17/02/2018 macOS How to install ZSH and Oh My ZSH! in macOS

How to install ZSH and Oh My ZSH! in macOS

For those who don't want a headache, macOS has a few pre-installed shell, but as usual the default one is bash. And among those pre-installed shell we will find zsh. What are the advantages and disadvantages? The advantage is that all you have to do is activate it; the obvious disadvantage: this version will never be as updated as if we install one that we can update as new versions are published. Everyone who chooses what they prefer.

Installing a newer version of zsh

We start with this part not because we want you to realize that it's better to install the latest version (but this is true and you know it) but because once this version is installed the steps to activate one and the other are the same except for the path in which the chosen version is located, but that we'll see later.

Although macOS doesn't have a default package manager using command line, as Linux distros based on Unix do, there is one that, although not official, is widely used; we're talking about Homebrew. To install it, if it's not installed yet, it's as easy as running this command:

$ /usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)"

Then, as we would do in any Linux distro, we would update the repositories to make sure that we will download the latest versions of the packages that we want to install.:

$ brew update

To know that this process will be useful and that we will be installing a more recent version of zsh we can check it by looking at the version that we have pre-installed on our computer and which one is in the Homebrew repositories.

$ zsh --version
$ brew info zsh

At the time of writing this article, the macOS High Sierra pre-installed version is 5.3, and in the Homebrew repositories there is a 5.4.2. We are going to install it:

$ brew install zsh

Now we need to tell macOS that we have a new installed shell and it's safe to trust in it; we have to edit the /etc/shells file and add the /usr/local/bin/zsh path at the end of the list. In this path there is a symbolic link pointing to the real path in which Homebrew installs all the packages. You can choose an editor of your choice, but make sure you always launch it with root privileges.

# vim /etc/shells

Setting zsh as default shell

From here the only difference between the macOS pre-installed version or installing a new one will be the zsh path.

Now we have two options: configure with a command to always log in with the zsh shell or configure the app that we use to display the command console and log in with the specified shell. The first option is more efficient but everyone who chooses.

By command

To set by default the use of zsh by command would be, in case you use the default version:

$ chsh -s /bin/zsh

And if you've installed the Homebrew version:

$ chsh -s /usr/local/bin/zsh

And if in the future we want to go back to bash it would be as easy as:

$ chsh -s /bin/bash

Configuring our application

Terminal is the default macOS app to view the command-line interface, to tell it that we want to login with zsh instead of bash we have to go to the application preferences and, in the General tab, in the Shells open with: section, we select Command (complete path) and we write the path of the zsh version that we are using, already seen it previously.

Although it's not the default one, iTerm2 is also a very used app for this purpose, especially because of its multiple configuration options and because it has a better color visualization; to configure iTerm2 to log in with zsh instead of bash you have to open the app preferences, go to the Profiles tab and in the Command section we have to select the Command option and write the path of our zsh version.

As you can see, if you use different applications, or you may install some in the future to test them, configuring each of them to log in with zsh can be a bit tedious, so it's more advisable to run the previous command, which will work like a charm in any case.

Installing Oh My ZSH!

What makes zsh what it is is to have Oh My ZSH!, apart from a community of developers focused on implementing new features, themes and plugins… The time has come to take full advantage of our command-line sessions! Installing Oh My ZSH! is as simple as running this command:

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

From this moment all the configuration of both zsh and Oh My ZSH! will be in a ~/.zshrc file that will be automatically generated, from which you can change your prompt theme, add Oh My ZSH! plugins, and so on.

And as we can't miss our favorite goodbye: never stop programming!

Javi Palacios

Javi Palacios


Computer Padawan and real reader enthusiast. The first day that I code I knew that I wanted to continue programing for the rest of my life. Compiling things on Linux since 2003 and enjoying the stability of macOS since 2006. Free software and technology lover.

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