Can nano do syntax highlighting like gedit and vim? How can I enable it? I need at least bash and python syntax highlights.

  • 1
    Thanks very much for the syntax files in the git repo, I use this on all my servers now... keep up the good work matey !!! – user326219 Sep 12 '14 at 15:23
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    @TheGene Comment and thank on the answer. The repo is credited to him, not me, the one asking the question. – Oxwivi Sep 15 '14 at 11:45

11 Answers 11

up vote 146 down vote accepted

The nano editor provides syntax highlighting for a few languages and scripts by itself. Check out /usr/share/nano/

nits@nits-excalibur:~$ ls /usr/share/nano/
asm.nanorc     fortran.nanorc   man.nanorc     ocaml.nanorc   ruby.nanorc
awk.nanorc     gentoo.nanorc    mgp.nanorc     patch.nanorc   sh.nanorc
c.nanorc       groff.nanorc     mutt.nanorc    perl.nanorc    tcl.nanorc
cmake.nanorc   html.nanorc      nano-menu.xpm  php.nanorc     tex.nanorc
css.nanorc     java.nanorc      nanorc.nanorc  pov.nanorc     xml.nanorc
debian.nanorc  makefile.nanorc  objc.nanorc    python.nanorc

Link them to your user's nano configuration file present at ~/.nanorc with something similiar to this line:

nits@nits-excalibur:~$ cat ~/.nanorc
include /usr/share/nano/sh.nanorc

Now, syntax highlighting is enabled in nano for whatever file you linked (You could also link multiple files)

screenshot of syntax highlighting

Note: Sometimes you might get a segmentation fault after you have edited your ~/.nanorc file. If such an error occurs, unsetting the LANG environment variable helps. You can unset it with unset LANG in the terminal. (Solution obtained from here)

There are also other solutions if you are not satisfied with your bash highlighting. One example of such can be found here

You can also write include /usr/share/nano/* to the ~/.nanorc file to enable all languages to be highlighted if your nano version supports it.

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    Those lines are uncommented in /etc/nanorc - are the global settings being overwritten by ~/.nanorc? How do I disable .nanorc? – Oxwivi Dec 23 '11 at 16:31
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    Oh wait, I don't even have a ~/.nanorc file. – Oxwivi Dec 23 '11 at 16:33
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    Wait, wait, how come the global setting with all the include lines not enabling syntax highlights even though I have not .nanorc? – Oxwivi Dec 23 '11 at 16:53
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    ls -1 /usr/share/nano/*.nanorc | sed 's/^\//include \//' >> ~/.nanorc append them all to your .nanorc file, or create it if it does not exist. – Thom Porter Feb 8 '16 at 0:10
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    include /usr/share/nano/* is not working – Jarek Jakubowski May 16 '16 at 8:23

Yes you can, however the default syntax definitions are quite poor and incomplete. I'm maintaining a more accurate set of definitions here, for anyone who finds them useful.

To install, run:

git clone
cd nanorc
make install

Add these lines to the ~/.nanorc

include ~/.nano/syntax/html.nanorc
include ~/.nano/syntax/css.nanorc
include ~/.nano/syntax/php.nanorc
include ~/.nano/syntax/ALL.nanorc

Specify the ones you want to have colorizing for, and you will have to tune these colors to your preferences. The ALL.nanorc describes features for all yet unclassified files. These are the tools you need to get started, not the end polished product.

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    Thanks for keeping those nice syntax definitions in GitHub. – Rubens Mariuzzo Nov 13 '12 at 2:43
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    My *.js files weren't working...edited /etc/nanorc to remove any other syntax includes as per the FAQ…. ♥ Nano ♥ nanorc – Carlton Aug 6 '14 at 12:27
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    I just installed your syntax defs on Mac OSX. There's only one thing I'd note, which is the black colour of the open-bracket in python gets lost against the black background of my terminal – Tom Busby Aug 27 '14 at 14:25
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    Actually there is a problem, some of the colored text is black! If our terminal background is black, these words are invisible! – dukevin Dec 8 '14 at 3:20
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    +druciferre provides a great command below that adds all syntax files automatically to your .nanorc file. I changed the path to point to your default install location: find $HOME/.nano/syntax/ -iname "*.nanorc" -exec echo include {} \; >> ~/.nanorc – wasatchwizard Sep 3 '15 at 17:26

I used this command to quickly enable all available languages.

find /usr/share/nano/ -iname "*.nanorc" -exec echo include {} \; >> ~/.nanorc

As mentioned in other answers, /usr/share/nano/ contains the definitions for different languages.

