The tmux quickfix plugin

In this post I’m going to spend few words about another tmux plugin trying to get some useful features from the vim @world. This plugin allow tmux to have a hidden pane on the current session and use it to do something (just try to imagine why the quickfix in vim is useful for you).
The final goal is to enable tmux to run Async jobs and execute them into the quickfix hidden pane (that reminds the vim quickfix window). The main feature related to this work is to allow users to send commands in a separated pane, setting the preferred method to send commands to be processed, so we have two different kind of approaches: direct and queue.

Configurable parameters

Parameter Default Value Description
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_KEY z [leader]+[key] to send back/front the quickfix pane
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_SEND_CMD_KEY a [leader]+[key] to send a command to the buffer/queue
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_PER_SIZE 20 Default perc size (it has more priority than height value)
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_POSITION bottom Default position: bottom/top are the only allowed values
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_WIN_INDEX 42 Index value of the quickfix window [it should be gt 10 ]
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_INPUT direct method to enqueue commands that should be executed. Allowed values: [direct - queue]
QUICKFIX_CMD_QUEUE_BASENAME queue.cmd basename of the temp enqueue/dequeue resource to get commands that should be executed
QUICKFIX_DEBUG_LOG quickfix-plugin.log log file for debug purposes
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_BUFFER tmbuf default buffer basename to send direct commands to qfix
QUICKFIX_DEFAULT_BUFFER_RESERVED no when the direct mode is enabled we can use a reserved buffer to send/execute_from commands or the system one
TMUX_VERSION_ALLOWED 2.2 base tmux version to make this plugin work

Manual install

Clone the repo:

$ git clone https://github.com/fmount/tmux-quickfix ~/clone/path

Add this line to the bottom of .tmux.conf:

run-shell ~/clone/path/quickfix.tmux

Reload TMUX environment:

# type this in terminal
$ tmux source-file ~/.tmux.conf

You should now be able to use the plugin.

Install using tpm

Simply add to the tpm section of .tmux.conf:

set -g @plugins 'fmount/tmux-quickfix'

Press prefix + I (capital I, as in Install) to fetch the plugin.

The plugin was cloned to ~/.tmux/plugins/ dir and sourced.

Test Direct method

\> tmux setb -b tmbuf "ping -c3"

then: [prefix] + z


Test Queue method

First of all we need to set the @quickfix-cmd-input tmux global option to queue. You can do this running this:

    tmux set-option -g @quickfix-cmd-input "queue"

or modifying the same value in the variable.sh script.
I recommend to start from a fresh environment, sourcing the .tmux.conf and the related plugins because even if modifying a global metadata generally work, you can experience some bugs related either the plugin or the tmux version or the combo between them for a specific release.
When the plugin starts in queue mode, users first need to create the quickfix window toggling it (when you send [prefix+z] for the first time the quickfix is created in background on index 42); after that a run_queuer process is run by the main tmux zsh/bash process on the shared resource (queue.cmd.$session_id) and you can test it copying a set of commands simply using the provided example (~/.tmux/plugins/tmux-quickfix/queue/queue.cmd.example):

    cp ~/.tmux/plugins/tmux-quickfix/queue/queue.cmd.example \

In the queue mode, toggling the quickfix window doesn’t kill it but sends it in background.


Users can also enqueue commands in the shared queue simply entering copy mode, selecting the command to send and once it’s in the buffer, it can send on the queue using the send_command script defined on the [prefix]+a keybinding.

Sending Commands

The approach to send a command is related to the global configuration of the plugin and it executes a send_command script located in the bin/ folder.
The send_command script reflects the global state of the plugin, so it needs to consider the value of the QUICKFIX_COMMAND_INPUT global parameter; afterwards, starting from this value that we’re going to call mode, it also evaluates the dependency tree in which the root is the working mode. For instance, if we start in the default mode (direct), we have a *rleft dependency tree composed as:

                     'direct'                   'queue'
                        /                         /
                       /                         /
                      /                         /
                'reserved_buffer'      'cmd_queue_basename'

According to this, the send_command process puts in the correct stack the next job to execute and then toggling the quickfix window the engine, considering the configuration tree, lead the scheduling of the exec_cmd.

    ----------                           |----- >      DIRECT BUFFER
    -        -         ------------                                       ----------------
    -  MAIN  - ---- >  shared_queue      |----- >      SHARED QUEUE       engine::exec_cmd
    -        -         ------------                                       ----------------
    ----------                           |----- >      RESERVED BUFFER

The default key to send commands is [prefix]+a:

    tmux bind-key a run-shell /path/to/quickfix/scripts/bin/send_command

Enqueue/Dequeue commands (queue mode)

In my opinion this is the most interesting section because the queue mode represent the designed approach to execute async commands. By design, a simple structure identified by a shared queue file is defined at tmux session level using the format basename.session_id.

