I am trying to change my default shell from bash to zsh in cygwin.

  1. The normal unix command chsh isn't available on cygwin
  2. The etc/passwd file it seems isn't used anymore in existing versions of cygwin.

So how else can the default shell be changed ?


The answer depends on how you start Cygwin.

If you start Cygwin with Cygwin.bat, modify the last line of /Cygwin.bat (usually C:\cygwin\ or C:\cygwin64\).

If you start Cygwin with mintty, then add the shell as a parameter. mintty /usr/bin/zsh -

  • 2
    Thank you, I am using Conemu. Had to change the sh.exe to zsh.exe in Conemu Settings > startup > tasks > bash Cygwin Bash > set CHERE_INVOKING=1 & %ConEmuDrive%\CygWin\bin\sh.exe --login -i – gyaani_guy Jul 14 '15 at 17:31
  • @gyaani_guy I am just using ConEmu to execute CygWin\bin\zsh.exe. sh.exe --login will launch Bash, how do you change that? Or does it not matter anyway? I imagine sh.exe --login is unnecessarily executing sh before zsh... – deed02392 Oct 19 '16 at 10:10
  • @deed02392 I am not sure I understand.. but the exact command I am using is set CHERE_INVOKING=1 & %ConEmuDrive%\CygWin\bin\zsh.exe --login -i hth – gyaani_guy Oct 19 '16 at 18:18
  • @gyaani_guy thanks, I was confused because in your first comment you seemed to imply that you start zsh with sh.exe. Now I realise I just didn't read your message correctly :-) – deed02392 Oct 20 '16 at 9:45
  • 3
    The mintty example didn't quite work for me. It had issues until I made it a login shell by adding -l: mintty.exe -i /Cygwin-Terminal.ico /usr/bin/zsh -l - – Morgan May Nov 2 '16 at 3:32

If you run mintty.exe directly or run Cygwin Terminal from the start menu or desktop (which is a shortcut to mintty.exe), you can set the SHELL environment variable in Windows to /usr/bin/zsh.

On Windows 7:

  1. Press Windows key.
  2. Start typing "environment".
  3. When it appears, select "Edit environment variables for your account".

The rest should be self-explanatory.

  • 4
    This seriously needs more up-votes. I've never seen this documented anywhere, and it's obviously the intended method. – Kevin Mills Feb 9 '17 at 1:04
  • 1
    For those who don't want to rely on search to find the appropriate panel, right-click the Start menu and select "System" to launch the System control panel. Then click "Advanced system settings" from the left-side column. On the "System Properties" window that pops up, click "Environment Variables..." to launch the environment variable editor. – David C. Apr 13 '17 at 19:40
  • Worked perfectly! – bkunzi01 Jul 16 '17 at 21:56

Copied from my answer on Stack Overflow:

Instead of creating a passwd file, which Cygwin recommends against1, you could edit /etc/nsswitch.conf. Add or edit the following line:

db_shell: /usr/bin/fish

The down/up side of this method is that, if you have multiple users, this change affects all of them. The up/up side is that it's dead simple. The only catch is that you have to restart Cygwin.

If you do use mkpasswd after this change, it will use your new default shell for all users that are allowed to log on.

1 The mkpasswd documentation says this:

Don't use this command to generate a local /etc/passwd file, unless you really need one. See the Cygwin User's Guide for more information.

I can't really find any solid reasoning in the user's guide, other than a mention that you'll have to regenerate the /etc/passwd and /etc/group files if your users and groups change, which I suppose is a decent enough reason. I can say that the process is somewhat error prone for newbies.


This is a hack: put this as the first line of your ~/.bash_profile:

exec zsh

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.