$ ls /usr/share/nano
asm.nanorc     fortran.nanorc   man-html       ocaml.nanorc   ruby.nanorc
awk.nanorc     gentoo.nanorc    man.nanorc     patch.nanorc   sh.nanorc
cmake.nanorc   groff.nanorc     mgp.nanorc     perl.nanorc    tcl.nanorc
c.nanorc       html.nanorc      mutt.nanorc    php.nanorc     tex.nanorc
css.nanorc     java.nanorc      nanorc.nanorc  pov.nanorc     xml.nanorc
debian.nanorc  makefile.nanorc  objc.nanorc    python.nanorc

Also mentioned, to enable highlighting for a language, you add include and the path to the language definition you want to enable to your ~/.nanorc file. So, for example, to enable C/C++ you would add this line.

include /usr/share/nano/c.nanorc

The find command searches for files or directories within the specified directory.

  • The -iname flag tells it to only look for files with a name that ends with .nanorc.
  • The -exec flags defines a command to execute on each file found.
  • The {} gets replaced with the file name.
  • \; is used to signify the end of the command to execute to the find command.
  • Lastly, >> ~/.nanorc causes the output to be appended to your ~/.nanorc file.
  • great tip and explanation, thanks a lot man! ;) – daveoncode May 14 '16 at 17:02

This should include all the syntax highlighting plugins included by default, and any you add to /usr/share/nano:

find /usr/share/nano -name '*.nanorc' -printf "include %p\n" > ~/.nanorc

Or, edit /etc/nanorc and see if you can uncomment the includes.

This works if you have a version of nano that refuses to accept wildcards in the .nanorc file.

Just run this line every time you add an additional .nanorc colour config.

I have some nano syntax highlighting at my github.

There are live example screenshots for html and php:

enter image description here


enter image description here

wget -r -nH --cut-dirs=3 --no-parent --reject="index.html*" -P ~/.nano-syntax
for i in `ls --color=never -1 ~/.nano-syntax/*.nanorc` ; do echo "include $i" >> ~/.nanorc ; done
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    It would be helpful if you could explain why this is a useful answer for newer users. What is the command doing? What does it change? Randomly suggesting to run a command line is not helpful. – Kevin Bowen Jun 28 '13 at 3:10

The most complete and up to date syntax hilighters for nano are maintained here.

To install all highlighters for your user just run:

cd /tmp
git clone
cd nano-highlight/
make install
echo "include ~/.nano/syntax/ALL.nanorc" >> ~/.nanorc
  • The solution is good, but I would use an other folder for git clone. The content otf the /tmp folder will be deleted on every system start and therefore you could never run a git pull. – A.B. Jul 30 '15 at 8:00
  • Your language tag is wrong. js isn't bash or shell-script and I have placed the link behind the word here. Where is the problem? – A.B. Jul 30 '15 at 8:19
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    @A.B. it doesn't matter if that folder is gone since when you make install all the syntax files are copied to the safe place where they belong: ~/.nano/syntax. – Pablo Bianchi Oct 14 '17 at 21:06

You can use this to include all: (add this to ~/nanorc file)

include "/usr/share/nano/*.nanorc"

Happy coding !

I found syntax highlighting for js here.

I appended it into my user file at ~/.nanorc

However to get a file into which I could append, I had to first copy from /usr/share/nano/nanorc.nanorc to my local folder first as ~/.nanorc.

For those who are having trouble after following the instructions above, also check if you have duplicate definitions. These will disable all syntax highlighting for all files. I ran into this after adding a nanorc.nanorc file, and not realising that my ~/.nanorc already had an identical section, i.e.:

## Here is an example for nanorc files.
syntax "nanorc" "\.?nanorc$"
## Possible errors and parameters
icolor brightwhite "^[[:space:]]*((un)?set|include|syntax|i?color).*$"
## Keywords
icolor brightgreen "^[[:space:]]*(set|unset)[[:space:]]+(autoindent|backup|$
icolor green "^[[:space:]]*(set|unset|include|syntax)\>"

I just made this script to add the colours to nano: But of course you got to have the color codes in /usr/share/nano for this to work. If there are errors: just manually edit the ~/.nanorc file and remove the lines that give the errors.


for i in `ls /usr/share/nano`
    echo "include /usr/share/nano/$i" >> ~/.nanorc

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