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Building Zsh from Source and Configuring It on CentOS

··717 words·4 mins·
Table of Contents

Update: this is my first post on Zsh install and configuration. For a list of useful plugins I use to boost my productivity, see this post.

Zsh is a powerful shell with better auto-completion and richer features. There are also various plugins to enrich your experience of using Zsh. In this post, I will give a brief summary on how to install and set up zsh.


Build and install ncurses

The installation of zsh requires ncurses. On some systems, the ncurses development package is missing. If you do not have root privilege, you need to install ncurses from source:

tar xf ncurses-6.1.tar.gz
cd ncurses-6.1
./configure --prefix=$HOME/local CXXFLAGS="-fPIC" CFLAGS="-fPIC"
make -j && make install

The CXXFLAGS="-fPIC" CFLAGS="-fPIC" flags are important. Without them, you will encounter errors when you try to build Zsh. See more information here.

Build and install Zsh

Latest code of zsh can be found here. It is easy to install:


if [[ ! -d "$ZSH_PACK_DIR" ]]; then
    echo "Creating zsh directory under packages directory"
    mkdir -p "$ZSH_PACK_DIR"

if [[ ! -f $ZSH_SRC_NAME ]]; then
    curl -Lo "$ZSH_SRC_NAME" "$ZSH_LINK"

tar xJvf "$ZSH_SRC_NAME" -C "$ZSH_PACK_DIR" --strip-components 1

./configure --prefix="$HOME/local" \
    CPPFLAGS="-I$HOME/local/include" \
make -j && make install

Since I do not have root privilege, I can not use chsh to change the default logging shell. In order to use Zsh as the default shell, we can add the following settings to .bash_profile,

export PATH=$HOME/local/bin:$PATH
export SHELL=`which zsh`
[ -f "$SHELL" ] && exec "$SHELL" -l

Then source .bash_prfile to make the changes take effect. With this setting, zsh will be activated each time you log into the system.

Install oh-my-zsh

Oh-my-zsh is framework for Zsh with rich features. To install, run the below command:

sh -c "$(curl -fsSL"

oh-my-zsh ships with a bunch of plugins to enhance your experience of using zsh. You can enable these plugins in the .zshrc file. For example,

  git pip vi-mode

The above setting will enable git, pip and vi-mode plugin. The complete list of plugins are listed here.

For other plugins that are not shipped by default. You have to install them yourself. You may want to try zsh-autosuggestion. It can give you suggestions when you type command, based on your command history.

First, we need to install this plugin:

git clone ${ZSH_CUSTOM:-~/.oh-my-zsh/custom}/plugins/zsh-autosuggestions

In .zshrc, add autosuggestions to plugins:

# different plugins should be separated by space

Do not forget to source .zshrc to make the change take effect.

When you type a command, you will get suggestions. You can use ->(right arrow key) or End key to accept a suggestion. If the suggestion is not what you want, it will disappear as you continue typing.

Install zsh-syntax-highlighting

This plugin will highlight your command in command line to enhance your experience. Use the following command to install this plugin:

git clone ${ZSH_CUSTOM:-~/.oh-my-zsh/custom}/plugins/zsh-syntax-highlighting

Add it to plugins:

plugins=( [plugins...] zsh-syntax-highlighting)

Then source ~/.zshrc.

Install themes


You can use various themes in Zsh. For example, powerlevel9k. Install guide is here

git clone ~/.oh-my-zsh/custom/themes/powerlevel9k

And in .zshrc, use


Install a powerline font

powerlevel9k works well if you install a powerline font.


To change the default prompt style, put the following after ZSHTHEME="powerlevel9k/powerlevel9k":

POWERLEVEL9K_RIGHT_PROMPT_ELEMENTS=(status root_indicator background_jobs)

You can customize more settings following the theme documentation here.


Spaceship is a simple and elegant theme. If you want simplicity, you may like it.

git clone "$ZSH_CUSTOM/themes/spaceship-prompt"
ln -s "$ZSH_CUSTOM/themes/spaceship-prompt/spaceship.zsh-theme" "$ZSH_CUSTOM/themes/spaceship.zsh-theme"

Set ZSH_THEME="spaceship" in your .zshrc and source your zsh config to use this theme.

how to change prompt

In order to show current directory relative to $HOME, use the following setting in .zshrc:

export PS1="[%~]$ "

More prompt parameters can be found here.

Finally, source ~/.bash_profile to change the shell to zsh.


In this post, I gave a summary on how to install zsh and make it your default shell. I also introduced how to install a theme and plugin with the popular framework oh-my-zsh. You can read the zsh and oh-my-zsh documentation for more customizations.

You can find my complete zsh configuration here.



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