using X-Windows, and have a terminal emulator such as xterm running a shell, that is probably not a login shell. However, it's actually possible to get xterm to start a login shell by giving it the option -ls, so if you type `xterm -ls &', you will get a window running a login shell (the & means the shell in the first window doesn't wait for it to finish).

The first main difference between a login shell and any other interactive shell is the one to do with startup files, described below. The other one is what you do when you're finished. With a login shell you can type `logout' to exit the shell; with another you type `exit'. However, `exit' works for all shells, interactive, non-interactive, login, whatever, so a lot of people just use that. In fact, the only difference is that `logout' will tell you `not login shell' if you use it anywhere else and fail to exit. The command `bye' is identical to `exit', only shorter and less standard. So my advice is just to use `exit'.

As somebody pointed out to me recently, login shells don't have to be interactive. You can always start a shell in the two ways that make it a login shell; the ways that make it an interactive shell or not are independent. In fact, some start-up scripts for windowing systems run a non-interactive login shell to incorporate definitions from the appropriate login scripts before executing the commands to start the windowing session.

2.1.1: What is a login shell? Simple tests

Telling if the shell you are looking at is interactive is usually easy: if there's a prompt, it's interactive. As you may have gathered, telling if it's a login shell is more involved because you don't always know how the shell was started or if the option got changed. If you want to know, you can type the following (one line at a time if you like, see below),

  if [[ -o login ]]; then
    print yes
    print no
which will print `yes' or `no' according to whether it's a login shell or not; the syntax will be explained as we go along. There are shorter ways of doing it, but this illustrates the commonest shell syntax for testing things, something you probably often want to do in a startup file. What you're testing goes inside the `[[ ... ]]'; in this case, the -o tells the shell to test an option, here login. The next line says what to do if the test succeeded; the line after the `else' what to do if the test failed. This syntax is virtually identical to ksh; in this guide, I will not give exhaustive details on the tests you can perform, since there are many of them, but just show some of the most useful. As always, see the manual --- in this case, `Conditional Expressions' in the zshmisc manual pages.

Although you usually know when a shell is interactive, in fact you can test that in exactly the same way, too: just use `[[ -o interactive ]]'. This is one option you can't change within the shell; if you turn off reading from the keyboard, where is the shell supposed to read from? But you can at least test it.

Aside for beginners in shell programming: maybe the semicolon looks a bit funny; that's because the `then' is really a separate command. The semicolon is just instead of putting it on a new line; the two are interchangeable. In fact, I could have written,

  if [[ -o login ]]; then; print yes; else; print no; fi
which does exactly the same thing. I could even have missed out the semicolons after `then' and `else', because the shell knows that a command must come after each of those --- though the semicolon or newline before the then is often important, because the shell does not know a command has to come next, and might mix up the then with the arguments of the command after the `if': it may look odd, but the `[[ ... ]]' is actually a command. So you will see various ways of dividing up the lines in shell programmes. You might also like to know that print is one of the builtin commands referred to before; in other words, the whole of that chunk of programme is executed by the shell itself. If you're using a newish version of the shell, you will notice that zsh tells you what it's waiting for, i.e. a `then' or an `else' clause --- see the explanation of $PS2 below for more on this. Finally, the spaces I put before the `print' commands were simply to make it look prettier; any number of spaces can appear before, after, or between commands and arguments, as long as there's at least one between ordinary words (the semicolon is recognised as special, so you don't need one before that, though it's harmless if you do put one in).

Second aside for users of sh: you may remember that tests in sh used a single pair of brackets, `if [ ... ]; then ...', or equivalently as a command called test, `if test ...; then ...'. The Korn shell was deliberately made to be different, and zsh follows that. The reason is that `[[' is treated specially, which allows the shell to do some extra checks and allows more natural syntax. For example, you may know that in sh it's dangerous to test a parameter which may be empty: `[ $var = foo ]' will fail if $var is empty, because in that case the word is missed out and the shell never knows it was supposed to be there; with `[[ ... ]]', this is quite safe because the shell is aware there's a word before the `=', even if it's empty. Also, you can use `&&' and `||' to mean logical `and' and `or', which agrees with the usual UNIX/C convention; in sh, they would have been taken as starting a new command, not as part of the test, and you have to use the less clear `-a' and `-o'. Actually, zsh provides the old form of test for backward compatibility, but things will work a lot more smoothly if you don't use it.

2.2: All the startup files

Now here's a list of the startup files and when they're run. You'll see they fall into two classes: those in the /etc directory, which are put there by the system administrator and are run for all users, and those in your home directory, which zsh, like many shells, allows you to abbreviate to a `~'. It's possible that the latter files are somewhere else; type `print $ZDOTDIR' and if you get something other than a blank line, or an error message telling you the parameter isn't set, it's telling you a directory other than `~' where your startup files live. If $ZDOTDIR (another parameter) is not already set, you won't want to set it without a good reason.

Always run for every zsh.

Usually run for every zsh (see below).

Run for login shells.

Run for login shells.

Run for interactive shells.

Run for interactive shells.

Run for login shells.

Run for login shells.

Now you know what login and interactive shells are, this should be straightforward. You may wonder why there are both ~/.zprofile and ~/.zlogin, when they are both for login shells: the answer is the obvious one, that one is run before, one after ~/.zshrc. This is historical; Bourne-type shells run /etc/profile, and csh-type shells run ~/.login, and zsh tries to cover the bases with its own startup files.

The complication is hinted at by the `see below'. The file /etc/zshenv, as it says, is always run at the start of any zsh. However, if the option NO_RCS is set (or, equivalently, the RCS option is unset: I'll talk about options shortly, since they are important in startup files), none of the others are run. The most common way of setting this option is with a flag on the command line: if you start the shell as `zsh -f', the option becomes set, so only /etc/zshenv is run and the others are skipped. Often, scripts do this as a way of trying to get a basic shell with no frills, as I'll describe below; but if something is set in /etc/zshenv, there's no way to avoid it. This leads to the First Law of Zsh Administration: put as little as possible in the file /etc/zshenv, as every single zsh which starts up has to read it. In particular, if the script assumes that only the basic options are set and /etc/zshenv has altered them, it might well not work. So, at the absolute least, you should probably surround any option settings in /etc/zshenv with

  if [[ ! -o norcs ]]; then
    ... <commands to run if NO_RCS is not set, 
         such as setting options> ...
and your users will be eternally grateful. Settings for interactive shells, such as prompts, have no business in /etc/zshenv unless you really insist that all users have them as defaults for every single shell. Script writers who want to get round problems with options being changed in /etc/zshenv should put `emulate zsh' at the top of the script.

There are two files run at the end: ~/.zlogout and /etc/zlogout, in that order. As their names suggest, they are counterparts of the zlogin files, and therefore are only run for login shells --- though you can trick the shell by setting the login option. Note that whether you use exit, bye or logout to leave the shell does not affect whether these files are run: I wasn't lying (this time) when I said that the error message was the only difference between exit and logout. If you want to run a file at the end of any other type of shell, you can do it another way:

    # commands to run here, e.g. if you 
    # always want to run .zlogout:
    if [[ ! -o login ]]; then
      # don't do this in a login shell
      # because it happens anyway
      . ~/.zlogout
If you put that in .zshrc, it will force .zlogout to be run at the end of all interactive shells. Traps will be mentioned later, but this is rather a one-off; it's really just a hack to get commands run at the end of the shell. I won't talk about logout files, however, since there's little that's standard to put in them; some people make them clear the screen to remove sensitive information with the `clear' command. Other than that, you might need to tidy a few files up when you exit.

2.3: Options

It's time to talk about options, since I've mentioned them several times. Each option describes one particular shell behaviour; they are all Boolean, i.e. can either be on or off, with no other state. They have short names and in the documentation and this guide they are written in uppercase with underscores separating the bits (except in actual code, where I'll write them in the short form). However, neither of those is necessary. In fact, NO_RCS and norcs and __N_o_R_c_S__ mean the same thing and are all accepted by the shell.

The second thing is that an option with `no' in front just means the opposite of the option without. I could also have written the test `[[ ! -o norcs ]]' as `[[ -o rcs ]]'; the `!' means `not', as in C. You can only have one `no'; `nonorcs' is meaningless. Unfortunately, there is an option `NOMATCH' which has `no' as part of its basic name, so in this case the opposite really is `NO_NOMATCH'; NOTIFY, of course, is also a full name in its own right.

The usual way to set and unset options is with the commands setopt and unsetopt which take a string of option names. Some options also have flags, like the `-f' for NO_RCS, which these commands also accept, but it's much clearer to use the full name and the extra time and space is negligible. The command `set -o' is equivalent to setopt; this comes from ksh. Note that set with no `-o' does something else --- that sets the positional parameters, which is zsh's way of passing arguments to scripts and functions.

Almost everybody sets some options in their startup files. Since you want them in every interactive shell, at the least, the choice is between putting them in ~/.zshrc or ~/.zshenv. The choice really depends on how you use non-interactive shells. They can be started up in unexpected places. For example, if you use Emacs and run commands from inside it, such as grep, that will start a non-interactive shell, and may require some options. My rule of thumb is to put as many options as possible into ~/.zshrc, and transfer them to ~/.zshenv if I find I need them there. Some purists object to setting options in ~/.zshenv at all, since it affects scripts; but, as I've already hinted, you have to work a bit harder to make sure scripts are unaffected by that sort of thing anyway. In the following, I just assume they are going to be in ~/.zshrc.

