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zsh FAQ

[ I tried to send this to zsh-announce, but it seems to have disappeared.
Maybe I should have put `Money-Making opertunity: This is not a
SPAM!!!!!!' at the top.

I also sent a note apologising for the infrequency of FAQ postings
recently, but saying that I've more or less finished chapter 3 of the user
guide at
This chapter deals with basic shell commands, syntax and associated

 --- pws ]

This file contains general information on how to find out about zsh,
(the first part of the FAQ up to item 1.1), then any other items which
have changed since last month's posting, then the differences in the
yodl version of the FAQ.  If you would like a complete individual
copy, email me and I will add you to the list.

Archive-Name: unix-faq/shell/zsh
Last-Modified: 2001/01/24
Submitted-By: pws@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Peter Stephenson)
Posting-Frequency: Monthly
Copyright: (C) P.W. Stephenson, 1995--2000 (see end of document)

Changes since issue posted August 2000:

  2.5  Trivial font fix.
  3.1  Improved elisp.

This document contains a list of frequently-asked (or otherwise
significant) questions concerning the Z-shell, a command interpreter
for many UNIX systems which is freely available to anyone with FTP
access.  Zsh is among the most powerful freely available Bourne-like
shell for interactive use.

If you have never heard of `sh', `csh' or `ksh', then you are
probably better off to start by reading a general introduction to UNIX
rather than this document.

If you just want to know how to get your hands on the latest version,
skip to question 1.6; if you want to know what to do with
insoluble problems, go to 5.2.

Notation: Quotes `like this' are ordinary textual quotation
marks.  Other uses of quotation marks are input to the shell.

Chapter 1:  Introducing zsh and how to install it
1.1. Sources of information
1.2. What is it?
1.3. What is it good at?
1.4. On what machines will it run?  (Plus important compilation notes)
1.5. What's the latest version?
1.6. Where do I get it?
1.7. I don't have root access: how do I make zsh my login shell?

Chapter 2:  How does zsh differ from...?
2.1. sh and ksh?
2.2. csh?
2.3. Why do my csh aliases not work?  (Plus other alias pitfalls.)
2.4. tcsh?
2.5. bash?
2.6. Shouldn't zsh be more/less like ksh/(t)csh?

Chapter 3:  How to get various things to work
3.1. Why does `$var' where `var="foo bar"' not do what I expect?
3.2. In which startup file do I put...?
3.3. What is the difference between `export' and the ALL_EXPORT option?
3.4. How do I turn off spelling correction/globbing for a single command?
3.5. How do I get the meta key to work on my xterm?
3.6. How do I automatically display the directory in my xterm title bar?
3.7. How do I make the completion list use eight bit characters?
3.8. Why do the cursor (arrow) keys not work?
3.9. Why does my terminal act funny in some way?
3.10. Why does zsh not work in an Emacs shell mode any more?
3.11. Why do my autoloaded functions not autoload [the first time]?
3.12. How does base arithmetic work?
3.13. How do I get a newline in my prompt?
3.14. Why does `bindkey ^a command-name' or 'stty intr ^-' do something funny?
3.15. Why can't I bind \C-s and \C-q any more?
3.16. How do I execute command `foo' within function `foo'?
3.17. Why do history substitutions with single bangs do something funny?
3.18. Why does zsh kill off all my background jobs when I logout?
3.19. How do I list all my history entries?
3.20. How does the alternative loop syntax, e.g. `while {...} {...}' work?
3.21. Why is my history not being saved?
3.22. How do I get a variable's value to be evaluated as another variable?
3.23. How do I prevent the prompt overwriting output when there is no newline?
3.24. What's wrong with cut and paste on my xterm?
3.25. How do I get coloured prompts on my colour xterm?

Chapter 4:  The mysteries of completion
4.1. What is completion?
4.2. What sorts of things can be completed?
4.3. How does zsh deal with ambiguous completions?
4.4. How do I complete in the middle of words / just what's before the cursor?
4.5. How do I get started with programmable completion?
4.6. And if programmable completion isn't good enough?

Chapter 5:  The future of zsh
5.1. What bugs are currently known and unfixed? (Plus recent important changes)
5.2. Where do I report bugs, get more info / who's working on zsh?
5.3. What's on the wish-list?
5.4. Will zsh have problems in the year 2000?


--- End of Contents ---

Chapter 1: Introducing zsh and how to install it

1.1: Sources of information

  Information on zsh is available via the World Wide Web.  The URL
  is http://sunsite.auc.dk/zsh/ .
  The server provides this FAQ and much else and is
  now maintained by Karsten Thygesen and others (mail zsh@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  with any related messages).  The FAQ is at http://sunsite.auc.dk/zsh/FAQ/ .
  The site also contains some contributed zsh scripts and functions;
  we are delighted to add more, or simply links to your own collection.

  This document was originally written in YODL, allowing it to be converted
  easily into various other formats.  The master source file lives at
  http://sunsite.auc.dk/zsh/FAQ/zshfaq.yo and the plain text version
  can be found at http://sunsite.auc.dk/zsh/FAQ/zshfaq.txt .

