Little Color in Your Bash Prompt

I have accounts on many computer systems (around 10) which together add up to several hundred machines. And I often find myself having ssh sessions open to multiple machines doing different things simultaneously. More than once I have executed something on a wrong machine. Most of the case its not a problem, but every-now and I'll manage to reboot the wrong machine or do something else equally bad. Its really an easy mistake to make, especially when you have half a dozen shell tabs open and screen running in many of the tabs.

I had spent some time pondering about a good solution to this problem. I already had bash configured to show the machine name as part of the prompt (IE: dotCOMmie@laptop:~$) but it was not enough, its easy to overlook the name or even the path. So one great day I got the idea to color my prompt differently on my machines using ANSI color escape codes. This worked quite well, at a single glance at the prompt I had an intuitive feel for what machine I was typing on -- even without paying attention to the hostname in the prompt. But this solution was not perfect as I would have to manually pick a new color for each machine.

For the next iteration of the colored prompt I decided to write a simple program which would take a string (Hostname) as an argument, hash it down into a small number and map it to a color. I called this little app t2cc (text to color code), you can download t2cc from the project page. The source doesn't need any external libraries so you can just compile it with gcc or use my pre-compiled 32bit and 64bit binaries. Consider the code public domain.

To use t2cc just drop it into ~/.bash and edit your ~/.bashrc to set the prompt as follows:

PS1="\[\e[`~/.bash/t2cc $HOSTNAME`m\]\u@\h\[\e[0m\]:\[\e[`~/.bash/t2cc $HOSTNAME -2`m\]\w\[\e[0m\]\$ "

And if you use the same .bashrc for both 32 and 64 bit architectures you can download t2cc_32 and t2cc_64 to your ~/.bash and the following into your ~/.bashrc:

if [ `uname -m` =  "x86_64" ]; then
PS1="\[\e[`$t2cc $HOSTNAME`m\]\u@\h\[\e[0m\]:\[\e[`$t2cc $HOSTNAME-2`m\]\w\[\e[0m\]\$ "

As you can see from the examples above I actually use 2 hashes of the hostname a forward hash for the hostname and a backward hash for the path (-2 flag). This enables more possible color combinations. T2cc is designed to ignore colors which don't match dark backgrounds (or with -b bright backgrounds), this ensures that the prompt is always readable.

Initially I wanted to write this all in bash but I couldn't quite figure out how to convert ASCII character to numbers. If you know how to do this in pure bash please let me know.

So you might be wondering what does all of this look like?

LILUG  News  Software  2008-04-16T23:06:36