2.4: Parameters

One more thing you'll need to know about in order to write startup files is parameters, also known as variables. These are mostly like variables in other programming languages. Simple parameters can be stored like this (an assignment):

  foo='This is a parameter.'
Note two things: first, there are no spaces around the `='. If there was a space before, zsh would think `foo' was the name of a command to execute; if there was a space after it, it would assign an empty string to the parameter foo. Second, note the use of quotes to stop the spaces inside the string having the same effect. Single quotes, as here, are the nuclear option of quotes: everything up to another single quote is treated as a simple string --- newlines, equal signs, unprintable characters, the lot, in this example all would be assigned to the variable; for example,
  foo='This is a parameter.
  This is still the same parameter.'
So they're the best thing to use until you know what you're doing with double quotes, which have extra effects. Sometimes you don't need them, for example,
because there's nothing in `oneword' to confuse the shell; but you could still put quotes there anyway.

Users of csh should note that you don't use `set' to set parameters. This is important because there is a set command, but it works differently --- if you try `set var="this wont't work"', you won't get an error but you won't set the parameter, either. Type `print $1' to see what you did set instead.

To get back what was stored in a parameter, you use the name somewhere on the command line with a `$' tacked on the front --- this is called an expansion, or to be more precise, since there are other types of expansion, a parameter expansion. For example, after the first assignment above.

  print -- '$foo is "'$foo'"'
  $foo is "This is a parameter."
so you can see what I meant about the effect of single quotes. Note the asymmetry --- there is no `$' when assigning the parameter, but there is a `$' in front to have it expanded it into the command line. You may find the word `substitution' used instead of `expansion' sometimes; I'll try and stick with the terminology in the manual.

Two more things while we're at it. First, why did I put `--' after the print? That's because print, like many UNIX commands, can take options after it which begin with a `-'. `--' says that there are no more options; so if what you're trying to print begins with a `-', it will still print out. Actually, in this case you can see it doesn't, so you're safe; but it's a good habit to get into, and I wish I had. As always in zsh, there are exceptions; for example, if you use the -R option to print before the `--', it only recognizes BSD-style options, which means it doesn't understand `--'. Indeed, zsh programmers can be quite lax about standards and often use the old, but now non-standard, single `-' to show there are no more options. Currently, this works even after -R.

The next point is that I didn't put spaces between the single quotes and the $foo and it was still expanded --- expansion happens anywhere the parameter is not quoted; it doesn't have to be on its own, just separated from anything which might make it look like a different parameter. This is one of those things that can help make shell scripts look so barbaric.

As well as defining your own parameters, there are also a number which the shell sets itself, and some others which have a special effect when you set them. All the above still applies, though. For the rest of this guide, I will indicate parameters with the `$' stuck in front, to remind you what they are, but you should remember that the `$' is missing when you set them, or, indeed, any time when you're referring to the name of the parameter instead of its value.

2.4.1: Arrays

There is a special type of parameter called an array which zsh inherited from both ksh and csh. This is a slightly shaky marriage, since some of the things those two shells do with them are not compatible, and zsh has elements of both, so you need to be careful if you've used arrays in either. The option KSH_ARRAYS is something you can set to make them behave more like they do in ksh, but a lot of zsh users write functions and scripts assuming it isn't set, so it can be dangerous.

Unlike normal parameters (known as scalars), arrays have more than one word in them. In the examples above, we made the parameter $foo get a string with spaces in, but the spaces weren't significant. If we'd done

  foo=(This is a parameter.)
(note the absence of quotes), it would have created an array. Again, there must be no space between the `=' and the `(', though inside the parentheses spaces separate words just like they do on a command line. The difference isn't obvious if you try and print it --- it looks just the same --- but now try this:
  print -- ${foo[4]}
and you get `parameter.'. The array stores the words separately, and you can retrieve them separately by putting the number of the element of the array in square brackets. Note also the braces `{...}' --- zsh doesn't always require them, but they make things much clearer when things get complicated, and it's never wrong to put them in: you could have said `${foo}' when you wanted to print out the complete parameter, and it would be treated identically to `$foo'. The braces simply screen off the expansion from whatever else might be lying around to confuse the shell. It's useful too in expressions like `${foo}s' to keep the `s' from being part of the parameter name; and, finally, with KSH_ARRAYS set, the braces are compulsory, though unfortunately arrays are indexed from 0 in that case.

You can use quotes when defining arrays; as before, this protects against the shell thinking the spaces are between different elements of the array. Try:

  foo=('first element' 'second element')
  print -- ${foo[2]}

Arrays are useful when the shell needs to keep a whole series of different things together, so we'll meet some you may want to put in a startup file. Users of ksh will have noticed that things are a bit different in zsh, but for now I'll just assume you're using the normal zsh way of doing things.

2.5: What to put in your startup files

At the last count there were over 130 options and several dozen parameters which are special to the shell, and many of them deal with things I won't talk about till much later. But as a guide to get you started, and an indication of what's to come, here are some options and parameters you might want to think about setting in ~/.zshrc.

2.5.1: Compatibility options: SH_WORD_SPLIT and others

I've already mentioned that zsh works differently from ksh, its nearest standard relative, and that some of these differences can be confusing to new users, for example the use of arrays. Some options like KSH_ARRAYS exist to allow you to have things work the ksh way. Most of these are fairly finnicky, but one catches out a lot of people. Above, I said that after

  foo='This is a parameter.'
then $foo would be treated as one word. In traditional Bourne-like shells including sh, ksh and bash, however, the shell will split $foo on any spaces it finds. So if you run a command
  command $foo
then in zsh the command gets a single argument `This is a parameter.', but in the other shells it gets the first argument `This', the second argument `is', and so on. If you like this, or are so used to it it would be confusing to change, you should set the option SH_WORD_SPLIT in your ~/.zshrc. Most experienced zsh users use arrays when they want word splitting, since as I explained you have control over what is split and what is not; that's why SH_WORD_SPLIT is not set by default. Users of other shells just get used to putting things in double quotes,
  command "$foo"
which, unlike single quotes, allow the `$' to remain special, and have the side effect that whatever is in quotes will remain a single word (though there's an exception to that, too: the parameter $@).

There are a lot of other options doing similar things to keep users of standard shells happy. Many of them simply turn features off, because the other shell doesn't have them and hence unexpected things might happen, or simply tweak a feature which is a little different or doesn't usually matter. Currently such options include NO_BANG_HIST, BSD_ECHO (sh only), IGNORE_BRACES, INTERACTIVE_COMMENTS, KSH_OPTION_PRINT, NO_MULTIOS, POSIX_BUILTINS, PROMPT_BANG, SINGLE_LINE_ZLE (I've written them how they would appear as an argument to setopt to put the option the way the other shell expects, so some have `NO_' in front). Most people probably won't change those unless they notice something isn't working how they expect.

Some others have more noticeable effects. Here are a few of the ones most likely to make you scratch your head if you're changing from another Bourne-like shell.


These are all to do with how pattern matching works. You probably already know that the pattern `*.c' will be expanded into all the files in the current directory ending in `.c'. Simple uses like this are the same in all shells, and the way filenames are expanded is often referred to as `globbing' for historical reasons (apparently it stood for `global replacement'), hence the name of some of these options.

However, zsh and ksh differ over more complicated patterns. For example, to match either file foo.c or file bar.c, in ksh you would say @(foo|bar).c. The usual zsh way of doing things is (foo|bar).c. To turn on the ksh way of doing things, set the option KSH_GLOB; to turn off the zsh way, set the options SH_GLOB and NO_BARE_GLOB_QUAL. The last of those turns off qualifiers, a very powerful way of selecting files by type (for example, directories or executable files) instead of by name which I'll talk about in chapter 5.

The other two need a bit more explanation. Try this:

  print $foo
In zsh, you usually get a `*' printed, while in ksh the `*' is expanded to all the files in the directory, just as if you had typed `print *'. This is a little like SH_WORD_SPLIT, in that ksh is pretending that the value of $foo appears on the command line just as if you typed it, while zsh is using what you assigned to foo without allowing it to be changed any more. To allow the word to be expanded in zsh, too, you can set the option GLOB_SUBST. As with SH_WORD_SPLIT, the way around the ksh behaviour if you don't want the value changed is to use double quotes: "$foo".

You are less likely to have to worry about SH_FILE_EXPANSION. It determines when the shell expands things like ~/.zshrc to the full path, e.g. /home/user2/pws/.zshrc. In the case of zsh, this is usually done quite late, after most other forms of expansion such as parameter expansion. That means if you set GLOB_SUBST and do

  print $foo
you would normally see the full path, starting with a `/'. If you also set SH_FILE_EXPANSION, however, the `~' is tested much earlier, before $foo is replaced when there isn't one yet, so that `~/.zshrc' would be printed. This (with both options) is the way ksh works. It also means I lied when I said ksh treats $foo exactly as if its value had been typed, because if you type print ~/.zshrc the `~' does get expanded. So you see how convenient lying is.


