Richard's Cygwin Tips

Cygwin is a free Unix/Linux-like (POSIX) environment for Windows. It consists of: The official Cygwin home page is

Why Cygwin

How does it work?

Installing Cygwin

  1. Go to and download the file setup.exe
  2. Save this file somewhere for future use and make a shortcut to it. You will run it later every time you want to update or add packages.
  3. Run the setup.exe program once, without changing any settings (except for possibly the install directory). Keep all RECOMMENDED settings and don't add or remove packages yet.
  4. After installation, click one of the new icons to start a shell and check that things are working.
  5. Whenever you want to check for updates, just run the setup.exe program again (without changing any settings). If there are updated versions of packages you already have, they will be automatically installed.
  6. If you want to add or remove packages, do the same thing, but browse the package tree and select/deselect packages as you like.

Post-install setup

When you click the icon to start a Cygwin shell, it runs C:\Cygwin\cygwin.bat (if you used C:\Cygwin as the install directory). You should edit this file to set up some things:
  1. Set the CYGWIN environment variable to "ntsec" (if you have NTFS partitions). Look here for more details.
  2. Set the HOME environment variable to the DOS path to your home directory. If you used C:\Cygwin as install directory, then HOME is typically C:\Cygwin\home\username, but there is nothing stopping you from changing this to somewhere else.
  3. You might want to specialize your PATH settings for Cygwin shells. For example:
     set CYGWIN=ntsec
     set HOME=C:\Cygwin\home\Dorothy


A better console window

By default, Cygwin will use the standard Windows console to run the command line interpreter in. Since this sucks in many ways, you should use rxtv instead.


  1. Run setup.exe again, and just skip to package selection. In the group shells, you should find rxvt: "VT102 terminal emulator for both X and Windows". Select this, and click Next to finish the installation.
  2. Edit C:\Cygwin\cygwin.bat again, and change the line that starts bash (or whatever shell you use) to the following:
    rxvt -e bash --login -i
The thing with rxvt is that it is really an X11 application, but it also works on Windows without an X11 server running. Either way, you can configure it in your $HOME/.Xresources file; e.g., like this:
 rxvt.geometry: 80x32
rxvt.boldFont: Lucida Console-12
rxvt.font: Lucida Console-12
rxvt.loginShell: True
rxvt.saveLines: 5000
rxvt.scrollBar_right: True
rxvt.visualBell: True

Configuring tab-completion etc.

The shell (bash) uses the GNU Readline library to read lines of input. This is where the input history, tab-completion, etc., is handled. You can configure it by editing your $HOME/.inputrc file. Here is an example:
 # These are for proper 8-bit characters (едц, etc.)
set meta-flag on
set input-meta on
set output-meta on
set convert-meta off

# Just flash screen, don't beep
set bell-style visible

# Be case-insensitive (nice on Windows machines)
set completion-ignore-case on

# These are also nice for tab-completion
set completion-query-items 16
set mark-symlinked-directories on
set print-completions-horizontally on
set show-all-if-unmodified on

# Home Key

# End Key

# Ctrl-cursor right/left
# (change to end-of-line/beginning-of-line if you prefer)

# Alt-cursor right/left

# Page up/down for beginning/end of history
Run "man readline" for details and more options. An easy way of checking the control sequence generated by a keypress is to run the command "od -c" and type away. End by pressing Ctrl-d twice. Where the output says "033", use "\e" in the file.

Starting an X server

An X server is useful for running GUI programs on remote Unix machines, but have the windows pop up on your local screen instead.

First, you need to run the Cygwin setup.exe program and install at least the package xorg-x11-base (in the package group X11). See here for detailed help.

After installation, the easiest way to start the X server is probably by creating a shortcut to the file C:\Cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\startxwin.bat. You shouldn't need to edit the .bat file, but you might want to take a look at it just to see what it is doing. More details here.

Note that when the server is running, you can control it through an icon in the Windows tray.

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