  Another useful source of information is the collection of FAQ articles
  posted frequently to the Usenet news groups comp.unix.questions,
  comp.unix.shells and comp.answers with answers to general questions
  about UNIX.  The fifth of the seven articles deals with shells,
  including zsh, with a brief description of differences.  There is
  also a separate FAQ on shell differences and how to change your
  shell.  Usenet FAQs are available via FTP from rtfm.mit.edu and
  mirrors and also on the World Wide Web; see

    USA         http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/top.html
    UK          http://www.lib.ox.ac.uk/internet/news/faq/comp.unix.shell.html
    Netherlands http://www.cs.uu.nl/wais/html/na-dir/unix-faq/shell/.html

  You can also get it via email by emailing mail-server@xxxxxxxxxxxx
  with, in the body of the message, `send faqs/unix-faq/shell/zsh'.

  The latest version of this FAQ is also available directly from any
  of the zsh archive sites listed in question 1.6.

  I have been putting together a user guide to complement the manual by
  explaining the most useful features of zsh in a more easy to read way.
  This will be a long project, but a partial version describing how to
  write startup files and how to use the new, more powerful, form for
  completion which first appeared in 3.1.6 (and is not described in this
  FAQ) can be seen by looking at
  where it exists in various formats.

  (As a method of reading the following in Emacs, you can type \M-2
  \C-x $ to make all the indented text vanish, then \M-0 \C-x $
  when you are on the title you want.)

  For any more eclectic information, you should contact the mailing
  list:  see question 5.2.

--- End of general information, changed items follow in full ---

2.5: Similarities with bash

  The Bourne-Again Shell, bash, is another enhanced Bourne-like shell;
  the most obvious difference from zsh is that it does not attempt to
  emulate the Korn shell.  Since both shells are under active
  development it is probably not sensible to be too specific here.
  Broadly, bash has paid more attention to standards compliancy
  (i.e. POSIX) for longer, and has so far avoided the more abstruse
  interactive features (programmable completion, etc.) that zsh has.

  In recent years there has been a certain amount of crossover in the
  extensions, however.  Zsh now (3.1.6) has bash's `${var/old/new}'
  feature for replacing the text old with the text new in the
  parameter $var.  Note one difference here:  while both shells
  implement the syntax `${var/#old/new}' and `${var/%old/new}' for
  anchoring the match of old to the start or end of the parameter text,
  respectively, in zsh you can't put the `#' or `%' inside a
  parameter:  in other words `{var/$old/new}' where old begins with
  a `#' treats that as an ordinary character in zsh, unlike bash.  To
  do this sort of thing in zsh you can use (from 3.1.7) the new syntax
  for anchors in any pattern, `(#s)' to match the start of a string,
  and `(#e)' to match the end.  These require the option
  EXTENDED_GLOB to be set.

3.10: Why does zsh not work in an Emacs shell mode any more?

  (This information comes from Bart Schaefer and other zsh-workers.)

  Emacs 19.29 or thereabouts stopped using a terminal type of "emacs"
  in shell buffers, and instead sets it to "dumb".  Zsh only kicks in
  its special I'm-inside-emacs initialization when the terminal type
  is "emacs".

  Probably the most reliable way of dealing with this is to look for
  the environment variable `$EMACS', which is set to `t' in
  Emacs' shell mode.  Putting

    [[ $EMACS = t ]] && unsetopt zle

  in your .zshrc should be sufficient.

  Another method is to put

    TERM=emacs exec zsh

  into a file ~/bin/eshell, then `chmod +x ~/bin/eshell', and
  tell emacs to use that as the shell by adding

    (setenv "ESHELL" (expand-file-name "~/bin/eshell"))

  to ~/.emacs.

--- End of changed items, diff from previous version follows ---
Index: zshfaq.yo
RCS file: /pack/anoncvs/zsh/www/FAQ/zshfaq.yo,v
retrieving revision 1.61
retrieving revision 1.62
diff -u -r1.61 -r1.62
--- zshfaq.yo	2000/08/29 19:36:57	1.61
+++ zshfaq.yo	2001/01/24 21:26:48	1.62
@@ -43,19 +43,20 @@
-myreport(Z-Shell Frequently-Asked Questions)(Peter Stephenson)(2000/08/29)
+myreport(Z-Shell Frequently-Asked Questions)(Peter Stephenson)(2001/01/24)
 COMMENT(-- the following are for Usenet and must appear first)\
 mydit(Archive-Name:) unix-faq/shell/zsh
-mydit(Last-Modified:) 2000/08/29
+mydit(Last-Modified:) 2001/01/24
 mydit(Submitted-By:) email(pws@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Peter Stephenson))
 mydit(Posting-Frequency:) Monthly
 mydit(Copyright:) (C) P.W. Stephenson, 1995--2000 (see end of document)
-bf(Changes since issue posted July 2000:)
+bf(Changes since issue posted August 2000:)
-  None.
+  mydit(2.5)  Trivial font fix.
+  mydit(3.1)  Improved elisp.
 This document contains a list of frequently-asked (or otherwise
@@ -901,7 +902,7 @@
   In recent years there has been a certain amount of crossover in the
   extensions, however.  Zsh now (3.1.6) has bash's `tt(${var/old/new})'
-  feature for replacing the text tt(old) with the text(new) in the
+  feature for replacing the text tt(old) with the text tt(new) in the
   parameter tt($var).  Note one difference here:  while both shells
   implement the syntax `tt(${var/#old/new})' and `tt(${var/%old/new})' for
   anchoring the match of tt(old) to the start or end of the parameter text,
@@ -1312,7 +1313,7 @@
   into a file ~/bin/eshell, then mytt(chmod +x ~/bin/eshell), and
   tell emacs to use that as the shell by adding
-    (setenv "ESHELL" "~/bin/eshell")
+    (setenv "ESHELL" (expand-file-name "~/bin/eshell"))
   to ~/.emacs.

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