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Emacs-libvterm (vterm) is fully-fledged terminal emulator inside GNU Emacs based on libvterm, a C library. As a result of using compiled code (instead of elisp), emacs-libvterm is fully capable, fast, and it can seamlessly handle large outputs.


This package is in active development and, while being stable enough to be used as a daily-driver, it is currently in alpha stage. This means that occasionally the public interface will change (for example names of options or functions). A list of recent breaking changes is in appendix. Moreover, emacs-libvterm deals directly with some low-level operations, hence, bugs can lead to segmentation faults and crashes. If that happens, please report the problem.

Given that eshell, shell, and (ansi-)term are Emacs built-in, why should I use vterm?

The short answer is: unparalleled performance and compatibility with standard command-line tools.

For the long answer, let us discuss the differences between eshell, shell, term and vterm:

  • eshell: it is a shell completely implemented in Emacs Lisp. It is well-integrated in Emacs and it runs on Windows. It does not support command line tools that require terminal manipulation capabilities (e.g., ncdu, nmtui, ...).
  • shell: it interfaces with a standard shell (e.g., bash). It reads an input from Emacs, sends it to the shell, and reports back the output from the shell. As such, like eshell, it does not support interactive commands, especially those that directly handle how the output should be displayed (e.g., htop).
  • term: it is a terminal emulator written in elisp. term runs a shell (similarly to other terminal emulators like Gnome Terminal) and programs can directly manipulate the output using escape codes. Hence, many interactive applications (like the one aforementioned) work with term. However, term and ansi-term do not implement all the escapes codes needed, so some programs do not work properly. Moreover, term has inferior performance compared to standalone terminals, especially with large bursts of output.
  • vterm: like term it is a terminal emulator. Unlike term, the core of vterm is an external library written in C, libvterm. For this reason, vterm outperforms term and has a nearly universal compatibility with terminal applications.

Vterm is not for you if you are using Windows, or if you cannot set up Emacs with support for modules. Otherwise, you should try vterm, as it provides a superior terminal experience in Emacs.

Using vterm is like using Gnome Terminal inside Emacs: Vterm is fully-featured and fast, but is not as well integrated in Emacs as eshell (yet), so some of the editing keybinding you are used to using may not work. For example, evil-mode is currently not supported (though, users can enable VI emulation in their shells). This is because keys are sent directly to the shell. We are constantly working to improve this.



Before installing emacs-libvterm, you need to make sure you have installed

  1. GNU Emacs (>= 25.1) with module support. You can check that, by verifying that module-file-suffix is not nil.
  2. cmake (>= 3.11)
  3. libtool-bin (related issues: #66 #85)
  4. OPTIONAL: libvterm (>= 0.1). This library can be found in the official repositories of most distributions (e.g., Arch, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, openSUSE, Ubuntu). Typical names are libvterm (Arch, Fedora, Gentoo, openSUSE), or libvterm-dev (Debian, Ubuntu). If not available, libvterm will be downloaded during the compilation process. Some distributions (e.g. Ubuntu < 20.04, Debian Stable) have versions of libvterm that are too old. If you find compilation errors related to VTERM_COLOR, you should not use your system libvterm. See FAQ for more details.


vterm is available on MELPA, and it can be installed as a normal package. If the requirements are satisfied (mainly, Emacs was built with support for modules), vterm will compile the module the first time it is run. This is the recommended way to install vterm.

vterm can be install from MELPA with use-package by adding the following lines to your init.el:

(use-package vterm
    :ensure t)

To take full advantage of the capabilities of vterm, you should configure your shell too. Read about this in the section shell-side configuration.

Manual installation

Clone the repository:

git clone

By default, vterm will try to find if libvterm is installed. If it is not found, emacs-libvterm will download the latest version available of libvterm (from here), compile it, and use it. If you always want to use the vendored version as opposed to the one on you system, set USE_SYSTEM_LIBVTERM to no. To do this, change cmake .. with cmake -DUSE_SYSTEM_LIBVTERM=no .. in the following instructions.

Build the module with:

cd emacs-libvterm
mkdir -p build
cd build
cmake ..

