On a new setup, tmux is using bash instead of my default (zsh).

How can I force it to use zsh?

  • 12
    figured it out. Can set the following in tmux config: set -g default-command /bin/zsh set -g default-shell /bin/zsh
    – re5et
    Mar 6, 2011 at 5:33
  • 5
    FWIW, you don't need to set default-command if you've set default-shell. Feb 29, 2012 at 20:03

13 Answers 13

set-option -g default-shell /bin/zsh

in ~/.tmux.conf or /etc/tmux.conf. Works on Fedora.

You can reload the config with <leader>: source-file <conf file> e.g.

<C-b>: source-file ~/.tmux.conf

You would need to do it for every tmux instance. Otherwise you may restart tmux with killall tmux; tmux

  • 11
    If this doesn't work for you then make sure you've restart tmux. Seems obvious but took me a good hour to figure out!
    – Andy Smith
    Sep 20, 2012 at 20:55
  • 37
    BTW: Restarting tmux means killall tmux; tmux. Took me quite a while to figure out.
    – js-coder
    Dec 21, 2012 at 14:48
  • 7
    Configs could be reloaded without killing a server: bind R source-file ~/.tmux.conf \; display-message " Config reloaded..". Jul 2, 2013 at 8:01
  • 19
    Or simply run tmux source-file ~/.tmux.conf from the command line.
    – Petr
    Oct 29, 2014 at 12:43
  • 19
    @js-coder: to more cleanly kill your tmux server I'd recommend tmux kill-server instead.
    – Chuim
    Feb 13, 2015 at 22:32

First, ensure your default shell is set properly to zsh by running this in your command line:

chsh -s $(`which zsh`) $USER

Placing the following in your ~/.tmux.conf is a more robust option for any shell.

set-option -g default-shell $SHELL
  • 1
    It is unnecessary to set user shell (chsh -s) as tmux offers an option independent of that. May 30, 2017 at 6:00
  • 2
    I thought it was more robust to use the $SHELL variable. But it adds an extra step and confusion so I do prefer the accepted answer.
    – DebugXYZ
    Jan 13, 2019 at 22:05
  • 1
    This is better than the accepted answer. My zsh is not installed in /bin/zsh.
    – HappyFace
    Aug 4, 2019 at 17:56
  • Is the double command substitution intended?
    – dessert
    Jan 20, 2021 at 15:24

For MacOS users, drop this line in the bottom of your ~/.tmux.conf

set-option -g default-command "reattach-to-user-namespace -l zsh"

After you add that, kill and restart your tmux server and all should work.

  • 2
    Er, is there any indication that re5et (the OP) is on a Mac, or has that wrapper program installed? Feb 1, 2012 at 7:13
  • 1
    I think this answer only works for Mac OS X
    – EhevuTov
    Jul 25, 2013 at 6:29
  • 6
    tmux kill-server is the command to end all tmux servers Oct 14, 2013 at 17:05
  • 2
    Although it wasn't the answer the OP asked for, I ended up in this thread and indeed I am on OS X, using this wrapper, and this is the solution I needed; so Thank You!
    – Jose Alban
    Sep 24, 2015 at 11:47
  • 2
    how does this differ from set-option -g default-shell ? the above does not seem to work with the Fish shell.
    – Tommy
    Feb 9, 2016 at 1:50

tmux appears to use the SHELL environment variable, so the following should work:

SHELL=/usr/bin/zsh tmux


env SHELL=/usr/bin/zsh tmux
  • Not sure why this was down-voted. It appears to be correct: a common problem is using a different shell for e.g. iTerm but leaving login shell as /bin/bash to ensure nothing non-iteractive breaks. iTerm will not set $SHELL to the new shell name (unsure why), and bash initialisation will set it to the login shell if unset at startup. tmux then uses this value if default-shell is not set explicitly. Nov 4, 2016 at 8:38
  • Yeah.. maybe env SHELL=/usr/bin/zsh tmux is better? (updated the answer).
    – blueyed
    Nov 6, 2016 at 0:33

If you want to force tmux to use the same shell as specified in your environment variable, you could use:

# force SHELL ENV variable as shell
set-option -g default-shell ${SHELL}

in your ~/.tmux.conf or /etc/tmux.conf.

To get the change to actually take effect, you may need to tmux kill-server and then tmux to restart tmux.

  • 1
    This is the only answer that worked for me (the tmux kill-server command)
    – undefined
    Jan 27, 2018 at 0:30

The accepted answer did not work for me.

I had to write both

set -g default-shell  "/bin/bash"


set -g default-command "/bin/bash"

in my ~/.tmux.conf — Dont forget to run the following commands to reload the tmux.conf:

tmux kill-server; tmux

Im am using tmux -V 2.6 under Ubuntu 18 in the gnome-shell emulator.

I also enhanced tmux with https://github.com/samoshkin/tmux-config. Check it out, it's really cool.


Use chsh(1):

chsh -s /bin/zsh $USER
  • 1
    i already had this set, but tmux was ignoring it.
    – re5et
    Mar 6, 2011 at 5:33

Add this into your ~/.tmux.conf

set -g default-command /usr/local/bin/fish

Log-out and log-in again fixed my problem. When echoed $SHELL it was still /bin/bash but after log-out it was changed to /usr/bin/zsh


For me I had to replace:

default-command "/usr/local/bin/fish"
default-shell "/usr/local/bin/fish"


set-option -g default-command "/usr/local/bin/fish"
set-option -g default-shell "/usr/local/bin/fish"

in .tmux.conf and run command tmux kill-server; tmux

  • This is a duplicate of answer superuser.com/a/1370909/174140.
    – 174140
    Sep 18, 2019 at 9:31
  • @john I've used set-option -g instead of set -g. different versions of tmux most probably
    – Ali Amin
    Sep 19, 2019 at 11:24
  • set is an alias for set-option.
    – 174140
    Sep 19, 2019 at 11:28

I wanted it to force to use an custom .bashrc. The following should work for any shell. My new is .tmux-bashrc is just an copy of .bashrc , minus the ncal or cowsay, etc... The speed improvements are now apparent.

in ~/.tmux.conf

set-option -g default-shell $SHELL
set-option -g default-command "$SHELL --init-file .tmux-bashrc"

As for me, I use Arch Linux inside Windows WSL2 and I have done chsh -s /bin/zsh $USER and when entering tmux it would not correctly load zsh(show some errors e.g. add-zsh-hook function definition file not found and so on. If I enter zsh manually again, everything works fine. And I found that inside ~/.tmux.conf add one line set -g default-command /bin/zsh should be the answer to fix this problem but I don't know why setting default-shell or setting SHELL variable was in vain.

FYI, tmux(1) — Linux manual page


on fedora and rocky linux

chsh -s /bin/zsh $USER
tmux kill-server; 



good luck

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