8 Ways to Customize Windows Terminal

Windows Terminal Customizations (Featured)

Microsoft launched Windows Terminal in 2019. It’s an incredible command-line tool that brings Command Prompt, PowerShell, Azure Cloud Shell, and WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux) under the same hood and is also profoundly customizable. This guide will help you tweak Windows Terminal in different ways to make the most out of it.

1. Zoom for Better Visibility

If you have a high-resolution monitor, seeing the text on Windows Terminal gets a little troublesome. The Windows Terminal gives you the option to resize the text according to your preferences.

Windows Terminal Text Size Default

Hold down the Ctrl key on the keyboard and scroll the mouse wheel to resize the text. Scroll the mouse wheel up to increase the text size and down to decrease it.

Windows Terminal Text Size Increased

The zoom will persist for the current session and reset on a new session. If you want a specific text size, you can change it through the “Appearance” section in “Settings.”

  1. Click the drop-down menu next to the New Tab (+) button. Select “Settings” from the context menu.
Windows Terminal Settings Option
  1. Choose “Defaults” from the left pane, go to the “Appearance” section, and scroll down to “Font Size.”
Windows Terminal Settings Profile Appearance
  1. Select the font size and click “Save” to apply the changes.
Windows Terminal Settings Appearance Font Size

2. Change the Starting Directory

By default, Windows Terminal opens in the “C:\Users\<username>\” directory, where <username> is your user profile. Despite that, you may want to launch from a different directory.

Windows Terminal Cd Command

For instance, if you usually work in the Downloads directory, instead of entering cd downloads every time you start, you can change the Windows Terminal’s default directory to the Downloads directory.

  1. Click on the drop-down menu next to the New Tab (+) button. Hold down Alt and select “Settings” from the context menu.
Windows Terminal Hold Alt Settings
  1. As it opens a JSON file, you may get a prompt to select a default text editor. If you don’t have one in mind, choose Notepad.
  2. Once the JSON file is open, go to “Edit → Find” or use the Ctrl + F shortcut. Type startingDirectory and hit the “Find Next” option.
Notepad Edit Json Find Text
  1. Close the “Find” window and edit the “startingdirectory” setting to the directory of your choice.

By default, the “startingdirectory” is %USERPROFILE%. In our case, we are changing it to %USERPROFILE%/Downloads/.

If you scroll down a little, you can also modify the starting directories of other terminals.

Notepad Edit Json Starting Directory Windows Terminal
  1. Save the JSON file by pressing Ctrl + S. Select “Save as type” to “All files” and name the file “defaults.json.” Hit the “Save” option once done.

The next time you restart Windows Terminal, you’ll see it start in the directory you defined as default.

Windows Terminal Startup Directory Changed

3. Changing Default Profile

At times you may need Windows Terminal to launch in a profile other than the default PowerShell profile. If you need to change that, it’s quite easy.

  1. Open Windows Terminal Settings by pressing Ctrl + ,.
Windows Terminal Settings
  1. Select the Startup tab from the sidebar.
Windows Terminal Default Profile Option
  1. Click the drop-down menu under the “Default profile” setting. Choose your preferred profile.
Windows Terminal Choose Default Profile
  1. Click “Save” to apply the changes.

When you restart Windows Terminal or open a new tab, it’ll open your selected profile.

Windows Terminal Change Default Profile

4. Custom SSH Profiles

In some situations, it can be handy if you can automatically SSH into remote servers through Windows Terminal. To achieve this, you need to set up a new custom profile through the JSON file.

  1. Open “Settings” in Windows Terminal using the Ctrl + , shortcut.
Windows Terminal Settings
  1. Select “Open JSON file” in the sidebar. It’ll open a JSON file in Notepad or your default text editor.
Windows Terminal Settings Open Json File
  1. Scroll down until you see the code for existing profiles. After the last profile, add the following code.
    "guid":  "{5d0389a7-6eec-46a4-b37e-d40473fbba08}",
    "hidden":  false,
    "name":  "Test SSH Profile",
    "commandline":  "wsl ssh user@localhost",
    "icon": "❤️"
  1. Generate a custom GUID with a free online GUID generator. Replace the GUID in the above code with the online-generated GUID. You’ll also need to replace the “commandline” string with your SSH server. The icon can be any emoji.
Windows Terminal Json File Edit Ssh Profile
  1. Save the JSON file using the Ctrl + S shortcut after editing.
Windows Terminal Custom Ssh Profile Dropdown

Once saved, you’ll see the new profile in the drop-down menu next to the new tab button. Clicking on the entry will launch the SSH profile and connect to the remote server in your preferred WSL.

5. Command Palette

Command Palette allows you to see the actions you can run inside the Windows Terminal. You can use Ctrl + Shift + P to invoke Command Palette in Windows Terminal.