And add this to your init.el:

(add-to-list 'load-path "path/to/emacs-libvterm")
(require 'vterm)

Or, with use-package:

(use-package vterm
  :load-path  "path/to/emacs-libvterm/")

vterm and Ubuntu

Using vterm on Ubuntu requires additional steps. The latest LTS version (18.04) ships with a version of CMake that is too old for vterm and GNU Emacs is not compiled with support for dynamical module loading.

It is possible to install GNU Emacs with module support from Kevin Kelley's PPA. The binary in Ubuntu Emacs Lisp PPA is currently broken and leads to segmentation faults (see #185). In case Emacs is already on the system, you need to purge it before proceeding with the following commands.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:kelleyk/emacs
sudo apt update
sudo apt-get install emacs26

A way to install a recent version of CMake (>= 3.11) is with linuxbrew.

brew install cmake

In some cases, /bin/sh needs to be relinked to /bin/bash for the compilation to work (see, #216).

Pull requests to improve support for Ubuntu are welcome (e.g., simplyfing the installation).

Some releases of Ubuntu (e.g., 18.04) ship with a old version of libvterm that can lead to compilation errors. If you have this problem, see the FAQ for a solution.

GNU Guix

vterm and its dependencies are available in GNU Guix as emacs-vterm. The package can be installed with guix package -i emacs-vterm.

Shell-side configuration

Some of the most useful features in vterm (e.g., directory-tracking and prompt-tracking or message passing) require shell-side configurations. The main goal of these additional functions is to enable the shell to send information to vterm via properly escaped sequences. A function that helps in this task, vterm_printf, is defined below. This function is widely used throughout this readme.

For bash or zsh, put this in your .zshrc or .bashrc

    if [ -n "$TMUX" ]; then
        # Tell tmux to pass the escape sequences through
        # (Source:
        printf "\ePtmux;\e\e]%s\007\e\\" "$1"
    elif [ "${TERM%%-*}" = "screen" ]; then
        # GNU screen (screen, screen-256color, screen-256color-bce)
        printf "\eP\e]%s\007\e\\" "$1"
        printf "\e]%s\e\\" "$1"

This works also for dash.

For fish put this in your ~/.config/fish/

function vterm_printf;
    if [ -n "$TMUX" ]
        # tell tmux to pass the escape sequences through
        # (Source:
        printf "\ePtmux;\e\e]%s\007\e\\" "$argv"
    else if string match -q -- "screen*" "$TERM"
        # GNU screen (screen, screen-256color, screen-256color-bce)
        printf "\eP\e]%s\007\e\\" "$argv"
        printf "\e]%s\e\\" "$argv"

Debugging and testing

If you have successfully built the module, you can test it by executing the following command in the build directory:

make run



Open a terminal in the current window.


Open a terminal in another window.


When you enable vterm-copy-mode, the terminal buffer behaves like a normal read-only text buffer: you can search, copy text, etc. The default keybinding to toggle vterm-copy-mode is C-c C-t. When a region is selected, it is possible to copy the text and leave vterm-copy-mode with the enter key.

If no region is selected when the enter key is pressed it will copy the current line from start to end. If vterm-copy-exclude-prompt is true it will skip the prompt and not include it in the copy.


vterm-clear-scrollback does exactly what the name suggests: it clears the current buffer from the data that it is not currently visible. vterm-clear-scrollback is bound to C-c C-l. This function is typically used with the clear function provided by the shell to clear both screen and scrollback. In order to achieve this behavior, you need to add a new shell alias.

For zsh, put this in your .zshrc:

if [[ "$INSIDE_EMACS" = 'vterm' ]]; then
    alias clear='vterm_printf "51;Evterm-clear-scrollback";tput clear'

For bash, put this in your .bashrc:

if [[ "$INSIDE_EMACS" = 'vterm' ]]; then
    function clear(){
        vterm_printf "51;Evterm-clear-scrollback";
        tput clear;

For fish:

if [ "$INSIDE_EMACS" = 'vterm' ]
    function clear
        vterm_printf "51;Evterm-clear-scrollback";
        tput clear;

These aliases take advantage of the fact that vterm can execute elisp commands, as explained below.

