Basic Development with Zellij

This tutorial demonstrates some basic features of Zellij through a real world use-case of using the terminal for development.

You need not be a terminal developer to benefit from this tutorial.

The video screencast and the tutorial contain the same content.

What we’ll cover

Getting Started

An image of Zellij running inside a terminal with vim open to the main.rs file of the project.
We’ll use a basic Rust project as an example, but it can work with any sort of code. To follow along, you can clone the repository.

After installing Zellij, let’s start it up in the project’s directory.

Then let’s open up vim to the main file in the repository: vim src/main.rs

Opening New Panes

An image of Zellij with three panes, one open to main.rs, one running cargo run and the third running cargo test
The most basic functionality of Zellij is opening up different terminal panes in the same tab. Let’s open up some and run different commands in each.

First we split the terminal down so that we can run our code: Ctrl p + d then cargo run in the new pane.

Next, let us open another pane to run tests: Alt n will open a new pane in the largest available space. cargo test inside this new pane will run our tests.

Using Floating Panes

An image of Zellij with a floating pane running cargo test
Floating panes can be a powerful tool for toggling context. Running tests inside them is a classic use-case.

Let’s make our existing “tests” pane floating by ejecting it with: Ctrl p + e

Now that it is floating, we can toggle its visibility and focus: Ctrl p + w to hide, and Ctrl p + w again to show.

Tip: When toggling floating panes with Ctrl p + w, if none exist one will be opened.

Another tip: When floating panes are visible, you can open new ones with Alt n, move existing ones with the mouse or use all Zellij keyboard shortcuts on them as you would with regular “tiled” panes.

Starting Command Panes from the CLI

An image of Zellij with two floating panes, the front one running cargo test and showing its exit status and extra controls on screen
Instead of retyping, pressing the up arrow or searching our history for a particular command - we can have it waiting for us in a command pane.

From the CLI, we use the zrf alias (zellij run floating) to run the cargo test command as a floating command pane:

$ zrf cargo test

We see the exit status of the pane, can scroll / search through its output normally and can re-run it by pressing <ENTER>

Editing the Scrollback with your own $EDITOR

An image of Zellij with a pane open to the vim editor editing its own scrollback
Zellij allows you to open a pane’s existing scrollback with your own $EDITOR eg. vim. Let’s try it out.

To get some output, let’s change the main function in main.rs to:

fn main() {
    why_would_i_want_this();
}

Now let’s move focus to the bottom pane either by clicking it with the mouse, with Alt j or with Alt <down-arrow>.

We run the program with cargo run and see all the output on screen.

Now, let’s press Ctrl s + e and the output is opened up in our editor (vim in the author’s case). When using vim, we can issue the following command to delete all lines that don’t contain the word “error”: :%g!/error/d.

Then, let’s save the resulting lines to a different file (in vim: :s /tmp/my-other-file.md) and we can send it to a friend or do whatever we like with it.

Finally

Here we learned the very basics of Zellij usage. Be they classic multiplexer features such as splitting panes or slightly more advanced workspace features such as managing Command Panes and editing scrollback.

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