Windows Terminal Command Palette

It starts with >, and you can remove it to enter wt commands like the following.

-p "Command Prompt" `; split-pane -p "PowerShell"
Windows Terminal Command Palette Wt Command

When typing the command, you’ll find what will be the result of the command to give you an idea of what to expect, especially when you’re not familiar with wt commands.

6. Split Panes for Multi-Shell Management

The Windows Terminal supports splitting the panes for better multitasking. You can have PowerShell on one side and Command Prompt on the other. Instead of going back and forth between two tabs, it’s best to do a split pane and take a look at both simultaneously.

Windows Terminal Split Pane

You can split panes vertically with the Alt + Shift + - shortcut. If you want to split them horizontally, use Alt + Shift + =. You can also use Ctrl + Shift + P to split panes with the command palette.

Alternatively, when you hold Alt and open a new tab or select a different profile from the drop-down menu, it’ll auto-split the active pane.

Switch between these panes by holding Alt and pressing the arrow keys. Hold down Alt + Shift and use the arrow keys to resize the selected pane.

7. Change the Startup Layout

When you fire up the Windows Terminal, it opens up in a single tab using the default profile. You can customize the startup layout with some command-line arguments.

The following command allows you to launch Windows Terminal with split-pane mode:

wt -p "Command Prompt" `; split-pane -p "PowerShell"
Windows Terminal Startup Split Pane Command

This command will open Command Prompt and PowerShell tabs in new vertical panes.

Windows Terminal Startup Split Pane Layout

You can read more about these command-line arguments in Microsoft Documentation to personalize Windows Terminal more.

8. Docker Integration

Docker might be a little confusing for beginners, primarily if you use Command Prompt/PowerShell. These command lines don’t support the auto-completion of Docker commands, making it more tricky.

To give you an overview, Docker uses WSL 2 in Windows and provides the ability to leverage Linux workspaces, alleviating you from the maintenance of both Linux and Windows build scripts. To put this in simple terms, you can use Linux containers inside other WSL containers inside Windows without emulation.

You’ll need a few prerequisites before proceeding with Docker:

  1. Once installed, start Docker Desktop and wait for a notification that says “Docker Desktop is running” then open “PowerShell.”
Windows 10 Docker Running Notification
  1. Docker will use the WSL implementation by default, and to see which Linux distro it is, type the following command in PowerShell.
wsl -l -v

It’ll show all the Linux Distributions installed on your computer and their versions. Make sure every Linux Distro is on version 2 since Docker uses the dynamic memory allocation feature in WSL 2. You’ll see “*” (Star symbol) next to your default WSL implementation.

Windows Terminal Default Linux Distro Command

In our case, we have Ubuntu 18.04, and Ubuntu (20.04) installed, and are enabling them. You’ll see the installed Linux distros here. If you don’t, install a Linux distribution from Microsoft Store.

  1. Open your preferred Linux distro in Windows Terminal. Here, are opening Ubuntu 18.04. Identify the version of Ubuntu you’re running by entering the lsb_release -a command.
Windows Terminal Ubuntu Lsb Release

To identify whether Docker is working, type the following command. If it is working, you’ll see a hello message from Docker; otherwise, go through the above steps to repair Docker.

docker run -it hello-world
Windows Terminal Ubuntu Docker Hello World
  1. Enter the following command; you’ll need to replace Ubuntu with the name of your preferred Linux distro installed on the PC in Step 3.

    This command will start Ubuntu 20.04 on your running Linux distribution.
docker run -it ubuntu bash
  1. To verify it, the lsb_release -a command won’t work. Type the following commands to install it.
sudo apt update
sudo apt install lsb-release

Press Y and press Enter if prompted.

Once installed, enter the following command to verify the version of the Linux distribution.

lsb_release -a
Windows Terminal Ubuntu Lsb Install Release

It’ll show you that you’re running Ubuntu 20.04. That is how you can use Docker to run a Linux Distribution inside another Linux distro without the need for a separate emulation.

You can always use the exit command to get back to your original Linux distro.

Customize Windows Terminal Your Way

These are some customization tips to make Windows Terminal more productive. You’ll also find many options in the “Settings” page to customize the appearance of Terminal, like icons, tabs, background images, and much more.

Windows Terminal is a customizable, powerful app that offers nifty features. However, Windows lets you customize other OS elements like Action Center, Desktop, Taskbar, and many others.

Sajid Shaik
Sajid Shaik

Sajid Shaik is a tech enthusiast capable of writing about multiple topics and is skilled in performing research. You can find his work on publications like AndroidJunglee, Tech Baked, and GeekDashboard. He's also known for his Graphic Design skills and designing the Vector Avatar for MKBHD in 2016.

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