Setup ZSH, autosuggestion, and syntax highlight on Ubuntu Server

Setup ZSH, autosuggestion, and syntax highlight on Ubuntu Server
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin / Unsplash

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin / Unsplash

As developers, we are always looking for a way to increase our productivity to complete our daily tasks faster while keeping some comfort during the execution. Configuring a server can be challenging at the beginning.  When you are already comfortable with it, you can feel bored because some things can make you a bit slower:

  • If a task takes a long to complete, you have to wait for it to complete or open another terminal.
  • Since you don't have a GUI, navigating a folder is hard since even when you know you will be a comeback in a folder because you need to perform some task in another folder, you will retype the command later
  • You don't have an autosuggestion that can improve your speed.
  • Because of the terminal UI, sometimes, I don't even remember in which folder I'm inside, and I have to type pwd and say Ahh! I'm here ?.
  • You type slowly ?! Yes, like me, I wish I could type fast like guys in hacker movies.

In this post, We will see how to improve the user experience when working on the server.


Before we start, here are the requirements to follow this tutorial:

Ready? Gooooooo

Install ZSH

ZSH stands for Z Shell, which is a shell program for Unix-like operating systems. ZSH is an extended version of Bourne Shell, which incorporates some features of BASH, KSH, TSH. To see all to features provided by ZSH, check out this link.

The installation is pretty simple with the APT package manager:

sudo apt update

sudo apt install zsh

Make sure the installation succeeded by checking the version installed:

teco@server:~$ zsh --version

zsh 5.4.2 (x86_64-ubuntu-linux-gnu)

Set ZSH as the default shell

The default shell is Bash. We can check by doing this:

teco@server:~$ echo $SHELL


The chsh allow switching from one shell to another. You need to provides the location of the target shell. To get the location of ZSH, do which zsh and you will get the output /usr/bin/zsh . Here is the final command to change the shell:

teco@server:~$ chsh -s /usr/bin/zsh

Now log out from the server and log in again.

Since it is the first time we start a session with ZSH, some configurations are needed.

Zsh first time configuration

Type 0 to create the .zshrc file with just a comment. Now, open the file .zshrc created and add the content below:

# Keep 1000 lines of history within the shell and save it to ~/.zsh_history:

Save the file and exit.

Now the configuration is completed so, let's go to the next step.

Install Oh My ZSH

Oh My Zsh is an open-source, community-driven framework for managing your Zsh configuration. It provides more than 275 plugins and 150 themes to give a good look to your terminal. As we can read on the website:

Oh My Zsh will not make you a 10x developer...but you may feel like one!

Let's clone the Github repository and browse the plugins list:

git clone

ls ohmyzsh/plugins

Oh My Zsh is installed, now let's update our .zshrc to set a theme and add plugins. Open the .zshrc file and append the code below:

export ZSH=$HOME/ohmyzsh
plugins=(git z)
source $ZSH/
  • We set a variable ZSH with a value equal to the path of the Oh My Zsh folder. You can give the name you want; just keep it in mind when you need that.
  • We set the Zsh theme to "agnoster". The default is "robbyrussell".
  • We load two plugins: git and z. git will improve the experience when working with version control, and z make it easy to navigate between folders. We will see it in action later.
  • Finally, we will reload the file to update the config. Every time we open a terminal, this configuration will be applied. Nice!

Save the file and exit the file; log out from the server and log in again. Here is what it will look like:

git and z plugins in action
  • git plugin in action: I type gst to say git status
  • z plugin in action: I inside the folder ~/ohmyzsh/plugins I want to go back to the home directory; instead of doing cd ../.. or cd ~ I type z ~ and I there.

I don't know for you, but I start feeling like I'm a 6x developer ?

Autosuggestion and syntax highlight

The plugins required are not included in Oh My Zsh plugins. We will add them manually:

git clone $ZSH/plugins/zsh-autosuggestions

git clone $ZSH/plugins/zsh-syntax-highlighting

ls $ZSH/plugins

Make sure are inside the plugins folder as expected:

Autosuggestion and syntax highlight plugins added to the Oh My Zsh plugins folder.

Now update our plugins list inside the file .zshrc to add these to plugins.

Open the .zshrc file with nano .zshrc

Replace the line plugins=(git z) by plugins=(git z zsh-autosuggestions zsh-syntax-highlighting)

Save and exit the file; log out from the server and log in again. We can see autosuggestion and syntax highlight in action ?

Autosuggestion and syntax highlight plugins in action

Revert to the previous shell

It may happen you want the switch back to the previous shell, aka Bash. Here are the commands to achieve that:

sudo apt --purge remove zsh

rm -rf ~/ohmyzsh
rm ~/.zshrc

$ chsh -s $(which bash)



It is the end of the tutorial where we saw how to enhance our terminal for better productivity using Zsh and Oh My Zsh. You can explore the themes and plugins to add more customization to your terminal.

Here is the link for a cheat sheet about Oh My Zsh. It will give a sneak peek of some plugins, and it will remain to you to go further or not.

Here are other plugins I use:

Yarn - Pm2 - Maven - Docker - Docker-Compose - Systemd

I hope you find it interesting and see you in the next tutorial ?.