These also relate to patterns which produce file names, but in this case they determine what happens when the pattern doesn't match a file for some reason. There are two possible reasons: either no file happened to match, or you didn't use a proper pattern. In both cases, zsh, unlike ksh, prints an error message. For example,

  % print nosuchfile*
  zsh: no matches found: nosuchfile*
  % print [-
  zsh: bad pattern: [-
(Remember the `%' lines are what you type, with a prompt in front which comes from the shell.) You can see there are two different error messages: you can stop the first by setting NO_NOMATCH, and the second by setting NO_BAD_PATTERN. In both cases, that makes the shell print out what you originally type without any expansion when there are no matching files.


All UNIX shells allow you to start a background job by putting `&' at the end of the line; then the shell doesn't wait for the job to finish, so you can type something else. In zsh, such jobs are usually run at a lower priority (a `higher nice value' in UNIX-speak), so that they don't use so much of the processor's time as foreground jobs (all the others, without the `&') do. This is so that jobs like editing or using the shell don't get slowed down, which can be highly annoying. You can turn this feature off by setting NO_BG_NICE.

When a background job finishes, zsh usually tells you immediately by printing a message, which interrupts whatever you're doing. You can stop this by setting NO_NOTIFY. Actually, this is an option in most versions of ksh, too, but it's a little less annoying in zsh because if it happens while you're typing something else to the shell, the shell will reprint the line you were on as far as you've got. For example:

  % sleep 3 &
  [1] 40366
  % print The quick brown
  [1]  + 40366 done       sleep 3
  % print The quick brown
The command sleep simply does nothing for however many seconds you tell it, but here it did it in the background (zsh printed a message to tell you). After you typed for three seconds, the job exited, and with NOTIFY set it printed out another message: the `done' is the key thing, as it tells you the job has finished. But zsh was smart enough to know the display was messed up, so it reprinted the line you were editing, and you can continue. If you were already running another programme in the foreground, however, that wouldn't know that zsh had printed the message, so the display would still be messed up.


Signals are the way of persuading a job to do something it doesn't want to, such as die; when you type ^C, it sends a signal (called SIGINT in this case) to the job. In zsh, if you have a background job running when the shell exits, the shell will assume you want that to be killed; in this case it is sent a particular signal called `SIGHUP' which stands for `hangup' (as in telephone, not as in Woody Allen) and is the UNIX equivalent of `time to go home'. If you often start jobs that should go on even when the shell has exited, then you can set the option NO_HUP, and background jobs will be left alone.


I've already mentioned this, but here are the details. Suppose you have defined an array arr, for example with

  arr=(foo bar)
although the syntax in ksh, which zsh also allows, is
  set -A arr foo bar
In zsh, $arr gives out the whole array; in ksh it just produces the first element. In zsh, ${arr[1]} refers to the first element of the array, i.e. foo, while in ksh the first element is referred to as ${arr[0]} so that ${arr[1]} gives you bar. Finally, in zsh you can get away with $arr[1] to refer to an element, while ksh insists on the braces. By setting KSH_ARRAYS, zsh will switch to the ksh way of doing things. This is one option you need to be particularly careful about when writing functions and scripts.


Shell functions are a useful way of specifying a set of commands to be run by the shell. Here's a simple example:

  % fn() { print My name is $0; }
  % fn
  My name is fn
Note the special syntax: the `()' appears after a function name to say you are defining one, then a set of commands appears between the `{ ... }'. When you type the name of the function, those commands are executed. If you know the programming language C, the syntax will be pretty familiar, although note that the `()' is a bit of a delusion: you might think you would put arguments to the function in there, but you can't, it must always appear simply as `()'. If you don't know C, it doesn't matter; nothing from C really applies in detail, it's just a superficial resemblance.

In this case, zsh printed the special parameter `$0' (`argument zero') and, as you see, that turned into the name of the function. Now $0 outside a function means the name of the shell, or the name of the script for a non-interactive shell, so if you type `print $0' it will probably say `zsh'. In most versions of ksh, this is $0's only use; it doesn't change in functions, and `fn' would print `ksh'. To get this behaviour, you can set NO_FUNCTION_ARG_ZERO. There's probably no reason why you would want to, but zsh functions quite often test their own name, so this is one reason why they might not work.

There's another difference when defining functions, irrespective of FUNCTION_ARG_ZERO: in zsh, you can get away without the final `;' before the end of the definition of fn, because it knows the `}' must finish the last command as well as the function; but ksh is not so forgiving here. Lots of syntactic know-alls will probably be able to tell you why that's a good thing, but fortunately I can't.


There's an easy way of loading functions built into both ksh and zsh. Instead of putting them all together in a big startup file, you can put a single line in that,

  autoload fn
and the function `fn' will only be loaded when you run it by typing its name as a command. The shell needs to know where the function is stored. This is done by a special parameter called $fpath, an array which is a list of directories; it will search all the directories for a file called fn, and use that as the function definition. If you want to try this you can type `autoload fn; fpath=(. $fpath)' and write a file called fn in the current directory.

Unfortunately ksh and zsh disagree a bit about what should be in that file. The normal zsh way of doing things is just putting the body of the function there. So if the file fn is autoloadable and contains,

  # this is a simple function
  print My name is $0
then typing `fn' will have exactly the same effect as the function fn above, printing `My name is fn'. Zsh users tend to like this because the function is written the same way as a script; if instead you had typed zsh fn, to call the file as a script with a new copy of zsh of its own, it would have worked the same way. The first line is a comment; it's ignored, and in zsh not even autoloaded when the function is run, so it's not only much clearer to add explanatory contents, it also doesn't use any more memory either. It uses more disk space, of course, but nowadays even home PCs come with the sort of disk size which allows you a little indulgence with legibility.

However, ksh does things differently, and here the file fn needs to contain

  fn() {
    # this is a simple function
    print My name is $0
in other words, exactly what you would type to define the function. The advantage of this form is that you can put other things in the file, which will then be run straight away and forgotten about, such as defining things that fn may need to use but which don't need to be redefined every single time you run fn. The option to force zsh to work the ksh way here is called KSH_AUTOLOAD. (If you wanted to try the second example, you would need to type `unfunction fn; autoload fn' to remove the function from memory and mark it for autoloading again.)

Actually, zsh is a little bit cleverer. If the option KSH_AUTOLOAD is not set, but the file contains just a function definition in the ksh form and nothing else (like the last one above, in fact), then zsh assumes that it needs to run the function just loaded straight away. The other possibility would be that you wanted to define a function which did nothing other than define a function of the same name, which is assumed to be unlikely --- and if you really want to do that, you will need to trick zsh by putting a do-nothing command in the same file, such as a `:' on the last line.

A final complication --- sorry, but this one actually happens --- is that sometimes in zsh you want to define not just the function to be called, but some others to help it along. Then you need to do this:

  fn() {
    # this is the function after which the file is named
  helper() {
    # goodness knows what this does
  fn "$@"
  # this actually calls the function the first time,
  # with any arguments passed (see the subsection
  # `Function Parameters' in the section `Functions'
  # of the next chapter for the "$@").
That last non-comment line is unnecessary with KSH_AUTOLOAD. The functions supplied with zsh assume that KSH_AUTOLOAD is not set, however, so you shouldn't turn it on unless you need to. You could just make fn into the whole body, as usual, and define helper inside that; the problem is that helper would be redefined each time you executed fn, which is inefficient. A better way of avoiding the problem would be to define helper as a completely separate function, itself autoloaded: in both zsh and ksh, it makes no difference whether a function is defined inside another function or outside it, unlike (say) Pascal or Scheme.


These two options also refer to functions, and here the ksh way of doing things is usually preferable, so many people set at least LOCAL_OPTIONS in a lot of their functions. The first versions of zsh didn't have these, which is why you need to turn them on by hand.

If LOCAL_OPTIONS is set in a function (or was already set before the function, and not unset inside it), then any options which are changed inside the function will be put back the way they were when the function finishes. So

  fn() {
    setopt localoptions kshglob
allows you to use a function with the ksh globbing syntax, but will make sure that the option KSH_GLOB is restored to whatever it was before when the function exits. This works even if the function was interrupted by typing ^C. Note that LOCAL_OPTIONS will itself be restored to the way it was.

The option LOCAL_TRAPS, which first appeared in version 3.1.6, is for a similar reason but refers to (guess what) traps, which are a way of stopping signals sent to the shell, for example by typing ^C to cancel something (SIGINT, short for `signal interrupt'), or ^Z to suspend it temporarily (SIGTSTP, `signal terminal stop'), or SIGHUP which we've already met, and so on. To do something of your own when the shell gets a ^C, you can do

  trap 'print I caught a SIGINT' INT
and the set of commands in quotes will be run when the ^C arrives (you can even try it without running anything). If the string is empty (just '' with nothing inside), the signal will be ignored; typing ^C has no effect. To put it back to normal, the command is `trap - INT'.

Traps are most useful in functions, where you may temporarily (say) not want things to stop when you hit ^C, or you may want to clear up something before returning from the function. So now you can guess what LOCAL_TRAPS does; with

  fn() {
    setopt localoptions localtraps
    trap '' INT
the shell will ignore ^C's to the end of the function, but then put back the trap that was there before, or remove it completely if there was none. Traps are described in more detail in chapter 3.

