Home » How to check if bash can print colors

How to check if bash can print colors


The idea is for my application to know not to color the output if the program can’t print, say, logging output from through a cron job to a file, no need to log colored output, but when running manually, i like to view the output colored

What language are you writing your application in?

The normal approach is to check if the output device is a tty, and if it is, check if that type of terminal supports colors.

In bash, that would look like

# check if stdout is a terminal...
if test -t 1; then

    # see if it supports colors...
    ncolors=$(tput colors)

    if test -n "$ncolors" && test $ncolors -ge 8; then
        bold="$(tput bold)"
        underline="$(tput smul)"
        standout="$(tput smso)"
        normal="$(tput sgr0)"
        black="$(tput setaf 0)"
        red="$(tput setaf 1)"
        green="$(tput setaf 2)"
        yellow="$(tput setaf 3)"
        blue="$(tput setaf 4)"
        magenta="$(tput setaf 5)"
        cyan="$(tput setaf 6)"
        white="$(tput setaf 7)"

echo "${red}error${normal}"
echo "${green}success${normal}"

echo "${green}0.052${normal} ${bold}${green}2,816.00 kb${normal}"
# etc.

In C, you have to do a lot more typing, but can achieve the same result using isatty and the functions listed in man 3 terminfo.

This should be enough:

$ tput colors

tput colors explained:

If you look at the manpage, you’ill notice this:

       tput [-Ttype] capname [parms ... ]


          indicates the capability from the terminfo database.  When term‐
          cap  support is compiled in, the termcap name for the capability
          is also accepted.

The termcap colors is in the terminfo database, so you can ask for it. If you have a zero exit status, then the termcap is compiled in. But if you have somethin like:

$ tput unknowntermcap
tput: unknown terminfo capability 'unknowntermcap'
$ echo $?

This shows that unknowntermcap doesn’t exist. So, this:

$ tput colors
$ echo $?

Shows that your command was right.

Other useful ways:

  • In C, you can just use isatty and see if it’s a TTY
  • See if it’s a dumb terminal looking $TERM variable


The idea is for my application to know not to color the output if the program can’t print, say, logging output from through a cron job to a file, no need to log colored output, but when running manually, i like to view the output colored.

For this use case, what programs typically do (e.g. GNU ls or GNU grep with --color=auto) is to use colors if their output is going to a terminal, and no colors otherwise. Terminals that don’t support ANSI color-changing sequences are rare enough that it’s acceptable to make their users override the default choice. In any case, make sure your application has an option to force colors on or off.

In a shell script, use [ -t 1 ] to test if standard output is a terminal.

# option processing has set $color to yes, no or auto
if [ $color = auto ]; then
  if [ -t 1 ]; then color=yes; else color=no; fi

From a program using the C API, call isatty(1).

# option processing has set use_color to 0 for no, 1 for yes or 2 for auto
if (use_color == 2) use_color = isatty(1);

Related Solutions

Joining bash arguments into single string with spaces

[*] I believe that this does what you want. It will put all the arguments in one string, separated by spaces, with single quotes around all: str="'$*'" $* produces all the scripts arguments separated by the first character of $IFS which, by default, is a space....

AddTransient, AddScoped and AddSingleton Services Differences

TL;DR Transient objects are always different; a new instance is provided to every controller and every service. Scoped objects are the same within a request, but different across different requests. Singleton objects are the same for every object and every...

How to download package not install it with apt-get command?

Use --download-only: sudo apt-get install --download-only pppoe This will download pppoe and any dependencies you need, and place them in /var/cache/apt/archives. That way a subsequent apt-get install pppoe will be able to complete without any extra downloads....

What defines the maximum size for a command single argument?

Answers Definitely not a bug. The parameter which defines the maximum size for one argument is MAX_ARG_STRLEN. There is no documentation for this parameter other than the comments in binfmts.h: /* * These are the maximum length and maximum number of strings...

Bulk rename, change prefix

I'd say the simplest it to just use the rename command which is common on many Linux distributions. There are two common versions of this command so check its man page to find which one you have: ## rename from Perl (common in Debian systems -- Ubuntu, Mint,...

Output from ls has newlines but displays on a single line. Why?

When you pipe the output, ls acts differently. This fact is hidden away in the info documentation: If standard output is a terminal, the output is in columns (sorted vertically) and control characters are output as question marks; otherwise, the output is...

mv: Move file only if destination does not exist

mv -vn file1 file2. This command will do what you want. You can skip -v if you want. -v makes it verbose - mv will tell you that it moved file if it moves it(useful, since there is possibility that file will not be moved) -n moves only if file2 does not exist....

Is it possible to store and query JSON in SQLite?

SQLite 3.9 introduced a new extension (JSON1) that allows you to easily work with JSON data . Also, it introduced support for indexes on expressions, which (in my understanding) should allow you to define indexes on your JSON data as well. PostgreSQL has some...

Combining tail && journalctl

You could use: journalctl -u service-name -f -f, --follow Show only the most recent journal entries, and continuously print new entries as they are appended to the journal. Here I've added "service-name" to distinguish this answer from others; you substitute...

how can shellshock be exploited over SSH?

One example where this can be exploited is on servers with an authorized_keys forced command. When adding an entry to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, you can prefix the line with command="foo" to force foo to be run any time that ssh public key is used. With this...

Why doesn’t the tilde (~) expand inside double quotes?

The reason, because inside double quotes, tilde ~ has no special meaning, it's treated as literal. POSIX defines Double-Quotes as: Enclosing characters in double-quotes ( "" ) shall preserve the literal value of all characters within the double-quotes, with the...

What is GNU Info for?

GNU Info was designed to offer documentation that was comprehensive, hyperlinked, and possible to output to multiple formats. Man pages were available, and they were great at providing printed output. However, they were designed such that each man page had a...

Set systemd service to execute after fstab mount

a CIFS network location is mounted via /etc/fstab to /mnt/ on boot-up. No, it is not. Get this right, and the rest falls into place naturally. The mount is handled by a (generated) systemd mount unit that will be named something like mnt-wibble.mount. You can...

Merge two video clips into one, placing them next to each other

To be honest, using the accepted answer resulted in a lot of dropped frames for me. However, using the hstack filter_complex produced perfectly fluid output: ffmpeg -i left.mp4 -i right.mp4 -filter_complex hstack output.mp4 ffmpeg -i input1.mp4 -i input2.mp4...

How portable are /dev/stdin, /dev/stdout and /dev/stderr?

It's been available on Linux back into its prehistory. It is not POSIX, although many actual shells (including AT&T ksh and bash) will simulate it if it's not present in the OS; note that this simulation only works at the shell level (i.e. redirection or...

How can I increase the number of inodes in an ext4 filesystem?

It seems that you have a lot more files than normal expectation. I don't know whether there is a solution to change the inode table size dynamically. I'm afraid that you need to back-up your data, and create new filesystem, and restore your data. To create new...

Why doesn’t cp have a progress bar like wget?

The tradition in unix tools is to display messages only if something goes wrong. I think this is both for design and practical reasons. The design is intended to make it obvious when something goes wrong: you get an error message, and it's not drowned in...