Is there a way to tell nano to automatically show line numbering each time I open a file?

  • 22
    set linenumbers in nanorc does the trick Jul 21, 2018 at 11:26
  • 11
    CTRL+3 then SHIFT+3 will show line numbers CTRL+3 then SHIFT+3 will hide the line numbers Sep 28, 2019 at 5:10
  • 6
    Starting from nano 2.7.1 you can open file with -l (--linenumbers) flag to display lilne numbers beside the text.
    – Mikhail
    Oct 9, 2019 at 9:31
  • 2
    ALT + SHIFT + # will work in ubuntu
    – Akhil S
    Sep 30, 2021 at 13:46
  • 3
    Best way is probably to edit the Nano config file: the example config file is located at /usr/share/doc/nano/examples/sample.nanorc. Copy this file to your ~/.nanorc and start editing from there.
    – Danijel
    Dec 23, 2021 at 10:26

7 Answers 7


The keyboard combination to display the current line number whilst you are using nano is CTRL+C.

Alternatively, to display the line & column number position you could just use the -c parameter when launching nano i.e:

nano -c [filename]

To make this permanent, nano uses a configuration in your home folder ~/.nanorc

Thus to display line numbers always when using nano...

nano ~/.nanorc

(don't worry if its empty - this file doesn't exist by default)

type set constantshow

N.B. the deprecated syntax set const is shown in the animation


enter image description here


Since you are using line numbers remember you can use ALT+G to jump to a specific line number.

  • If you are in a tty, an alternative to CTRL+C is F11 and an alternative to ALT+G is F13 (which doesn't exist on my keyboard) or Ctrl+_ (Ctrl+Shift+-). Jun 3, 2014 at 12:15
  • 19
    Note that -c might not behave the way people are expecting. It won't prefix each line with the number (like less -N), it just makes the status box at the bottom of the screen permanent.
    – Ian Dunn
    Sep 5, 2016 at 18:03
  • 14
    I agree with @IanDunn, this is the wrong answer. Add set linenumbers instead (only works in recent versions).
    – xjcl
    Sep 17, 2019 at 15:35
  • The permanent solution listed here no longer works in ubuntu 16.04+. Does anyone have an updated solution to permanently activating this setting in Ubuntu 16.04+ ?
    – DanRan
    Feb 23, 2020 at 1:18
  • @DanRan why it should not work? The post has high vote so it might work... the better the answer the higher the vote? Welcome to the SE Network.
    – Timo
    Apr 27, 2021 at 18:30

Accidentally found nice shortcut: Alt+#, which in some keyboard layouts can be done with Alt+Shift+3.

click me gently

  • 3
    doesnt work for me on ubuntu16.04 with GNU nano 2.5.3
    – philx_x
    Oct 11, 2017 at 12:09
  • 2
    does not work with mac keyboard on ssh'd ubuntu terminal Nov 8, 2017 at 8:40
  • 30
    Add set linenumbers to .nanorc to make it permanent. If the shortcut doesn't work try Modifier key + #.
    – Chupo_cro
    Mar 16, 2018 at 14:35
  • 1
    Ctrl + 3 then Shift + 3 toggles line numbering, for those who can't get it to work.
    – Shayan
    Mar 12, 2021 at 13:38
  • 6
    @DirkSchumacher esc + n and esc + shift + # work on macOS. Aug 16, 2022 at 5:58

According to the man page for GNU nano 2.9.3 (also verified on version 4.8) , you have two options for automatically opening with line-numbers shown and one for toggling them on/off once nano is open:

Command Line Flags

You can use the -l or --linenumbers flags.

       -l, --linenumbers
              Display line numbers to the left of the text area.


nano -l foo.txt
nano --linenumbers foo.txt

Via the config file(s)

Alternatively, according to the man page for nanorc, you can add set linenumbers in ~/.nanorc, $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/nano/nanorc or ~/.config/nano/nanorc.

       nano will read two configuration files: first the system's  nanorc  (if
       it exists), and then the user's nanorc (if it exists), either ~/.nanorc
       or $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/nano/nanorc or ~/.config/nano/nanorc, whichever  is
       encountered  first.  See nanorc(5) for more information on the possible
       contents of those files.
       set linenumbers
          Display line numbers to the left of the text area.