There is a very convenient shorthand for making options and traps local, as well as for setting the others to their standard values: put `emulate -L zsh' at the start of a function. This sets the option values back to the ones set when zsh starts, but with LOCAL_OPTIONS and LOCAL_TRAPS set too, so you now know exactly how things are going to work for the rest of the function, whatever options are set in the outside world. In fact, this only changes the options which affect normal programming; you can set every option which it makes sense to set to its standard value with `emulate -RL zsh' (it doesn't, for example, make sense to change options like login at this point). Furthermore, you can make the shell behave as much like ksh as it knows how to by doing `emulate -L ksh', with or without the -R.

The -L option to emulate actually only appears in versions from 3.0.6 and 3.1.6. Before that you needed

  emulate zsh
  setopt localoptions
since localtraps didn't exist, and indeed doesn't exist in 3.0.6 either.


As promised, setting prompts will be discussed later, but for now there are two ways of getting information into prompts, such as the parameter $PS1 which determines the usual prompt at the start of a new command line. One is by using percent escapes, which means a `%' followed by another character, maybe with a number between the two. For example, the default zsh prompt is `%m%# '. The first percent escape turns into the name of the host computer, the second usually turns into a `%', but a `#' for the superuser. However, ksh doesn't have these, so you can turn them off by setting NO_PROMPT_PERCENT.

The usual ksh way of doing things, on the other hand, is by putting parameters in the prompt to be substituted. To get zsh to do this, you have to set PROMPT_SUBST. Then assigning

  PS1='${PWD}% '
is another way of putting the name of the current directory (`$PWD' is presumably named after the command `pwd' to `print working directory') into the prompt. Note the single quotes, so that this happens when the prompt is shown, not when it is assigned. If they weren't there, or were double quotes, then the $PWD would be expanded to the directory when the assignment took place, probably your home directory, and wouldn't change to reflect the directory you were actually in. Of course, you need the quotes for the space, too, else it just gets swallowed up when the assignment is executed.

As there is potentially much more information available in parameters than the fixed number of predefined percent escapes, you may wish to set PROMPT_SUBST anyway. Furthermore, you can get the output of commands into prompts since other forms of expansion are done on them, not just that of parameters; in fact, prompts with PROMPT_SUBST are expanded pretty much the same as a string inside double quotes every time the prompt is displayed.


Everybody at some time or another deletes more files than they mean to (and that's a gross understatement); my favourite is:

  rm *>o
That `>' should be a `.', but I still had the shift key pressed. This removes all files, echoing the output (there isn't any) into a file `o'. Delightfully, the empty file `o' is not removed. (Don't try this at home.)

There is a protection mechanism built into zsh to stop you deleting all the files in a directory by accident. If zsh finds that the command is `rm', and there is a `*' on the command line (there may be other stuff as well), then it will ask you if you really want to delete all those files. You can turn this off by setting RM_STAR_SILENT. Overreliance on this option is a bad idea; it's only a last line of defence.


Many options also have single letters to stand for them; you can set an option in this way by, for example, `set -f', which sets NO_RCS. However, even where sh, ksh and zsh share options, not all have the same letters. This option allows the single letter options to be more like those in sh and ksh. Look them up in the manual if you want to know, but I already recommended that you use the full names for options anyway.


I've already talked about this, see above, but it's mentioned here so you don't forget it, since it's an important difference.

Starting zsh as ksh

Finally on the subject of compatibility, you might like to know that as well as `emulate' there is another way of forcing zsh to behave as much like sh or ksh as possible. This is by actually calling zsh under the name ksh. You don't need to rename zsh, you can make a link from the name zsh to the name ksh, which will be enough to convince it.

There is an easier way when you are doing this from within zsh itself. The parameter $ARGV0 is special; it is the value which will be passed as the first argument of a command which is run by the shell. Normally this is the name of the command, but it doesn't have to be since the command only finds out what it is after it has already been run. You can use it to trick a programme into thinking its name is different. So

  ARGV0=ksh zsh
will start a copy of zsh that tries to make itself like ksh. Note this doesn't work unless you're already in zsh, as the $ARGV0 won't be special.

I haven't mentioned putting a parameter assignment before a command name, but that simply assigns the parameter (strictly an environment variable in this case) for the duration of the command; the value $ARGV0 won't be set after that command (the ksh-like zsh) finishes, as you can easily test with print. While I'm here, I should mention a few of its other features. First, the parameter is automatically exported to the environment, meaning it's available for other programmes started by zsh (including, in this case, the new zsh) --- see the section on environment variables below. Second, this doesn't do what you might expect:

  FOO=bar print $FOO
because of the order of expansion: the command line and its parameters are expanded before execution, giving whatever value $FOO had before, probably none, then FOO=bar is put into the environment, and then the command is executed but doesn't use the new value of $FOO.

2.5.2: Options for csh junkies

As well as old ksh users, there are some options available to make old csh and tcsh users feel more at home. As you will already have noticed, the syntax is very different, so you are never going to feel completely at home and it might be best just to remember the fact. But here is a brief list. The last, CSH_NULL_GLOB, is actually quite useful.


Zsh has the old csh mechanism for referring to words on a previous command line using a `!'; it's less used, now the editor is more powerful, but is still a convenient shorthand for extracting short bits from the previous line. This mechanism is sometimes called bang-history, since busy people sometimes like to say `!' as `bang'. This option affects how a single `!' works. For example,

  % print foo bar
  % print open closed
  % print !-2:1 !:2
In the last line, `!-2' means two entries ago, i.e. the line `print foo bar'. The `:1' chooses the first word after the command, i.e. `foo'. In the second expression, no number is given after the `!'. Usually zsh interprets that to mean that the same item just selected, in this case -2, should be used. With CSH_JUNKIE_HISTORY set, it refers instead to the last command. Note that if you hadn't given that -2, it would refer to the last command in any case, although the explicit way of referring to the last command is `!!' --- you have to use that if there are no `:' bits following. In summary, zsh usually gives you `print foo bar'; with CSH_JUNKIE_HISTORY you get `print foo closed'.

There's another option controlling this, BANG_HIST. If you unset that, the mechanism won't work at all. There's also a parameter, $histchars. The first character is the main history expansion character, normally `!' of course; the second is for rapid substitutions (normally `^' --- use of this is described below); the third is the character introducing comments, normally `#'. Changing the third character is definitely not recommended. There's little real reason to change any.


Normal zsh loops look something like this,

  while true; do
    print Never-ending story
which just prints the message over and over (type it line-by-line at the prompt, if you like, then ^C to stop it). With CSH_JUNKIE_LOOPS set, you can instead do
  while true
    print Never-ending story
which will, of course, make your zsh code unlike most other people's, so for most users it's best to learn the proper syntax.


This is another of the family of options like NO_NOMATCH, already mentioned. In this case, if you have a command line consisting of a set of patterns, at least one of them must match at least one file, or an error is caused; any that don't match are removed from the command line. The default is that all of them have to match. There is one final member of this set of options, NULL_GLOB: all non-matching patterns are removed from the command line, no error is caused. As a summary, suppose you enter the command `print file1* file2*' and the directory contains just the file file1.c.

  1. By default, there must be files matching both patterns, so an error is reported.
  2. With NO_NOMATCH set, any patterns which don't match are left alone, so `file1.c file2*' is printed.
  3. With CSH_NULL_GLOB set, file1* matched, so file2* is silently removed; `file1.c' is reported. If that had not been there, an error would have been reported.
  4. With NULL_GLOB set, any patterns which don't match are removed, so again `file1.c' is printed, but in this case if that had not been there a blank line would have been printed, with no error.

CSH_NULL_GLOB is good thing to have set since it can keep you on the straight and narrow without too many unwanted error messages, so this time it's not just for csh junkies.


Here just for completeness. Csh and friends don't allow multiline quotes, as zsh does; if you don't finish a pair of quotes before a new line, csh will complain. This option makes zsh do the same. But multi-line quotes are very useful and very common in zsh scripts and functions; this is only for people whose minds have been really screwed up by using csh.

2.5.3: The history mechanism: types of history

The name `history mechanism' refers to the fact that zsh keeps a `history' of the commands you have typed. There are three ways of getting these back; all these use the same set of command lines, but the mechanisms for getting at them are rather different. For some reason, items in the history list (a complete line of input typed and executed at once) have become known as `events'.

Editing the history directly

First, you can use the editor; usually hitting up-arrow will take you to the previous line, and down-arrow takes you back. This is usually the easiest way, since you can see exactly what you're doing. I will say a great deal more about the editor in chapter 4; the first thing to know is that its basic commands work either like emacs, or like vi, so if you know one of those, you can start editing lines straight away. The shell tries to guess whether to use emacs or vi from the environment variables $VISUAL or $EDITOR, in that order; these traditionally hold the name of your preferred editor for programmes which need you to edit text. In the old days, $VISUAL was a full-screen editor and $EDITOR a line editor, like ed of blessed memory, but the distinction is now very blurred. If either contains the string vi, the line editor will start in vi mode, else it will start in emacs mode. If you're in the wrong mode, `bindkey -e' in ~/.zshrc takes you to emacs mode and `bindkey -v' to vi mode. For vi users, the thing to remember is that you start in insert mode, so type `ESC' to be able to enter vi commands.


