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 SVP of Security and Infrastructure at Zero, the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and a columnist for Linux Journal. Follow him @kylerankin