The Z shell (also known as zsh) is a Unix shell that is built on top of bash (the default shell for macOS) with additional features. It's recommended to use zsh over bash. It's also highly recommended to install a framework with zsh as it makes dealing with configuration, plugins and themes a lot nicer.

We've also included an env.sh file where we store our aliases, exports, path changes etc. We put this in a separate file to not pollute our main configuration file too much. This file is found in the bottom of this page.

Install zsh using Homebrew:

$ brew install zsh

Now you should install a framework, we recommend to use Oh My Zsh or Prezto. Note that you should pick one of them, not use both.

The configuration file for zsh is called .zshrc and lives in your home folder (~/.zshrc).

Oh My Zsh

Oh My Zsh is an open source, community-driven framework for managing your zsh configuration. It comes with a bunch of features out of the box and improves your terminal experience.

Install Oh My Zsh:

$ sh -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/robbyrussell/oh-my-zsh/master/tools/install.sh)"

The installation script should set zsh to your default shell, but if it doesn't you can do it manually:

$ chsh -s $(which zsh)


The out-of-the-box configuration is usable but you probably want to customise it to suit your needs. The Official Wiki contains a lot of useful information if you want to deep dive into what you can do with Oh My Zsh, but we'll cover the basics here.

To apply the changes you make you need to either start new shell instance or run:

$ source ~/.zshrc


Add plugins to your shell by adding the name of the plugin to the plugin array in your .zshrc.

plugins=(git colored-man colorize pip python brew osx zsh-syntax-highlighting)

You'll find a list of all plugins on the Oh My Zsh Wiki. Note that adding plugins can cause your shell startup time to increase.


Changing theme is as simple as changing a string in your configuration file. The default theme is robbyrussell. Just change that value to change theme, and don't forget to apply your changes.


You'll find a list of themes with screenshots on the Oh My Zsh Wiki.


Prezto is a configuration framework for zsh; it enriches the command line interface environment with sane defaults, aliases, functions, auto completion, and prompt themes.

Install Prezto:

$ git clone --recursive https://github.com/sorin-ionescu/prezto.git "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}/.zprezto"

Next create your ~/.zshrc by running:

$ for rcfile in "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}"/.zprezto/runcoms/^README.md(.N); do
    ln -s "$rcfile" "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}/.${rcfile:t}"

For more information on customisation visit the GitHub repo for Prezto.


Add modules to Prezto by editing ~/.zpreztorc and adding the modules as strings to the list:

zstyle ':prezto:load' pmodule \
  'environment' \
  'terminal' \
  'editor' \
  'history' \
  'directory' \
  'spectrum' \
  'utility' \
  'completion' \
  'git' \
  'syntax-highlighting' \
  'history-substring-search' \

And don't forget to apply your changes by starting a new shell instance.


To list all available themes run:

$ prompt -l

Then open up your config file (~/.zpreztorc) and change to the theme you want:

zstyle ':prezto:module:prompt' theme 'minimal'


To include env.sh, open ~/.zshrc and add the following:

source ~/<path to file>/env.sh

This file comes with some pre-defined settings, they are all optional. Please review them before you use them as your configuration. These are just examples to show you what you can customise in your shell.


# Add commonly used folders to $PATH
export PATH="/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin"

# Specify default editor. Possible values: vim, nano, ed etc.
export EDITOR=vim

# File search functions
function f() { find . -iname "*$1*" ${@:2} }
function r() { grep "$1" ${@:2} -R . }

# Create a folder and move into it in one command
function mkcd() { mkdir -p "$@" && cd "$_"; }

# Example aliases
alias cppcompile='c++ -std=c++11 -stdlib=libc++'
alias git='g'

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