I must admit it after years of trying to avoid writing script shells: I’m not a big fan of bash. Sure you can do amazing things when you become a script guru but for someone who spends his life trying to write readable code, it feels a bit unnatural.

So it was with great pleasure and a bit of excitation that I began playing with the new kid in the shell block: fish.

After a few weeks of practice, I can tell you that I love it. Here are a few tips to get you started using fish.


The following command will install fish:

brew install fish

To add it as an available shell, you should sudo vi /etc/shells and add the following line /usr/local/bin/fish. Now to use it as default, type:

chsh -s /usr/local/bin/fish

Configure you shell

First thing you can do is to configure fish. Type:


You will be brought to a web page where you can configure your prompt and various options of fish. Personally, I use the Classic + Git prompt which is still minimalist but will display useful information when you are inside a git repository.

You can see right away one of the big pros of fish: it is very fast, easy to customize and has very good defaults.

Install oh my fish

There is one small problem with fish: it is not compatible with POSIX. This means that you cannot directly use bash commands or scripts directly in fish.

Of course, you can invoke bash inside of fish: bash my-command. But there is a simpler solution for a handful of very handy scripts called oh-my-fish.

Oh-my-fish allows you to use plugins (some kind of functions with shell loading hooks) to easily customize your shell.

Follow the very simple installation instructions. This will create a new fish configuration. The main configuration file in fish is located in ~/.config/fish/config.fish and it will be replaced by oh-my-fish (it will be backed up don’t worry).

In a nutshell, installing oh-my-fish will add the following line to your config:

# Load oh-my-fish configuration.
source $OMF_PATH/init.fish

If you don’t know z, try it out immediately, it is guaranteed to change your life. It will allow you to navigate to the most frequent directories with fuzzy commands.

For instance, issuing z fun would bring me to /Users/geowarin/.configfish/functions since it is a directory I often visit.

To install it:

brew install z

This will install z… For bash.

This is where oh-my-fish comes into play. Simply install the z plugin with:

omf install z

One of the most useful features of bash is the ability to search a term in your recent history with CTRL + R. This feature is not enabled by default but somebody wrote a little program called re-search.

Follow the instructions to install it. You will have to git clone it, make, add it to the path, add a function to fish and finally define a keyboard shortcut to call it.

Those are really interesting steps. To add something to the path, open ~/.config/fish/config.fish and use the set function:

set -gx PATH $PATH ~/bin

This will add ~/bin to the path, you can put re-search in there.

To add a function, you simply have to add files to ~/.config/fish/functions. The functions contained in the files of this directory will automatically be loaded by fish.

Finally you can see it is very easy to bind a function to a shortcut simply by editing ~/.config/fish/functions/fish_user_key_bindings.fish

bind \cr re_search

Define your own functions

The final step to your fish initiation is to define your own functions. I might not be super fluent with bash but I was able to define my own functions when I had something repetitive to do.

One thing I like is to directly cd into a directory I created. A simple solution with bash is to define a function that will do something like this:

function mkd() {
	mkdir -p "$@" && cd "$@"

With fish, simply create a file in ~/.config/fish/functions and write:

function mkd
	mkdir -p $argv; and cd $argv

You can see that fish syntax is actually pretty simple.

Another thing I like is to define a variable linking to a binary before invoking it, like this:

function office
	set -l office /Applications/LibreOffice.app/Contents/MacOS/soffice
	eval $office --headless --convert-to $argv[1] --outdir (pwd) $argv[2]

This will allow you to invoke Libre Office in command line to convert a file from one format to another:

office docx myDoc.odt

A last one, invoke a web server in the current directory and open it in the browser:

function server
	python -m SimpleHTTPServer&
	sleep 1
	open http://localhost:8000

Working around POSIX limitation with bash -c

In simple cases, you can get pretty far by calling bash scripts with bash -c.

A tool I love is sdkman, which will manage JVM-based binaries like groovy or gradle.

Just add the following function in fish:

function sdk
  bash -c '. ~/.sdkman/bin/sdkman-init.sh; sdk "$@"' sdk $argv

I also wanted the current versions of the binaries managed by skdman to be in my path so I added the following to my config.fish:

# sdkman
set PATH $PATH (find ~/.sdkman/*/current/bin -maxdepth 0)

Working around POSIX limitation with bass

In most cases, you will find good plugins compatible with oh-my-fish. If it is not the case, I have found bass to be incredibly useful.

It is a simple python wrapper that will call scripts in bash and pass in and out environment variables.

Simply git clone the project and use make to install it.

I have used it successfully to make nvm compatible with fish.

For nvm, I added the following function:

function nvm
  bass source (brew --prefix nvm)/nvm.sh ';' nvm $argv

Here you go! I hope this will help you get started with fish.

Geoffroy Warin

Hello! I write codez

geowarin geowarin

Read more!