If it possible to automatically clear the scrollback when the screen is cleared by setting the variable vterm-clear-scrollback-when-clearing: When vterm-clear-scrollback-when-clearing is non nil, C-l clears both the screen and the scrollback. When is nil, C-l only clears the screen. The opposite behavior can be achieved by using the universal prefix (ie, calling C-u C-l).



Shell to run in a new vterm. It defaults to $SHELL.


Value for the TERM environment variable. It defaults to xterm-256color. If eterm-256color is installed, setting vterm-term-environment-variable to eterm-color improves the rendering of colors in some systems.


If set to t, buffers are killed when the associated process is terminated (for example, by logging out the shell). Keeping buffers around it is useful if you need to copy or manipulate the content.


Compilation flags and arguments to be given to CMake when compiling the module. This string is directly passed to CMake, so it uses the same syntax. At the moment, it main use is for compiling vterm using the system libvterm instead of the one downloaded from GitHub. You can find all the arguments and flags available with cmake -LA in the build directory.


Controls whether or not to exclude the prompt when copying a line in vterm-copy-mode. Using the universal prefix before calling vterm-copy-mode-done will invert the value for that call, allowing you to temporarily override the setting. When a prompt is not found, the whole line is copied.


The variable vterm-use-vterm-prompt-detection-method determines whether to use the vterm prompt tracking, if false it use the regexp in vterm-copy-prompt-regexp to search for the prompt.


When vterm-buffer-name-string is not nil, vterm renames automatically its own buffers with vterm-buffer-name-string. This string can contain the character %s, which is substituted with the title (as defined by the shell, see below). A possible value for vterm-buffer-name-string is vterm %s, according to which all the vterm buffers will be named "vterm TITLE".

This requires some shell-side configuration to print the title. For example to set the name "HOSTNAME:PWD", use can you the following:

For zsh

autoload -U add-zsh-hook
add-zsh-hook -Uz chpwd (){ print -Pn "\e]2;%m:%2~\a" }

For bash,

PROMPT_COMMAND='echo -ne "\033]0;\h:\w\007"'

For fish,

function fish_title
    echo ":"

See zsh and bash and fish documentations.


Vterm needs vterm-module to work. This can be compiled externally, or vterm will ask the user whether to build the module when vterm is first called. To avoid this question and always compile the module, set vterm-always-compile-module to t.


If you want a key to be sent to the terminal, bind it to vterm--self-insert, or remove it from vterm-mode-map. By default, vterm.el binds most of the C-<char> and M-<char> keys, <f1> through <f12> and some special keys like <backspace> and <return>. Sending a keyboard interrupt is bound to C-c C-c.


If you would like to change the font or face used in a vterm, use the following code:

(add-hook 'vterm-mode-hook
          (lambda ()
            (set (make-local-variable 'buffer-face-mode-face) 'fixed-pitch)
                 (buffer-face-mode t)))

The above would change change the font in vterm buffers to a mono-spaced font (the fixed-pitch face) if your default font in Emacs is a proportional font.


Set the :foreground and :background attributes of the following faces to a color you like. The :foreground is ansi color 0-7, the :background attribute is ansi color 8-15.

  • vterm-color-default
  • vterm-color-black
  • vterm-color-red
  • vterm-color-green
  • vterm-color-yellow
  • vterm-color-blue
  • vterm-color-magenta
  • vterm-color-cyan
  • vterm-color-white

Directory tracking and Prompt tracking

vterm supports directory tracking. If this feature is enabled, the default directory in Emacs and the current working directory in vterm are synced. As a result, interactive functions that ask for a path or a file (e.g., dired or find-file) will do so starting from the current location.

And vterm supports prompt tracking. If this feature is enabled, Emacs knows where the prompt ends, you needn't customize term-prompt-regexp any more. Then you can use vterm-next-prompt and vterm-previous-prompt moving to end of next/previous prompt. The default keybinding is C-c C-n and C-c C-p.

And vterm-beginning-of-line would move the point to the first character after the shell prompt on this line. If the point is already there, move to the beginning of the line. The default keybinding is C-a in vterm-copy-mode.

And vterm--at-prompt-p would check whether the cursor is at the point just after the shell prompt.

