Hack and / - Do the Splits

Get two terminals in the space of one with split screens on a number of different command-line tools.
Irssi Split

Irssi is definitely my favorite IRC client, and I probably spend as much time in it as I do in any other command-line program. It also supports an interesting split-screen feature that takes some getting used to. Basically, each channel you join in irssi ends up in its own numbered window. On my setup, I always have particular channels set to open in a particular window, so when I press Alt-7, for instance, I always will go to #linuxjournal. Sometimes you have a lot of activity going on in more than one channel and want to monitor all of them. So, for instance, if I want to view both #linuxjournal (in window 7) and #nblug (in window 4), and I already am in #nblug, I could type:

/window show 7

Now the irssi screen splits in half with #linuxjournal on the top and #nblug on the bottom. If I want to chat in #linuxjournal, I press Alt-7 to make sure it is selected (the topic header on irssi updates to show the currently selected window). Then, if I want to chat in #nblug, I press Alt-4.

Figure 3. Irssi with Two Windows

Irssi split windows become interesting once you start switching beyond two windows. Going back to the example, if I press Alt-5 now (my #knoppix window), the bottom window changes to that channel. By default, irssi makes the top window in a split screen “sticky”, so that it appears no matter what other windows you switch to along the bottom. If I want to turn off sticky mode for that window I would type:

/window stick 7 off

Now, when I switch between windows with the Alt key, the top or bottom window switches, depending on which had focus last. If I want to stick #linuxjournal on the top again, I type:

/window stick 7

Once you are finished with your split screen (or if you are getting confused and want to turn it off), type:

/window hide

to hide the currently selected window. If that window is sticky, it won't be able to hide until you turn off stickiness with /window stick off.

Now, what would a column about splits be if I didn't show an insanely complicated nested set of split screens? Note that I don't advocate actually using a setup like the following on a daily basis, but Figure 4 shows what happens when you split screen into two windows, open a split irssi on the top window and a vertically split vim on the bottom. I hope these split-screen features help you stay organized and productive.

Figure 4. Screen Split with Two Panes, a Split Irssi on Top and a Vertically Split Vim on the Bottom

Kyle Rankin is a Senior Systems Administrator in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of a number of books, including Knoppix Hacks and Ubuntu Hacks for O'Reilly Media. He is currently the president of the North Bay Linux Users' Group.


Kyle Rankin is a director of engineering operations in the San Francisco Bay Area, the author of a number of books including DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and is a columnist for Linux Journal.

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