Switching from screen to tmux

Hello avid readers of yesteryear!

I’ve recently moved from working in a Linux/Windows environment to a Linux/Windows/OS X environment, and as such I’ve had to make some small changes to my workflows. I’m here to tell you what went wrong and how to fix it (hint: it’s in the title)

XKCD comic about using old software configured for you
Relevant XKCD title text: 2078: He announces that he’s finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.

Now I’m the guy who just has it set up the way I want. I use screen in linux, and I use screen in the amazingly named Bash on Ubuntu on Windows. It works how I need it to work and I’m able to get things done. Now we introduce Mac OS X to the mix, and a seemingly tiny problem arises:

screenshot of vim
vim in normal terminal session
Screenshot of vim with different colors
vim inside a screen session

Try to spot the difference. I’ll wait.

The problem is a vim plugin called airline, which uses a lot of colors while enhancing vim’s normal ui. Something happens with the way screen identifies itself, that confuses airline, and makes the colors change slightly. No big deal, but it also makes the text less readable, which can be a bigger problem. Now there exists a separately compiled gnu screen for mac, specifically made to fix problems with screen colors. That screenshot was taken using that binary, and it looks identical to the native one. I spent about 2 hours trying to figure out a workaround for this problem, but in the end I decided to just finally give tmux a try, I’d been meaning to get around to that anyway.

vim in tmux session
That was easy

Okay, so tmux can handle colors better than screen, but what about all the other features from screen that we’re used to and love? Well once you’ve remapped your escape key to the one you’re used to from Gnu screen, you should be totally fine. To do this just add unbind C-b with C-a, replacing ‘a’ with whatever key you prefer. Splitting panes is done with ‘%’ and ‘”‘ in tmux, but you can simply unbind and bind to whatever you’re used to. Detaching is the same as always, attaching is done with “attach” instead of “-r”, so fairly easy to remember. Mouse mode is just as easy to enable as before, just replace mousetrack on from .screenrc with set -g mouse on in .tmux.conf.

All in all there isn’t much to write about when moving from screen to tmux. They do the same job, but tmux does it better, since it’s been built for a modern world than the literally 30 year old GNU Screen. If you’re using screen still, give tmux a try. You may spend a little time in the config file at first remapping things, but I swear it’s worth it.

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