icyphox's avatar

Writing a shell prompt in Go

Kinda faster than bash

For context, my bash prompt was previously written in, well, bash. It used to call out to git for getting the branch and worktree status info. Parsing the output of git status and all that. It was ok, but I wanted something … cleaner.

I chose Go, despite having written nicy in Nim1; I’m in a Go-phase right now, just like I was in a Nim-phase back in 2018. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase.

the basics

The current working directory is the bare minimum in a prompt. I prefer having it shortened; for example: /home/icy/docs/books/foo.epub~/d/b/foo.epub. Let’s write a function trimPath to do this for us:

// Truncates the current working directory:
//   /home/icy/foo/bar -> ~/f/bar
func trimPath(cwd, home string) string {
	var path string
	if strings.HasPrefix(cwd, home) {
		path = "~" + strings.TrimPrefix(cwd, home)
	} else {
		// If path doesn't contain $HOME, return the
		// entire path as is.
		path = cwd
		return path
	items := strings.Split(path, "/")
	truncItems := []string{}
	for i, item := range items {
		if i == (len(items) - 1) {
			truncItems = append(truncItems, item)
		truncItems = append(truncItems, item[:1])
	return filepath.Join(truncItems...)

trimPath takes two args: the current working directory cwd, and the home directory home. We first check if cwd starts with home, i.e. we’re in a subdirectory of home; if yes, trim home from cwd, and replace it with a tilde ~. We now have ~/docs/books/foo.epub.

Also note that we return the path as-is if we’re not in a subdir of home — i.e. paths under /, like /usr, etc. I like to see these completely, just to be sure.

We then split the path at /2, and truncate each item in the resulting list — except for the last — down to the first character. Join it all together and return the resulting string — we have ~/d/b/foo.epub.

Next up: color.

var (
	red   = color("\033[31m%s\033[0m")
	green = color("\033[32m%s\033[0m")
	cyan  = color("\033[36m%s\033[0m")

func color(s string) func(...interface{}) string {
	return func(args ...interface{}) string {
		return fmt.Sprintf(s, fmt.Sprint(args...))

… I’ll just let you figure this one out.

git branch and clean/dirty info

The defacto lib for git in Go is often go-git. I don’t disagree that it is a good library: clean APIs, good docs. It just has one huge issue, and especially so in our case. It’s worktree.Status() function — used to fetch the worktree status — is awfully slow. It’s not noticeable in small repositories, but even relatively large ones (~30MB) tend to take about 20 seconds. That’s super not ideal for a prompt.3

The alternative? libgit2/git2go, of course! It’s the Go bindings for libgit2 — obviously, it requires CGo, but who cares.

First things first, let’s write getGitDir to find .git (indicating that it’s a git repo), and return the repository path. We’ll need this to use git2go’s OpenRepository().

// Recursively traverse up until we find .git
// and return the git repo path.
func getGitDir() string {
	cwd, _ := os.Getwd()
	for {
		dirs, _ := os.ReadDir(cwd)
		for _, d := range dirs {
			if ".git" == d.Name() {
				return cwd
			} else if cwd == "/" {
				return ""
		cwd = filepath.Dir(cwd)

This traverses up parent directories until it finds .git, else, returns an empty string if we’ve reached /. For example: if you’re in ~/code/foo/bar, and the git repo root is at ~/code/foo/.git, this function will find it.

Alright, let’s quickly write two more functions to return the git branch name, and the repository status — i.e., dirty or clean.

// Returns the current git branch or current ref sha.
func gitBranch(repo *git.Repository) string {
	ref, _ := repo.Head()
	if ref.IsBranch() {
		name, _ := ref.Branch().Name()
		return name
	} else {
		return ref.Target().String()[:7]

This takes a *git.Repository, where git is git2go. We first get the git.Reference and check whether it’s a branch. If yes, return the name of the branch, else — like in the case of a detached HEAD state — we just return a short hash.

// Returns • if clean, else ×.
func gitStatus(repo *git.Repository) string {
	sl, _ := repo.StatusList(&git.StatusOptions{
		Show:  git.StatusShowIndexAndWorkdir,
		Flags: git.StatusOptIncludeUntracked,
	n, _ := sl.EntryCount()
	if n != 0 {
		return red("×")
	} else {
		return green("•")

We use the StatusList function to produce a StatusList object. We then check the EntryCount, i.e., the number of modified/untracked/etc. files contained in StatusList.4 If this number is 0, our repo is clean; dirty otherwise. Colored symbols are returned accordingly.

putting it all together

Home stretch. Let’s write makePrompt to make our prompt.

const (
	promptSym = "▲"

func makePrompt() string {
	cwd, _ := os.Getwd()
	home := os.Getenv("HOME")
	gitDir := getGitDir()
	if len(gitDir) > 0 {
		repo, _ := git.OpenRepository(getGitDir())
		return fmt.Sprintf(
			"\n%s (%s %s)\n%s",
			cyan(trimPath(cwd, home)),
	return fmt.Sprintf(
		cyan(trimPath(cwd, home)),

func main() {

There isn’t much going on here. Get the necessary pieces like the current working directory, home and the git repo path. We return the formatted prompt string according to whether we’re in git or not.

Setting the prompt is simple. Point PS1 to the built binary:

PS1='$(~/dotfiles/prompt/prompt) '

And here’s what it looks like, rendered: go prompt


Both “benchmarks” were run inside a sufficiently large git repository, deep inside many subdirs.

To time the old bash prompt, I just copied all the bash functions, pasted it in my shell and ran:

~/C/d/a/n/y/b/d/t/yaml-1.1 (master •)time echo -e "\n$(prompt_pwd)$(git_branch)\n▲$(rootornot)"

# output
~/C/d/a/n/y/b/d/t/yaml-1.1 (master •)

real    0m0.125s
user    0m0.046s
sys     0m0.079s

0.125s. Not too bad. Let’s see how long our Go prompt takes.

~/C/d/a/n/y/b/d/t/yaml-1.1 (master •)time ~/dotfiles/prompt/prompt

# output
~/C/d/a/n/y/b/d/t/yaml-1.1 (master •)

real    0m0.074s
user    0m0.031s
sys     0m0.041s

0.074s! That’s pretty fast. I ran these tests a few more times, and the bash version was consistently slower — averaging ~0.120s; the Go version averaging ~0.70s. That’s a win.

You can find the entire source here.

  1. It’s a prompt “framework” thing that I actually only used for a month or so.

  2. I don’t care about Windows.
  3. https://git.icyphox.sh/dotfiles/commit/?id=e1f6aaaf6ffd35224b5d3f057c28fb2560e1c3b0
  4. This took me a lot of going back and forth, and reading https://libgit2.org/libgit2/ex/HEAD/status.html to figure out.

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