Second, you can use the csh-style `bang-history' mechanism (unless you have set the option NO_BANG_HIST); the `bang' is the exclamation mark, `!', also known as `pling' or `shriek' (or factorial, but that's another story). Thus `!!' retrieves the last command line and executes it; `!-2' retrieves the second last. You can select words: `!!:1' picks the first word after the command of the last command (if you were paying attention above, you will note you just need one `!' in that case); 0 after colon would pick the command word itself; `*' picks all arguments after the command; `$' picks the last word. You can even have ranges: `!!:1-3' picks those three words, and things like `!!:3-$' work too.

After the word selector, you can have a second set of colons and then some special commands called modifiers --- these can be very useful to remember, since they can be applied to parameters and file patterns to, so here's some more details. The `:t' (tail) modifier picks the last part of a filename, everything after the last slash; conversely, `:h' (head) picks everything before that. So with a history entry,

  % print /usr/bin/cat
  % print !!:t
  print cat
Note two things: first, the bang-history mechanism always prints what it's about to execute. Secondly, you don't need the word selector; the shell can tell that the `:t' is a modifier, and assumes you want it applied to the entire previous command. (Be careful here, since actually the :t will reduce the expression to everything after the last slash in any word, which is a little unexpected.)

With parameters:

  % foo=/usr/bin/cat
  % print ${foo:h}
(you can usually omit the `{' and `}', but it's clearer and safer with them). And finally with files --- this won't work if you set NO_BARE_GLOB_QUAL for sh-like behaviour:
  % print /usr/bin/cat(:t)
where you need the parentheses to tell the shell the `:t' isn't just part of the file name.

For a complete list, see the zshexpn manual, or the section Modifiers in the printed or Info versions of the manual, but here are a few more of the most useful. `:r' removes the suffix of a file, turning file.c into file; `:l' and `:u' make the word(s) all lowercase or all uppercase; `:s/foo/bar/' substitutes the first occurrence of foo with bar in the word(s); `:gs/foo/bar' substitutes all occurrences (the `g' stands for global); `:&' repeats the last such substitution, even if you did it on a previous line; `:g&' also works. So

  % print this is this line
  this is this line
  % !!:s/this/that/
  print that is this line
  that is this line
  % print this is no longer this line
  this is no longer this line
  % !!:g&
  print that is no longer that line
  that is no longer that line
Finally, there is a shortcut: ^old^new^ is exactly equivalent to !!:s/old/new/; you can even put another modifier after it. The `^' is actually the second character of $histchars mentioned above. You can miss out the last `^' if there's nothing else to follow it. By the way, you can put modifiers together, but each one needs the colon with it: :t:r applied to `dir/file.c' produces `file', and repeated applications of :h get you shorter and shorter paths.

Before we leave bang-history, note the option HIST_VERIFY. If that's set, then after a substitution the line appears again with the changes, instead of being immediately printed and executed. As you just have to type <RET> to execute it, this is a useful trick to save you executing the wrong thing, which can easily happen with complicated bang-history lines; I have this set myself.

And one last tip: the shell's expansion and completion, which I will enthuse about at length later on, allows you to expand bang-history references straight away by hitting TAB immediately after you've typed the complete reference, and you can usually type control together with slash (on some keyboards, you are restricted to ^Xu) to put it back the way it was if you don't like the result --- this is part of the editor's `undo' feature.

Ksh-style history commands

The third form of history uses the fc builtin. It's the most cumbersome: you have to tell the command which complete lines to execute, and may be given a chance to edit them first (but using an external editor, not in the shell). You probably won't use it that way, but there are three things which are actually controlled by fc which you might use: first, the `r' command repeats the last command (ignoring r's), which is a bit like `!!'. Secondly, the command called `history' is also really fc in disguise. It gives you a list of recent commands. They have numbers next to them; you can use these with bang-history instead of using negative numbers to count backward in the way I originally explained, the advantage being they don't change as you enter more commands. You can give ranges of numbers to history, the first number for where to start listing, and the second where to stop: a particular example is `history 1', which lists all commands (even if the first command it still remembers is higher than 1; it just silently omits all those). The third use of fc is for reading and writing your history so you can keep it between sessions.

2.5.4: Setting up history

In fact, the shell is able to read and write history without being told. You need to tell it where to save the history, however, and for that you have to set the parameter $HISTFILE to the name of the file you want to use (a common choice is `~/.history'). Next, you need to set the parameter $SAVEHIST to the number of lines of your history you want saved. When these two are set, the shell will read $HISTSIZE lines from $HISTFILE at the start of an interactive session, and save the last $SAVEHIST lines you executed at the end of the session. For it to read or write in the middle, you will either need to set one of the options described below (INC_APPEND_HISTORY and SHARE_HISTORY), or use the fc command: fc -R and fc -W read and write the history respectively, while fc -A appends it to the the file (although pruning it if it's longer than $SAVEHIST); fc -WI and fc -AI are similar, but the I means only write out events since the last time history was written.

There is a third parameter $HISTSIZE, which determines the number of lines the shell will keep within one session; except for special reasons which I won't talk about, you should set $SAVEHIST to be no more than $HISTSIZE, though it can be less. The default value for $HISTSIZE is 30, which is a bit stingy for the memory and disk space of today's computers; zsh users often use anything up to 1000. So a simple set of parameters to set in .zshrc is

and that is enough to get things working. Note that you must set $SAVEHIST and $HISTFILE for automatic reading and writing of history lines to work.

2.5.5: History options

There are also many options affecting history; these increased substantially with version 3.1.6, which provided for the first time INC_APPEND_HISTORY, SHARE_HISTORY, HIST_EXPIRE_DUPS_FIRST, HIST_IGNORE_ALL_DUPS, HIST_SAVE_NO_DUPS and HIST_NO_FUNCTIONS. I have already described BANG_HIST, CSH_JUNKIE_HISTORY and HIST_VERIFY and I won't talk about them again.


Normally, when it writes a history file, zsh just overwrites everything that's there. APPEND_HISTORY allows it to append the new history to the old. The shell will make an effort not to write out lines which should be there already; this can get complicated if you have lots of zshs running in different windows at once. This option is a good one for most people to use. INC_APPEND_HISTORY means that instead of doing this when the shell exits, each line is added to the history in this way as it is executed; this means, for example, that if you start up a zsh inside the main shell its history will look like that of the main shell, which is quite useful. It also means the ordering of commands from different shells running at the same time is much more logical --- basically just the order they were executed --- so for 3.1.6 and higher this option is recommended.

SHARE_HISTORY takes this one stage further: as each line is added, the history file is checked to see if anything was written out by another shell, and if so it is included in the history of the current shell too. This means that zsh's running in different windows but on the same host (or more generally with the same home directory) share the same history. Note that zsh tries not to confuse you by having unexpected history entries pop up: if you use !-style history, the commands from other session don't appear in the history list until you explicitly type the history command to display them, so that you can be sure what command you are actually reexecuting. The Korn shell always behaves as if SHARE_HISTORY is set, presumably because it doesn't store history internally.


This makes the format of the history entry more complicated: in addition to just the command, it saves the time when the command was started and how long it ran for. The history command takes three options which use this: history -d prints the start time of the command; history -f prints that as well as the date; history -D (which you can combine with -f or -d) prints the command's elapsed time. The date format can be changed with -E for European (day.month.year) and -i for international (year-month-day) formats. The main reasons why you wouldn't want to set this would be shortage of disk space, or because you wanted your history file to be read by another shell.


These options give ways of dealing with the duplicate lines that often appear in the history. The simplest is HIST_IGNORE_DUPS, which tells the shell not to store a history line if it's the same as the previous one, thus collapsing a lot of repeated commands down to one; this is a very good option to have set. It does nothing when duplicate lines are not adjacent, so for example alternating pairs of commands will always be stored. The next two options can help here: HIST_IGNORE_ALL_DUPS simply removes copies of lines still in the history list, keeping the newly added one, while HIST_EXPIRE_DUPS_FIRST is more subtle: it preferentially removes duplicates when the history fills up, but does nothing until then. HIST_SAVE_NO_DUPS means that whatever options are set for the current session, the shell is not to save duplicated lines more than once; and HIST_FIND_NO_DUPS means that even if duplicate lines have been saved, searches backwards with editor commands don't show them more than once.


These allow the history mechanism to make changes to lines as they are entered. The first affects output redirections, where you use the symbol > to redirect the output of a command or set of commands to a named file, or use >> to append the output to that file. If you have the NO_CLOBBER option set, then

  touch newfile
  echo hello >newfile
fails, because the `touch' command has created newfile and NO_CLOBBER won't let you overwrite (clobber) it in the next line. With HIST_ALLOW_CLOBBER, the second line appears in the history as
  echo hello >|newfile
where the >| overrides NO_CLOBBER. So to get round the NO_CLOBBER you can just go back to the previous line and execute it without editing it.

The second option, HIST_REDUCE_BLANKS, will tidy up the line when it is entered into the history by removing any excess blanks that mean nothing to the shell. This can also mean that the line becomes a duplicate of a previous one even if it would not have been in its untidied form. It is smart enough not to remove blanks which are important, i.e. are quoted.


