Instantly Open a Full Screen Terminal On Your Mac Using a Keyboard Shortcut

Many Mac users spend their entire lives in the Terminal, but most of us only open it occasionally. Using a mouse to open a text-based interface feels weird, however. What if there was a way to always have the Terminal at the ready, triggered by a single keyboard shortcut?

You can set this up yourself easily thanks to iTerm, an alternative to the default Terminal that’s customizable in all sorts of ways. It’s really the best way to power up your macOS Terminal.

One of my favorite features is the hotkey window, which I’ll use here to create the quickly-triggered full screen Terminal of my dreams. Here’s what that looks like:

Excited? Let’s get started.

Step One: Download and Install iTerm

The first step is simple: head to the iTerm website and download the program. You can install the program by unzipping it and draging the icon to Applications.

When you run iTerm, you’ll notice it’s not that different from your default Terminal.

There’s a lot of hidden functionality in the settings, however, which we’ll get to now.

Step Two: Enable The Hotkey Window

Click “iTerm2” in the menu bar, choose the “Preferences” option, and then head to the “Keys” section. At the bottom-left you’ll see a button called “Create a Dedicated Hotkey Window.” Tap this and a menu appears.

Configure this to your liking. I prefer the keyboard shortcut Option+Space, because it’s similar to Spotlight without overlapping, but you can use anything you want. You can also set this window to open when you click the iTerm dock icon, but that’s up to you. Click “OK” when you’re done.

Use the keyboard shortcut you just signed and you’ll see the default hotkey window, which takes up half the screen.

If you like the way this looks and works, congrats: you can stop here. If you want the full screen large Terminal seen in my screenshots above, however, you’ve got a bit more work to do.

Step Three: Change The Look and Feel

Head to the Profiles section in the Preferences window and make sure the “Hotkey Window” profile is selected.

Next head to the “Text” section in the right panel. If you want the full screen Terminal experience I recommend changing the font to something bigger, because otherwise everything is buried in a sea of black space. I went with 18pt Monaco, but use whatever font combination you like.

Next head to Window and set the “Style” dropdown to Fullscreen.

Also feel free to adjust the Transparency and Blur settings until everything looks just right. You could just as easily forgo the transparency and have a black background. Here’s how mine turned out:

If a single Terminal isn’t enough, you can split the screen vertically with Command+D (or horizontally with Command+Shift+D).

You can switch between panes using Command+Option and the arrow keys. This way, you can have several different things running, all of them easy to pull up with keyboard shortcuts. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

If you’re not sure how to use this, don’t worry: there are all sorts of cool commands you can use, allowing you to do things like listen to music or even update apps without opening the Mac App Store. Get to it!

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.

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