Emulating powerline with just Vim and tmux


In a recent post, I looked into powerline, a bash status line utility. Powerline looks pretty cool, and I really wanted to run it, but try as I might, I just couldn’t get it working with my set up. Specifically, it doesn’t work really well with tmux. If you spend as much time on the command line as I do, them tmux is indispensable for serious work. That’s another post, but what I really want to talk about is how I emulated some of Powerline’s features using just the native tmux configuration. In addition, there’s a great Vim plugin, airline, which is sort of a vim only powerline. Using the combination of tmux and vim-airline gives me a status line that I’m really happy with.

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Forcing Tmux to use 256 colors

I’ve been messing around with my terminal display, trying to church it up a little.  I tried Powerline, but didn’t have great luck with it.  So, I’m going old school and just adjusting conf files for the applications that I use all the time, mainly tmux and vim.  I’ve been banging my head against tmux all day.  I added some flashy stuff to the tmux statusline, but I just could NOT get the colors right.  I know that there are lots of settings and tweaks for getting 256 color support right, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get tmux to display properly.

I finally ran across a random forum post from a couple of years ago.  Basically, my terminal (XFCE terminal) is set up for 256 colors, but tmux always starts with the default of 80 colors.  The answer?  Instead of starting tmux with


I just start it with

tmux -2

which forces tmux to run with 256 color support.  Problem solved, and my badass statusline is working perfectly.

Tmux without 256 color support.

Tmux started normally, displaying a limited color pallette.


Tmux started with 256 color support.

Tmux started with the “-2” parameter, forcing 256 color support.

Setting up Powerline for Vim and Tmux

UPDATE: As promised, I’ve added a post about how I configured my tmux to emulate some of the features of powerline.  You can read it here.

I spend almost all of my time on the command line and I use Tmux and Vim obsessively.  Like a lot of people, I want my environment to be pleasing, so I was excited when I found out about Powerline, a status line / prompt utility that works with bash prompts, Vim, Tmux and a whole slew of other tools.pl-mode-insert

My first impression is that Powerline is just really cool looking.  It’s nice to have something that lets you simply customize your tools in a simple way without having to dig deep into each individual tool.  Unfortunately, it has some big shoes to fill and it doesn’t quite make it all the way.

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