These three options allow you to say that certain lines shouldn't go into the history at all. HIST_IGNORE_SPACE means that lines which begin with a space don't go into the history; the idea is that you deliberately type a space, which is not otherwise significant to the shell, before entering any line you want to be forgotten immediately afterwards. In zsh 4.0.1 this is implemented so that you can always recall the immediately preceding line for editing, even if it had a space; but when the next line is executed and entered into the history, the line beginning with the space is forgotten.

HIST_NO_STORE tells the shell not to store history or fc commands. while HIST_NO_FUNCTIONS tells it not to store function definitions as these, though usually infrequent, can be tiresomely long. A function definition is anything beginning `function funcname {...' or `funcname () { ...'.


Finally, HIST_BEEP is used in the editor: if you try to scroll up or down beyond the end of the history list, the shell will beep. It is on by default, so use NO_HIST_BEEP to turn it off.

2.5.6: Prompts

Most people have some definitions in .zshrc for altering the prompt you see at the start of each line. I've already mentioned PROMPT_PERCENT (set by default) and PROMPT_SUBST (unset by default); I'll assume here you haven't changed these settings, and point out some of the possibilities with prompt escapes, sequences that start with a `%'. If you get really sophisticated, you might need to turn on PROMPT_SUBST.

The main prompt is in a parameter called either $PS1 or $PROMPT or $prompt; the reason for having all these names is historical --- they come from different shells --- so I'll just stick with the shortest. There is also $RPS1, which prints a prompt at the right of the screen. The point of this is that it automatically disappears if you type so far along the line that you run into it, so it can help make the best use of space for showing long things like directories.

$PS2 is shown when the shell is waiting for some more input, i.e. it knows that what you have typed so far isn't a complete line: it may contain the start of a quoted expression, but not the end, or the start of some syntactic structure which is not yet finished. Usually you will keep it different from $PS1, but all the same escapes are understood in all five prompts.

$PS3 is shown within a loop started by the shell's select mechanism, when the shell wants you to input a choice: see the zshmisc manual page as I won't say much about that.

$PS4 is useful in debugging: there is an option XTRACE which causes the shell to print out lines about to be executed, preceded by $PS4. Only from version 3.1.6 has it started to be substituted in the same way as the other prompts, though this turns out to be very useful --- see `Location in script or function' in the following list.

Here are some of the things you might want to include in your prompts. Note that you can try this out before you alter the prompt by using `print -P': this expands strings just are as they are in prompts. You will probably need to put the string in single quotes.

The time

Zsh allows you lots of different ways of putting the time into your prompt with percent escapes. The simplest are %t and %T, the time in 12 and 24 hour formats, and %*, the same as %T but with seconds; you can also have the date as (e.g.) `Wed 22' using %w, as `9/22/99' (US format) using %W, or as `99-09-22' (International format) using %D. However, there is another way of using %D to get many more possibilities: a following string in braces, `%D{...}' can contain a completely different set of percent escapes all of which refer to elements of the time and date. On most systems, the documentation for the strftime function will tell you what these are. zsh has a few of its own, given in the zshmisc manual page in the PROMPT EXPANSION section. For example, I use %D{%L:%M} which gives the time in hours and minutes, with the hours as a single digit for 1 to 9; it looks more homely to my unsophisticated eyes.

You can have more fun by using the `%(numX.true.false)' syntax, where X is one of t or T. For t, if the time in minutes is the same as num (default zero), then true is used as the text for this section of the prompt, while false is used otherwise. T does the same for hours. Hence

  PS1='%(t.Ding!.%D{%L:%M})%# '
prints the message `Ding!' at zero minutes past the hour, and a more conventional time otherwise. The `%#' is the standard sequence which prints a `#' if you are the superuser (root), or a `%' for everyone else, which occurs in a lot of people's prompts. Likewise, you could use `%(30t.Dong!....' for a message at half past the hour.

The current directory

The sequence `%~' prints out the directory, with any home or named directories (see below) shortened to the form starting with ~; the sequence `%/' doesn't do that shortening, so usually `%~' is better. Directories can be long, and there are various ways to deal with it. First, if you are using a windowing system you can put the directory in the title bar, rather than anywhere inside the window. Second, you can use $RPS1 which disappears when you type near it. Third, you can pick segments out of `%~' or `%/' by giving them a number after the `%': for example, `%1~' just picks out the last segment of the path to the current directory.

The fourth way gives you the most control. Prompts or parts of prompts, not just bits showing the directory, can be truncated to any length you choose. To truncate a path on the left, use something like `%10<...<%~'. That works like this: the `%<<' is the basic form for truncation. The 10 after the `%' says that anything following is limited to 10 characters, and the characters `...' are to be displayed whenever the prompt would otherwise be longer than that (you can leave this empty). This applies to anything following, so now the %~ can't be longer than 10 characters, otherwise it will be truncated (to 7 characters, once the `...' has been printed). You can turn off truncation with `%<<', i.e. no number after the `%'; truncation then applies to the entire region between where it was turned on and where it was turned off (this has changed from older versions of zsh, where it just applied to individual `%' constructs).

What are you waiting for?

The prompt $PS2 appears when the shell is waiting for you to finish entering something, and it's useful to know what the shell is waiting for. The sequence `%_' shows this. It's part of the default $PS2, which is `%_> '. Hence, if you type `if true; then' and <RET>, the prompt will say `then> '. You can also use it in the trace prompt, $PS4, to show the same information about what is being executed in a script or function, though as there is usually enough information there (as described next) it's not part of the default. In this case, a number after the `%' will limit the depth shown, so with `%1_' only the most recent thing will be mentioned.

Location in script or function

The default $PS4 contains `%N' and `%i', which tell you the name of the most recently started function, script, or sourced file, and the line number being executed inside it; they are not very useful in other prompts. However, `%i' in $PS1 will tell you the current interactive line number, which zsh keeps track of, though doesn't usually show you; the parameter $LINENO contains the same information.

Another point to bear about `%i' in mind is that the line number shown applies to the version of a function first read in, not how it appears with the `functions' command, which is tidied up. If you use autoloaded functions, however, the file containing the function will usually be what you want to alter, so this shouldn't be a problem when debugging.

Remember, the $PS4 display only happens when the XTRACE option is set; as options may be local to functions, and always are to scripts, you will often need to put an explicit `setopt xtrace' at the top of whatever you are debugging. Alternatively, you can use `typeset -ft funcname' to turn on tracing for that function (something I only just discovered); use `typeset +ft funcname' to turn it off again.

Other bits and pieces

There are many other percent escapes described in the zshmisc manual page, mostly straightforward. For example, `%h' shows you the history entry number, useful if you are using bang-history; `%m' shows you the current host name up to any dot; `%n' shows the username.

There are two other features I happen to use myself. First, it's sometimes convenient to know when the last command failed. Every command returns a status, which is a number: zero for success, some other number for some type of failure. You can get this from the parameter `$?' or `$status' (again, they refer to the same thing). It's also available in the prompt as `%?', and there's also one of the so-called `ternary' expressions with parentheses I described for time, which pick different strings depending on a test. Here the test is, reasonably enough, `%(?...'. Putting these two together, you can get a message which is only displayed when the exit status is non-zero; I've put an extra set of parentheses around the number just to make it clearer, where the `)' needs to be turned into `%)' to stop it marking the end of the group:

  PS1='%(?..(%?%))%# '

It's also sometimes convenient to know if you're in a subshell, that is if you've started another shell within the main one by typing `zsh'. You can do this by using another ternary expression:

  PS1='%(2L.+.)%# '
This checks the parameter SHLVL, which is incremented every time a new zsh starts, so if there was already one running (which would have set SHLVL to 1), it will now be 2; and if SHLVL is at least 2, an extra `+' is printed in front of the prompt, otherwise nothing. If you're using a windowing system, you may need to turn the 2 into 3 as there may be a zsh already running when you first log in, so that the shells in the windows have SHLVL set to 2 already. This depends a good deal on how your windowing system is set up; finding out more is left as an exercise for the reader.


Many terminals can now display colours, and it is quite useful to be able to put these into prompts to distinguish those from the surrounding text. I often find a programme has just dumped a whole load of output on my terminal and it's not obvious where it starts. Being able to find the prompt just before helps a lot.

Colors, like bold or underlined text, use escape sequences which don't move the cursor. The golden rule for inserting any such escape sequences into prompts is to surround them with `%{' at the start and `%}' at the end. Otherwise, the shell will be confused about the length of the line. This affects what happens when the line editor needs to redraw the line, and also changes the position of the right prompt $RPS1, if you use that. You don't need that with the special sequences %B and %b, which start and stop bold text, because the shell already knows what to do with those; it's only random characters which you happen to know don't move the cursor, though the shell doesn't, that cause the problem.

In the case of colours, there is a shell function colors supplied with the standard distribution to help you. When loaded and run, it defines associative array parameters $fg and $bg which you use to extract the escape sequences for given colours, for example ${fg[red]}${bg[yellow]} produces the sequences for red text on a yellow background. So for example,

  %{${fg[yellow]}${bg[black]}%}%# "
produces a red-on-white `(1)' if the previous programme exited with status 1, but nothing if it exited with status 0, followed by a yellow-on-black `%' or `#' if you are the superuser. Note the use of the double quotes here to force the parameters to be expanded straight away --- the escape sequences are fixed, so they don't need to be re-extracted from the parameters every time the prompt is shown.

