My Bash $PS1

September 07, 2018

Filed under: #cli

I spend a lot of time on the command-line, and every so often I run across a new way to make it show me more useful information. Today’s update: displaying the real time the last command took to run inline in the prompt. I can’t take credit for the idea - I found the approach on this excellent blog post - but I’ve got a few other interesting pieces in my $PS1 so I figure it’s worth sharing briefly. Here’s what my shell environment looks like:

archive layout

All of these functions use shell variables to pass info along to the $PS1. I’ve found that this approach along with $PROMPT_COMMAND leads to the fewest levels of shell quoting & interpolation hell. The only thing to remember is that in your $PS1 you need to escape the $ so that it’s interpolated when the prompt prints rather than when the $PS1 is set. Wrong: PS1=${my_dynamic_var}, Right: PS1=\${my_dynamic_var}.

current git branch

This one is pretty standard, ask git for your current branch. If it’s non-empty wrap and color it for easy visual grepping.

function vc_branch() {
    vc_branch=`git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD 2>/dev/null`
    if [ "$vc_branch" != "" ]; then
        vc_branch="${LPURPLE}[${vc_branch}]${RESTORE} "

last command’s exit status

I’ve had this in my $PS1 for years now - who doesn’t love a smiley face to let you know that your last command didn’t explode?

# sets $cmd_face with a colored emoticon representing the exit status of the last command
function smile() {
    if [ $? -eq 0 ]; then

last command’s time elapsed

This is a little bit more involved - the basic idea here is that we start a timer before running every command with trap and stop it when the prompt refreshes, as the last thing to run in $PROMPT_COMMAND. I’ve updated Jake’s example code to format the timing a little bit more densely - 1m31s instead of 91s and 1hr31m0s instead of 91m0s.

# adapted from
function timer_start() {

# sets $timer_show with the runtime of the last command
# empty if the command ran in < 1s
# units switch at 1m31s and 1hr31m0s
function timer_stop() {
    secs=$(($SECONDS - $timer))
    unset timer

    if [ $secs -lt 1 ]; then
        timer_show=" "
        return 0

    hours=$(($secs / 3600))
    mins=$(($secs / 60))

    if [ $secs -gt 90 ]; then
        secs=$(($secs % 60))

        if [ $mins -gt 90 ]; then
            mins=$(($mins % 60))
    timer_show=" $timer_show "

trap 'timer_start' DEBUG


And finally it’s time to hook the functions up to $PROMPT_COMMAND so that they refresh as you navigate around in your terminal

# order matters here: smile needs to be first to check the last command and timer_stop
# needs to be last in order to time the next command rather than the prompt commands
if [ "$PROMPT_COMMAND" == "" ]; then
    PROMPT_COMMAND="smile; vc_branch; timer_stop"
    PROMPT_COMMAND="smile; vc_branch; $PROMPT_COMMAND; timer_stop"

and to set your $PS1 variable so that the whole show works. One last note: I’m a huge fan of a two-line terminal prompt so that it’s easy to see which directory you’re in and still have plenty of space to type out long commands without hitting line wrapping. Here’s the $PS1 I use on pretty much every machine I log into:

if [ "$PS1" ]; then
    # bash 3.0 and line-wrapping compatible version:
    # gives the following (where smiley indicates last cmd successfully ran)
    # powered by the functions above and $PROMPT_COMMAND
    # [HH:MM AM/PM] user@host: [current branch (if any)] $PWD
    # :-) / 8-( {last command runtime (s)} $

    PS1="${BOLD}[\@]${RESTORE} ${YELLOW}\u${RESTORE}@${GREEN}\h \${vc_branch}${BLUE}\w/${RESTORE} \n \${cmd_face}\${timer_show}\$ "

Finally, for easy copy-pasta, here’s a gist with all of this code in one place. Stick it in your ~/.bash_profile and never worry about running time by hand again!