So the contents of my ~/.nanorc file are simply:

 1 set linenumbers

Via a key bindings

Not exactly what the OP was asking for, but for completeness you can also toggle line number on/off via the default keybinding (as of v4.8) of Alt+N.

Alternatively you can rebind this key via the man file mentioned method:

       Key bindings can be changed via the following three commands:

          bind key function menu
                 Rebinds the given key to the given function in the given menu (or in all menus where the function exists when all is used).
The format of key should be one of:

          ^X     where X is a Latin letter, or one of several ASCII characters (@, ], \, ^, _), or the word "Space".  Example: ^C.

          M-X    where X is any ASCII character except [, or the word "Space".  Example: M-8.

          Sh-M-X where X is a Latin letter.  Example: Sh-M-U.  By default, each Meta+letter keystroke does the same as the corresponding Shift+Meta+letter.  But when any Shift+Meta bind is made, that  will
                 no longer be the case, for all letters.

          FN     where N is a numeric value from 1 to 24.  Example: F10.  (Often, F13 to F24 can be typed as F1 to F12 with Shift.)

          Ins or Del.

       Rebinding ^M (Enter) or ^I (Tab) is probably not a good idea.  On some terminals it's not possible to rebind ^H (unless --raw is used) because its keycode is identical to that of the Backspace key.

       Valid function names to be bound are:


            Toggles the display of line numbers in front of the text.

Regarding alternate config files:

In response to comments about alternate config files, from the description of man nanorc:

During startup, nano  will  first
       read  the system-wide settings, from /etc/nanorc (the exact path might be different on your
       system), and then the user-specific settings,  either  from  ~/.nanorc  or  from  $XDG_CON‐
       FIG_HOME/nano/nanorc or from ~/.config/nano/nanorc, whichever is encountered first.

I would not typically advise others to change the system-wide config file, unless you have a good reason to do so, as it will likely be overwritten during any updates, and is not likely to be included in system backups, which typically only include the home directory.

Using with sudo

As noted by a commenter, this may not work as expected if you have to use sudo with nano, e.g. sudo nano myFile. This is because when you use sudo you are doing whatever comes after sudo as the "super user", thus the name (super user do ..). If you edited your non-super user config file (e.g. ~/.nanorc or /home/myUserName/.nanorc) this will not be run when you use sudo as you are not running nano as myUserName any longer. Thus, you have a few options.

  1. The simplest is just to use the -l flag and it will work as is.
  2. Copy the contents of your ~/.nanorc to /root/.nanorc as this represents the home directory for the super user. Assuming you have your ./nanorc file setup as you like, and you don't already have a /root/.nanorc file then you can just run sudo cp ~/.nanorc /root/. Note this will overwrite any existing nanorc file in /root.
  • -l works. However, note that instead of /home/<username>/.nanorc your file may be at /etc/nanorc
    – Chiwda
    Dec 28, 2020 at 10:09
  • @Chiwda I guess you can (didn't verify), but I'd guess anything you change in /etc/nanorc will be overwritten upon any updates, and isn't included in a common backup scheme, thus the recommendation to use the user-config one in your home directory instead.
    – topher217
    Dec 30, 2020 at 7:33
  • If the file doesn't exist in the home directory, can I just make a copy of /etc/nanorc into home and that will override /etc/nanorc?
    – Chiwda
    Jan 1, 2021 at 6:59
  • 1
    @Chiwda, you shouldn't have to copy anything. Just a blank file with 'set linenumbers' on the first line should be fine. As spec'd in the man file, nano will "first read the system-wide settings, from /etc/nanorc" ... then read your user defined one, thus no need to provide the same settings twice.
    – topher217
    Jan 4, 2021 at 10:55
  • 1
    @WoodrowShigeru thanks for pointing that out. I've updated the answer accordingly. See the new last section on this.
    – topher217
    Aug 7, 2021 at 12:54

Compile Nano from source:

git clone git://git.savannah.gnu.org/nano.git;cd nano;./autogen.sh;./configure;sudo make install 

Then add the following to your .nanorc file:

set linenumbers

You can use Meta+# to turn line numbers on and off from within Nano.