Even if your terminal does support colour, there's no guarantee all the possibilities work, although the basic ANSI colour scheme is fairly standard. The colours understood are: cyan, white, yellow, magenta, black, blue, red, grey, green. You can also used `default', which puts the terminal back how it was to begin with. In addition, you can use the basic colours with the parameters $bg_bold and $fg_bold for bold varieties of the colours and $bg_no_bold and $fg_no_bold to switch explicitly back to non-bold.


There are also a set of themes provided as functions to set up your prompt to various predefined possibilities. These make use of the colours set up as described above. See the zshcontrib manual page for how to do this (search for `prompt themes').

2.5.7: Named directories

As already mentioned, `~/' at the start of a filename expands to your home directory. More generally, `~user/' allows you to refer to the home directory of any other user. Furthermore, zsh lets you define your own named directories which use this syntax. The basic idea is simple, since any parameter can be a named directory:

  print ~dir
prints `/tmp/mydir'. So far, this isn't any different from using the parameter as $dir. The difference comes if you use the `%~' construct, described above, in your prompt. Then when you change into that directory, instead of seeing the message `/tmp/mydir', you will see the abbreviation `~dir'.

The shell will not register the name of the directory until you force it to by using `~dir' yourself at least once. You can do the following in your .zshrc:

  : ~dir ~bin
where `:' is a command that does nothing --- but its arguments are checked for parameters and so on in the usual way, so that the shell can put dir and bin into its list of named directories. A more simple way of doing this is to set the option AUTO_NAME_DIRS; then any parameter created which refers to a directory will automatically be turned into a name. The directory must have an absolute path, i.e. its expanded value, after turning any `~'s at the start into full paths, must begin with a `/'. The parameter $PWD, which shows the current directory, is protected from being turned into ~PWD, since that would tell you nothing.

2.5.8: `Go faster' options for power users

Here are a few more random options you might want to set in your .zshrc.


Normally zsh will beep if it doesn't like something. This can get extremely annoying; `setopt nobeep' will turn it off. I refer to this informally as the OPEN_PLAN_OFFICE_NO_VIGILANTE_ATTACKS option.


If this option is set, and you type something with no arguments which isn't a command, zsh will check to see if it's actually a directory. If it is, the shell will change to that directory. So `./bin' on its own is equivalent to `cd ./bin', as long as the directory `./bin' really exists. This is particularly useful in the form `..', which changes to the parent directory.


This is another way of saving typing when changing directory, though only one character. If a directory doesn't exist when you try to change to it, zsh will try and find a parameter of that name and use that instead. You can also have a `/' and other bits after the parameter. So `cd foo/dir', if there is no directory `foo' but there is a parameter $foo, becomes equivalent to `cd $foo/dir'.


Patterns, to match the name of files and other things, can be very sophisticated in zsh, but to get the most out of them you need to use this option, as otherwise certain features are not enabled, so that people used to simpler patterns (maybe just `*', `?' and `[...]') are not confused by strange happenings. I'll say much more about zsh's pattern features, but this is to remind you that you need this option if you're doing anything clever with `~', `#', `^' or globbing flags --- and also to remind you that those characters can have strange effects if you have the option set.


I mentioned above that to get zsh to behave like ksh you needed to set NO_MULTIOS, but I didn't say what the MULTIOS option did. It has two different effects for output and input.

First, for output. Here it's an alternative to the tee programme. I've mentioned once, but haven't described in detail, that you could use >filename to tell the shell to send output into a file with a given name instead of to the terminal. With MULTIOS set, you can have more than one of those redirections on the command line:

  echo foo >file1 >file2
Here, `foo' will be written to both the named files; zsh copies the output. The pipe mechanism, which I'll describe better in chapter 3, is a sort of redirection into another programme instead of into a file: MULTIOS affects this as well:
  echo foo >file1 | sed 's/foo/bar/'
Here, `foo' is again written to file1, but is also sent into the pipe to the programme sed (`stream editor') which substitutes `foo' into `bar' and (since there is no output redirection in this part) prints it to the terminal.

Note that the second example above has several times been reported as a bug, often in a form like:

 some_command 2>&1 >/dev/null | sed 's/foo/bar/'
The intention here is presumably to send standard error to standard output (the `2>&1', a very commonly used shell hieroglyphic), and not send standard output anywhere (the `>/dev/null'). (If you haven't met the concept of `standard error', it's just another output channel which goes to the same place as normal output unless you redirect it; it's used, for example to send error messages to the terminal even if your output is going somewhere else.) In this example, too, the MULTIOS feature forces the original standard output to go to the pipe. You can see this happening if we put in a version of `some_command':
 { echo foo error >&2; echo foo not error;  } 2>&1 >/dev/null |
  sed 's/foo/bar/'
where you can consider the stuff inside the `{...}' as a black box that sends the message `foo error' to standard error, and `foo not error' to standard output. With MULTIOS, however, the result is
 error bar
  not error bar
because both have been sent into the pipe. Without MULTIOS you get the expected result,
 error bar
as any other Bourne-style shell would produce. There

On input, MULTIOS arranges for a series of files to be read in order. This time it's a bit like using the programme cat, which combines all the files listed after it. In other words,

  cat file1 file2 | myprog
(where myprog is some programme that reads all the files sent to it as input) can be replaced by
  myprog <file1 <file2
which does the same thing. Once again, a pipe counts as a redirection, and the pipe is read from first, before any files listed after a `<':
  echo then this >testfile
  echo this first | cat <testfile


If you have CORRECT set, the shell will check all the commands you type and if they don't exist, but there is one with a similar name, it will ask you if you meant that one instead. You can type `n' for no, don't correct, just go ahead; `y' for yes, correct it then go ahead; `a' for abort, don't do anything; `e' for edit, return to the editor to edit the same line again. Users of the new completion system should note this is not the same correction you get there: it's just simple correction of commands.

CORRECT_ALL applies to all the words on the line. It's a little less useful, because currently the shell has to assume that they are supposed to be filenames, and will try to correct them if they don't exist as such, but of course many of the arguments to a command are not filenames. If particular commands generate too many attempts to correct their arguments, you can turn this off by putting `nocorrect' in front of the command name. An alias is a very good way of doing this, as described next.

2.5.9: aliases

An alias is used like a command, but it expands into some other text which is itself used as a command. For example,

  alias foo='print I said foo'
prints (guess what) `I said foo'. Note the syntax for definition --- you need the `=', and you need to make sure the whole alias is treated by the shell as one word; you can give a whole list of aliases to the same `alias' command. You may be able to think of some aliases you want to define in your startup files; .zshrc is probably the right place. If you have CORRECT_ALL set, the way to avoid the `mkdir' command spell-checking its arguments --- which is useless, because they have to be non-existent for the command to work --- is to define:
  alias mkdir='nocorrect mkdir'
This shows one useful feature about aliases: the alias can contain something of the same name as itself. When it is encountered in the expansion text (the right hand side), the shell knows it is not to expand the alias again, but this time to treat it as a real command. Note that functions do not have this property: functions are more powerful than aliases and in some cases it is useful for them to call themselves, It's a common mistake to have functions call themselves over and over again until the shell complains. I'll describe ways round this in chapter 3.

One other way functions are more powerful than aliases is that functions can take arguments while aliases can't --- in other words, there is no way of referring inside the alias to what follows it on the command line, unlike a function, and also unlike aliases in csh (because that has no functions, that's why). It is just blindly expanded, and the remainder of the command line stuck on the end. Hence aliases in zsh are usually kept for quite simple things, and functions are written for anything more complicated. You couldn't do that trick with `nocorrect' using a function, though, since the function is called too late: aliases are expanded straight away, so the nocorrect is found in time to be useful. You can almost think of them as just plain typing abbreviations.

Normal aliases only work when in command position, i.e. at the start of the command line (more strictly, when zsh is expecting a command). There are other things called `global aliases', which you define by the `-g' option to alias, which will be expanded at any position on the command line. You should think seriously before defining these, as they can have a drastic effect. Note, however, that quoting a word, or even a single character, will stop an alias being expanded for it.

I only tend to use aliases in interactive shells, so I define them from .zshrc, but you may want to use .zshenv if you use aliases more widely. In fact, to keep my .zshrc neat I save all the aliases in a separate file called .aliasrc and in .zshrc I have:

  if [[ -r ~/.aliasrc ]]; then
    . ~/.aliasrc
which checks if there is a readable file ~/.aliasrc, and if there is, it runs it in exactly the same way the normal startup files are run. You can use `source' instead of `.' if it means more to you; `.' is the traditional Bourne and Korn shell name, however.

2.5.10: Environment variables

Often, the manual for a programme will tell you to define certain environment variables, usually a collection of uppercase letters with maybe numbers and the odd underscore. These can pass information to the programme without you needing to use extra arguments. In zsh, environment variables appear as ordinary shell parameters, although they have to be defined slightly differently: strictly, the environment is a special region outside the shell, and zsh has to be told to put a copy there as well as keeping one of its own. The usual syntax is

  export VARNAME='value'
in other words, like an ordinary assignment, but with `export' in front. Note there is no `$' before the name of the environment variable; all `export' and similar statements work the same way. The easiest place to put these is in .zshenv --- hence it's name. Environment variables will be passed to any programmes run from a shell, so it may be enough to define them in .zlogin or .zprofile: however, any shell started for you non-interactively won't run those, and there are other possible problems if you use a windowing system which is started by a shell other than zsh or which doesn't run a shell start-up file at all --- I had to tweak mine to make it do so. So .zshenv is the safest place; it doesn't take long to define environment variables. Other people will no doubt give you completely contradictory views, but that's people for you.

Note that you can't export arrays. If you export a parameter, then assign an array to it, nothing will appear in the environment; you can use the external command `printenv VARNAME' (again no `$' because the command needs to know the name, not the value) to check. There's a more subtle problem with arrays, too. The export builtin is just a special case of the builtin typeset, which defines a variable without marking it for export to the environment. You might think you could do

  typeset array=(this doesn\'t work)
but you can't --- the special array syntax is only understood when the assignment does not follow a command, not in normal arguments like the case here, so you have to put the array assignment on the next line. This is a very easy mistake to make. More uses of typeset will be described in chapter 3; they include creating local parameters in functions, and defining special attributes (of which the `export' attribute is just one) for parameters.

2.5.11: Path

It helps to be able to find external programmes, i.e. anything not part of the shell, any command other than a builtin, function or alias. The $path array is used for this. Actually, what the system needs is the environment variable $PATH, which contains a list of directories in which to search for programmes, separated from each other by a colon. These directories are the individual components of the array $path. So if $path contains

  path=(/bin /usr/bin /usr/local/bin .)
then $PATH will automatically contain the effect of
without you having to set that. The idea is simply that, while the system needs $PATH because it doesn't understand arrays, it's much more flexible to be able to use arrays within the shell and hence pretty much forget about the $PATH form.

Changes to the path are similar to changes to environment variables described above, so all that applies. There's a slight difficulty in setting $path in .zshenv however, even though the reasons given above for doing so still apply. Usually, the path will be set for you, either by the system, or by the system administrator in one of the global start up files, and if you change path you will simply want to add to it. But if your .zshenv contains

  path=(~/bin ~/progs/bin $path)
--- which is the right way of adding something to the front of $path --- then every time .zshenv is called, ~/bin and ~/progs/bin are stuck in front, so if you start another zsh you will have two sets there.

You can add tests to see if something's already there, of course. Zsh conveniently allows you to test for the existence of elements in an array. By preceding an array index by (r) (for reverse), it will try to find a matching element and return that, else an empty string. Here's a way of doing that (but don't add this yet, see the next paragraph):

  for dir in ~/bin ~/progs/bin; do
    if [[ -z ${path[(r)$dir]} ]]; then
      path=($dir $path)
That for... do ... done is another special shell construct. It takes each thing after `in' and assigns it in turn to the parameter named before the `in' --- $dir, but because this is a form of assignment, the `$' is left off --- so the first time round it has the effect of dir=~/bin, and the next time dir=~/progs/bin. Then it executes what's in the loop. The test -z checks that what follows is empty: in this case it will be if the directory $dir is not yet in $path, so it goes ahead and adds it in front. Note that the directories get added in the reverse of the order they appear.

Actually, however, zsh takes all that trouble away from you. The incantation `typeset -U path', where the -U stands for unique, tells the shell that it should not add anything to $path if it's there already. To be precise, it keeps only the left-most occurrence, so if you added something at the end it will disappear and if you added something at the beginning, the old one will disappear. Thus the following works nicely in .zshenv:

  typeset -U path
  path=(~/bin ~/progs/bin $path)
and you can put down that `for' stuff as a lesson in shell programming. You can list all the variables which have uniqueness turned on by typing `typeset +U', with `+' instead of `-', because in the latter case the shell would show the values of the parameters as well, which isn't what you need here. The -U flag will also work with colon-separated arrays, like $PATH.

2.5.12: Mail

Zsh will check for new mail for you. If all you need is to be reminded of something arriving in your normal folder every now and then, you just need to set the parameter $MAIL to wherever that is: it's typically one of /usr/spool/mail, /var/spool/mail, or /var/mail.

The array $mailpath allows more possibilities. Like $path, it has a colleague in uppercase, $MAILPATH, which is a colon-separated array. The system doesn't need that, this time, so it's mainly there so that you can export it to another version of zsh; exporting arrays won't work. As may by now be painfully clear, if you set in .zshenv or .zshrc, you don't need to export it, because it's set in each instance of the shell. The elements of $mailpath work like $MAIL, so you can specify different places where mail arrives. That's most useful if you have a programme like filter or procmail running to redistribute arriving mail to different folders. You can specify a different message for each folder by putting `?message' at the end. For example, mine looks like this.

            $mailpref/zsh-new'?New zsh mail' 
            $mailpref/list-new'?New list mail'
            $mailpref/urth-new'?New Urth mail')
Note that zsh knows the array isn't finished until the `)', even though the elements are on different lines; this is one very good reason for setting $mailpath rather than $MAILPATH, which needs one long chunk.

The other parameter of interest is $MAILCHECK, which gives the frequency in seconds when zsh should check for new mail. The default is 60. Actually, zsh only checks just after a command has finished running and it is about to print a prompt. Since checking files doesn't take long, you can usually set this to its minimum value, which is MAILCHECK=1; zero doesn't work because it switches off checking. One reason why you wouldn't want to do that might be because $MAIL and $mailpath can contain directories instead of ordinary files; these will be checked recursively for any files with something new in them, so this can be slow.

Finally, there is one associated option, MAIL_WARNING (though MAIL_WARN is also accepted for the same thing for reasons of compatibility with less grammatical shells). The shell remembers when it found the mail file was checked; next time it checks, it compares the date. If there is no new mail, but the date of the file changed anyway, it will print a warning message. This will happen if you read the mail with your mail reader and put the messages somewhere else. Presumably you know you did that, so the warning may not be all that useful.

2.5.13: Other path-like things

There are other pairs like $path and $PATH. I will keep back talk of $cdpath until I say more about the way zsh handles directories. When I mentioned $fpath, I didn't say there was also $FPATH, but there is. Then there is $manpath and $MANPATH; these aren't used by the shell at all, but $MANPATH, if exported, is used by the man external command, and $manpath gives an easier way to set it.

From 3.1.6 there is a mechanism to define your own such combinations; if this had been available before, there would have been no need to build in $manpath and $MANPATH. In .zshenv you would put,

  export -TU TEXINPUTS texinputs
to define such a pair. The -T (for tie) is the key to that; I've used `export' even though the basic variable declaration command is `typeset' because you nearly always want to get the colon-separated version ($TEXINPUTS here) visible to the environment, and I've set -U as described above for $path because it's a neat feature anyway. Now you can assign to the array $texinputs and let the programme (TeX or its derivatives) see $TEXINPUTS. Another useful variable to do this with is $LD_LIBRARY_PATH, which on most modern versions of UNIX (and Linux) tells the system where to find the libraries which provide extra functions when it runs a programme.

2.5.14: Version-specific things

Since zsh changes faster than almost any other command interpreter known to humankind, you will often find you need to find out what version you are using. This can get a bit verbose; indeed, the parameter you need to check, which is now $ZSH_VERSION, used simply to be called $VERSION before version 3.0. If you are not using legacy software of that kind, you can probably get away with tests like this:

  if [[ $ZSH_VERSION == 3.1.<5->* ||
        $ZSH_VERSION == 3.<2->* ||
        $ZSH_VERSION == <4->* ]]; then
    # set feature which appeared first in 3.1.5
It's like that to be futureproof: it says that if this is a 3.1 release, it has to be at least 3.1.5, but any 3.2 release (there weren't any), or any release 4 or later, will also be OK. The `<5->' etc. are advanced pattern matching tests: pattern matching uses the same symbols as globbing, but to test other things, here what's on the left of the `=='. This one matches any number which is at least 5, for example 6 or 10 or 252, but not 1 or 4. There are also development releases; nowadays the version numbers look like X.Y.Z-tag-N (tag is some short word, the others are numbers) but unless you're keeping up with development you won't need to look for those, since they aren't released officially. That `==' in the test could also be just `=', but the manual says the former is preferred, so I've used them here, even though people usually don't bother.

Version 4 of zsh provides a function is-at-least to do this for you: it looks only at the numbers X, Y and Z (and N if it exists), ignoring all letters and punctuation. You give it the minimum version of the shell you need and it returns true if the current shell is recent enough. For example, `is-at-least 3.1.6-pws-9' will return true if the current version of zsh is 3.1.6-dev-20 (or 3.1.9, or 4.0.1, and so on), which is the correct behaviour. As with any other shell function, you have to arrange for is-at-least to be autoloaded if you want to use it.

2.5.15: Everything else

There are many other possibilities for things to go in startup files; in particular, I haven't touched on defining things for the line editor and setting up completion. There's quite a lot to explain for those, so I'll come back to those in the appropriate chapters. You just need to remember that all that stuff should go in .zshrc, since you need it for all interactive shells, and for no others.