Directory tracking and Prompt tracking requires some configuration, as the shell has to be instructed to share the relevant information with Emacs. The following pieces of code assume that you have the function vterm_printf as defined in section shell-side configuration.

For zsh, put this at the end of your .zshrc:

vterm_prompt_end() {
    vterm_printf "51;A$(whoami)@$(hostname):$(pwd)";

For bash, put this at the end of your .bashrc:

    vterm_printf "51;A$(whoami)@$(hostname):$(pwd)"

For fish, put this in your ~/.config/fish/

function vterm_prompt_end;
    vterm_printf '51;A'(whoami)'@'(hostname)':'(pwd)
functions --copy fish_prompt vterm_old_fish_prompt
function fish_prompt --description 'Write out the prompt; do not replace this. Instead, put this at end of your file.'
    # Remove the trailing newline from the original prompt. This is done
    # using the string builtin from fish, but to make sure any escape codes
    # are correctly interpreted, use %b for printf.
    printf "%b" (string join "\n" (vterm_old_fish_prompt))

Directory tracking works on remote servers too. In case the hostname of your remote machine does not match the actual hostname needed to connect to that server, change $(hostname) with the correct one. For example, if the correct hostname is foo and the username is bar, you should have something like

vterm_printf "51;A$USER@$HOSTNAME:$(pwd)"

Message passing

vterm can read and execute commands. At the moment, a command is passed by providing a specific escape sequence. For example, to evaluate

(message "Hello!")


printf "\e]51;Emessage \"Hello\!\"\e\\"
# or
vterm_printf "51;Emessage \"Hello\!\""

The commands that are understood are defined in the setting vterm-eval-cmds.

As split-string-and-unquote is used the parse the passed string, double quotes and backslashes need to be escaped via backslash. A convenient shell function to automate the substitution is

bash or zsh:

vterm_cmd() {
    local vterm_elisp
    while [ $# -gt 0 ]; do
        vterm_elisp="$vterm_elisp""$(printf '"%s" ' "$(printf "%s" "$1" | sed -e 's|\\|\\\\|g' -e 's|"|\\"|g')")"
    vterm_printf "51;E$vterm_elisp"


function vterm_cmd --description 'Run an emacs command among the ones been defined in vterm-eval-cmds.'
    set -l vterm_elisp ()
    for arg in $argv
        set -a vterm_elisp (printf '"%s" ' (string replace -a -r '([\\\\"])' '\\\\\\\\$1' $arg))
    vterm_printf '51;E'(string join '' $vterm_elisp)

Now we can write shell functions to call the ones defined in vterm-eval-cmds.

find_file() {
    vterm_cmd find-file "$(realpath "${@:-.}")"

say() {
    vterm_cmd message "%s" "$*"

Or for fish:

function find_file
    set -q argv[1]; or set argv[1] "."
    vterm_cmd find-file (realpath "$argv")

function say
    vterm_cmd message "%s" "$argv"

This newly defined find_file function can now be used inside vterm as

find_file name_of_file_in_local_directory

If you call find_file without specifying any file (you just execute find_file in your shell), dired will open with the current directory.

As an example, say you like having files opened below the current window. You could add the command to do it on the lisp side like so:

(push (list "find-file-below"
            (lambda (path)
              (if-let* ((buf (find-file-noselect path))
                        (window (display-buffer-below-selected buf nil)))
                  (select-window window)
                (message "Failed to open file: %s" path))))

Then add the command in your .bashrc file.

open_file_below() {
    vterm_cmd find-file-below "$(realpath "${@:-.}")"

Then you can open any file from inside your shell.

open_file_below ~/Documents

Shell-side configuration files

The configurations described in earlier sections are combined in etc/. These can be appended to or loaded into your user configuration file. Alternatively, they can be installed system-wide, for example in /etc/bash/bashrc.d/, /etc/profile.d/ (for zsh), or /etc/fish/conf.d/ for fish.

Frequently Asked Questions and Problems

How can I increase the size of the scrollback?

By default, the scrollback can contain up to 1000 lines per each vterm buffer. You can increase this up to 100000 by changing the variable vterm-max-scrollback. If you want to increase it further, you have to edit the file vterm-module.h, change the variable SB_MAX, and set the new value for vterm-max-scrollback. The potential maximum memory consumption of vterm buffers increases with vterm-max-scrollback, so setting SB_MAX to extreme values may lead to system instabilities and crashes.