  • Actually like that. See you did 2 commits, was the 2nd one, (size increase..) because of the 1st one?
    – doug
    Jul 4, 2016 at 23:10
  • Yes, that was because of the first one.
    – 0x777C
    Jul 5, 2016 at 17:42
  • 1
    Sweet. I've submitted a request to merge this into nano at nano's savannah page: savannah.gnu.org/bugs/index.php?49217
    – Max Burns
    Sep 28, 2016 at 18:54
  • 2
    Which was and may still be correct when it comes to Ubuntu
    – 0x777C
    Jul 22, 2018 at 15:23
  • 3
    In my case, set linenumbers is enough, without recompiling nano from source
    – realtebo
    Apr 9, 2019 at 10:37

If nano -c filename does not work, use nano filename then Ctrl +_. It will ask you for the line number to go to.

  • 1
    I'm using SSH and that keyboard shortcut makes the text smaller :(
    – kurdtpage
    Jun 21, 2018 at 22:08
  • That's because you are effectively zooming out with Ctrl+-. Instead you need Ctrl+Shift+- to get the underscore.
    – Rijumone
    Apr 19, 2020 at 10:59

It's 2021. The OP's question is still valid, but many of the answers here are for an older version of nano. I'm not presenting this answer as "the last word" - only as an update.

The default screen of nano consists of five areas. From top to bottom these are: the title bar, a blank line, the edit window, the status bar, and two help lines.

Where to display line numbers?

Line numbers may be displayed in one of two places:

  1. the edit window
  2. the status bar

The status bar display simply updates the line number (and column) of the cursor/insertion point as it's moved about in the edit window. Line numbers in the edit window are positioned in the left margin. It is possible to display the line number in either or both the edit window and the status bar.

Display line numbers in the edit window:

There are several methods (this is not necessarily a complete list):

  1. Before the file is opened:

    Edit/create the file ~/.nanorc with the following line:

    set linenumbers
  2. When the file is opened:

    Use the -l option in nano:

    $ nano -l <myfilename>
  3. After the file is opened:

    Toggle line numbers "on" and "off" w/ alt-shift-#:


Display line numbers in the status bar

  1. Before the file is opened:

    Edit/create the file ~/.nanorc with the following line:

    set constantshow
  2. When the file is opened:

    Use the -c option in nano:

    $ nano -c <myfilename>
  3. After the file is opened:

    Toggle line number display in the status bar "on" and "off" w/ alt-shift-C:



These all work as of today: Ubuntu 20.04, nano --version = GNU nano, version 4.8, although there are minor discrepancies in the documentation.

  • set linenumbers did not work for me in nano version 2.8.3. Command is not found and gives an error upon start.
    – bomben
    Jul 31, 2021 at 17:22
  • 1
    @bomben: As I said in the first paragraph, time marches on, and nano seems to be a rudderless ship, changing direction seemingly at random. Please feel free to edit this answer.
    – Seamus
    Jul 31, 2021 at 21:46

If you have already opened the file with nano you press


(not simultaneusly, press control and w, then without letting go control and letting go w, press t)

This command will require column and line, you enter them this way:

10,23 (enter)

and you will end up in line 10 character 23.

If you are at the top of the file and you only want to find the line:

Ctrl+w+t and then 10

If you are at a acertain line and you want to find the column:

Ctrl+w+t and then ,23

If you haven't opened the file yet, you can do this:

nano +10,23 file (enter)

and the file will open with cursor in the line 10, chanracter 23, so you can try also:

nano +10 file (enter)

nano +,23 file (enter) (Note that this will send you to the character 23 of the first line only)

  • This may be the correct way to find the line in the terminal however it does not answer the question on how to make it automatically show on opening.
    – DnrDevil
    Jan 27, 2016 at 21:10
  • This is the only thing that worked for me to find a line number....none of the above worked in my instance of nano.
    – Uncle Iroh
    Feb 15, 2017 at 17:08
  • Same as Ctrl+G?
    – Sanctus
    Oct 10, 2019 at 17:32
  • This was the only answer that worked for me on MacOS Catalina.
    – smilesr
    Jun 21, 2020 at 23:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .