Show Exit Code in your bash Prompt

I prefer a minimal bash prompt. Recently, however, I saw an oh-my-zsh prompt, that I thought would be useful.

The intriguing prompt displayed a symbol indicating whether the previous command exited successful (exit code zero) or failed (non-zero exit code).

You can always get the exit code of the previous command from the $? variable, but seeing it right there and in color, is more direct.

While I find fish andzsh quite intriguing, I am still unwilling to move my setup for just a single feature. “This has to be possible in bash,” I thought… And it is, though the implementation was a bit more complex than I expected. But I learned a lot more about how the bash prompt worked.

The trick for changeable or dynamic prompts in bash is to create a bash function that assembles the PS1 variable, on every prompt. You can enable that function by setting the PROMPT_COMMAND environment variable to your custom function.

Obviously, you should not overload your function with time intensive processes, but with modern processing power, a lot can be done in a short time.

After a lot of experimentation, I settled on this setup:

Update: there was an error in the code that would prevent the prompt from ever showing a red exit code. I fixed it now, the change is in the last line. (Thanks to co-worker Mattias for pointing that out.)

You can add this code to your .bash_profile or .bashrc. (If you do not know what that means, read this post.)

I experimented with special characters and even Emoji to signify the exit code, but then settled on colors and the square root symbol (option-V on the US and international keyboard, looks like a checkmark) for success and the question mark ? with the exit code for errors.

Obviously, you can use a modified prompt command to show all kinds of other statuses as well. Enjoy!

One thought on “Show Exit Code in your bash Prompt”

  1. This is a nifty solution. I have one problem though. I use \w for path instead of \W (capital), so my prompts can become long.

    However, it looks like the window-edge-wrapping routines (is that readline?) count the width of the escape codes to calculate if the window edge has been reached.

    And you might want to wrap the last line in a `if [[ ! $PROMPT_COMMAND =~ __build_prompt ]]; then` to solve problems when you are fiddling with the prompt and running it multiple times.

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