How can I automatically close vterm buffers when the process is terminated?

There is an option for that: set vterm-kill-buffer-on-exit to t.

The package does not compile, I have errors related to VTERM_COLOR.

The version of libvterm installed on your system is too old. You should let emacs-libvterm download libvterm for you. You can either uninstall your libvterm, or instruct Emacs to ignore the system libvterm. If you are compiling from Emacs, you can do this by setting:

(setq vterm-module-cmake-args "-DUSE_SYSTEM_LIBVTERM=no")

and compile again. If you are compiling with CMake, use the flag -DUSE_SYSTEM_LIBVTERM=no.

<C-backspace> doesn't kill previous word.

This can be fixed by rebinding the key to what C-w does:

(define-key vterm-mode-map (kbd "<C-backspace>")
    (lambda () (interactive) (vterm-send-key (kbd "C-w"))))

counsel-yank-pop doesn't work.

Add this piece of code to your configuration file to make counsel use the correct function to yank in vterm buffers.

(defun vterm-counsel-yank-pop-action (orig-fun &rest args)
  (if (equal major-mode 'vterm-mode)
      (let ((inhibit-read-only t)
            (yank-undo-function (lambda (_start _end) (vterm-undo))))
        (cl-letf (((symbol-function 'insert-for-yank)
               (lambda (str) (vterm-send-string str t))))
            (apply orig-fun args)))
    (apply orig-fun args)))

(advice-add 'counsel-yank-pop-action :around #'vterm-counsel-yank-pop-action)

How can I get the local directory without shell-side configuration?

We recommend that you set up shell-side configuration for reliable directory tracking. If you cannot do it, a possible workaround is the following.

On most GNU/Linux systems, you can read current directory from /proc:

(defun vterm-directory-sync ()
  "Synchronize current working directory."
  (when vterm--process
    (let* ((pid (process-id vterm--process))
           (dir (file-truename (format "/proc/%d/cwd/" pid))))
      (setq default-directory dir))))

A possible application of this function is in combination with find-file:

(advice-add #'find-file :before #'vterm-directory-sync)

This method does not work on remote machines.

How can I get the directory tracking in a more understandable way?

If you looked at the reccomended way to set-up directory tracking, you will have noticed that it requires printing obscure code like \e]2;%m:%2~\a (unless you are using fish).

There is another way to achieve this behavior. Define a shell function, on a local host you can simply use

vterm_set_directory() {
    vterm_cmd update-pwd "$PWD/"

On a remote one, use instead

vterm_set_directory() {
    vterm_cmd update-pwd "/-:""$USER""@""$HOSTNAME"":""$PWD/"

Then, for zsh, add this function to the chpwd hook:

autoload -U add-zsh-hook
add-zsh-hook -Uz chpwd (){ vterm_set_directory }

For bash, append it to the prompt:


Finally, add update-pwd to the list of commands that Emacs is allowed to execute from vterm:

(add-to-list 'vterm-eval-cmds '("update-pwd" (lambda (path) (setq default-directory path))))

When evil-mode is enabled, the cursor moves back in normal state, and this messes directory tracking

evil-collection provides a solution for this problem. If you do not want to use evil-collection, you can add the following code:

(defun evil-collection-vterm-escape-stay ()
"Go back to normal state but don't move
cursor backwards. Moving cursor backwards is the default vim behavior but it is
not appropriate in some cases like terminals."
(setq-local evil-move-cursor-back nil))

(add-hook 'vterm-mode-hook #'evil-collection-vterm-escape-stay)

Related packages


Breaking changes

Obsolete variables will be removed in version 0.1.

July 2020

  • vterm-use-vterm-prompt was renamed to vterm-use-vterm-prompt-detection-method.
  • vterm-kill-buffer-on-exit is set to t by default.

April 2020

  • vterm-clear-scrollback was renamed to vterm-clear-scrollback-when-clearning.
  • vterm-set-title-functions was removed. In its place, there is a new custom option vterm-buffer-name-string. See vterm-buffer-name-string for documentation.
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