The following schema reflects the logical path of the commands from the generation to the real execution:

        ----------                                              -----------------
        -  MAIN  -   enqueue      -------------    dequeue      -   quickfix    -
        -        - ----------- >  shared_queue   ---------- >   -  run_queuer   -
        -  PID   -                -------------                 -    process    -
        ----------                                              -----------------

As the schema shows, users can send command on the shared queue; when the quickfix is opened for the first time (prefix+z) a job listener is registered on the main pid (third parameter of the run_queuer) and according to the specified timeout it tries to perform a dequeue on the registered shared resource.

Let’s do a practical example; imagine that the current user of our tmux session would like to enqueue the following command:

ping -c3 good.old.chicken.killer.com

The steps he just simply perform are:

  1. Enter tmux copy mode and select/copy the command above;

  2. Once command is inside the tmux default buffer, with [prefix+a] it will be enqueued in the defined queue;

  3. Toggling the quickfix, the user can see the process executing: in background, the run_queuer process orchestrate the dequeue and the execution of the command (see next section).

Unlike the direct mode, the toggle function doesn’t kill the quickfix window when it’s sent to back and no jobs are scheduled (queue is empty).
Finally, when user definitively deletes the current tmux session, the run_queuer job kill itself in a safe way as described in the The run_queuer job section.

The run_queuer job

A direct consequence of the queue mode is the job that performs the dequeue operation on the shared resource.

./run_queuer {session_id} {quickfix_pane_id} {main_pid} {queue_path}

As the queue is defined for a specific session, the same thing happens for the run_queuer process that is up and running with these constraints [$session, $pane_id, $pid_to_listen, $target], where:

  1. SESSION: it represents the sessionID to check in order to understand if the current session is alive or not; if the session is dead (or the user simply kills it), the run_queuer can end its job releasing the allocated resources and finally killing itself (and releasing, also, the run_queuer.lock). The run_queuer.lock try to protect the singleton instance of the run_queuer, avoiding to run it multiple times on the same session/queue.

  2. PANE_ID: the hidden pane containing the quickfix process.

  3. PID-TO-LISTEN-ON: the main pid is the most important parameter of the run_queuer because it checks the current status of this resource and then take the decision to change its state: by default the run_queuer tries to perform a job execution, but its state can change into WAIT if the target_pid has childs; this means that there is at least a job in execution (and it is in foreground on the quickfix).

  4. TARGET: when the run_queuer state isn’t WAIT, it tries to perform a dequeue on the shared resource and send an exec on the quickfix pane defined: the target represents the shared resource.

Direct mode (the LIFO way)

The direct mode is the default for this plugin. As described above, users can enter copy mode and select/copy the command they would execute.
Starting from this point when the toggling of quickfix is performed (by default with [prefix]+z) the current active buffer is read and the content is sent to the quickfix that tries to run it.
This is the so-called blind mode because the plugin isn’t aware of the scheduling of commands or buffers and tries to run everything is passed by the buffer.
For instance, if we have a condition like this:

      buff0003 "cat ~/mytestfile.md"
      buff0002 "df -hT"
      testbuf  "ssh [email protected] rm -rf /usr/bin "
      buff0001 "tail -f /var/log/myapplication/mylog.log"
      buff0000 "[ $[ $RANDOM % 6 ] == 0 ] && rm -rf / || echo *OH-MY-ZSH*

it executes all commands from buffer003 to buffer0000.


Direct mode with reserved buffer

Using the last method we cannot control the buffers’ content: according to the dependency tree described in Sending Commands section, we can define in the


the reservation of a specific buffer (we can also customize its name).
Specifying a buffer actually solve the problem of the buffer rotation and it also gives more control to users; it reduces the automation given from the LIFO way because users need to manually manage the send-to-execute cycle of a specified command with the following steps:

    ----------                                          ------------------
    -        -         ---------------                  -                -
    -  MAIN  - ---- >  reserved_buffer   |-------- >    -  QUICKFIX WIN  -
    -        -         ---------------                  -                -
    ----------                                          ------------------
  1. Enter tmux copy mode and select/copy the command you want to execute in the quickfix window. [prefix]+a to send the command to the defined buffer (a tmux-display message is displayed on the status bar).

  2. Toggle the quickfix window to enable the execution of the command when it goes on foreground.

Just do it following the Test Direct method section.

Debug mode

For development purposes a debug mode is present and a callable function is exposed by the engine module. It’s a very simple primitive, so this piece of code:

quickfix_code_debug() {
    timestamp="$(date +%T)"
    echo "$timestamp - $function_caller - $msg " >> "$target"

allow devs (or who want to start contributing) to set a “breakpoint” inside the code. More advanced features for dev targets will come with future releases.


This work is the result of a classic day in which I started playing around tmux world, trying to understand more and more its internals, realizing day by day its powerful features! There are of course lots of bugs and I hope they will be fix in the next releases.

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