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  • Created over 4 years ago
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Repository Details

Statically-linked, hermetic, relocatable Zsh


Statically-linked, hermetic, relocatable Zsh.

  • The latest version of Zsh.
  • Works virtually everywhere.
  • Takes seconds to install.
  • Doesn't require root access.
  • Does not have prerequisites.

Table of Contents


To install the latest version of Zsh, run the following command:

sh -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/romkatv/zsh-bin/master/install)"

Or, if you don't have curl:

sh -c "$(wget -O- https://raw.githubusercontent.com/romkatv/zsh-bin/master/install)"

Here's what it looks like:

$ sh -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/romkatv/zsh-bin/master/install)"
Choose installation directory for Zsh 5.8:

  (1) /usr/local        <= uses sudo (recommended)
  (2) ~/.local          <= does not need sudo
  (3) custom directory  <= manual input required

Choice: 1

===> installing Zsh 5.8 to /usr/local
===> fetching zsh-5.8-linux-x86_64.tar.gz
===> verifying archive integrity
===> sha256 signature matches
===> md5 signature matches
===> extracting files

Installed Zsh 5.8 to /usr/local

To start Zsh, type:


Tip: choose to install to /usr/local if you have root access on the machine and to ~/.local if you don't.

Tip: install has a few optional flags. Invoke it with -h to list them.


sh -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/romkatv/zsh-bin/master/build)"

Tip: build has a few optional flags. Invoke it with -h to list them.

On Linux build is done in a Docker container, so you'll need to install docker first. On non-Linux systems build is done on the host. In the latter case it's recommended to run the script in a freshly installed OS.

If everything goes well, zsh-5.8-${KERNEL}-${ARCH}.tar.gz will appear in the current directory. This archive contains statically-linked, hermetic, relocatable Zsh 5.8. Installation of Zsh from the archive doesn't require libc, ncurses, pcre, terminfo database or root access. As long as the target machine has a compatible CPU and kernel, it'll work.

You can find built archives in releases.

The build script stores source code tarballs that have been used during compilation in ./src. If you run build again, it'll use these tarballs after verifying that their content is as expected. This way you avoid downloading the same tarballs over and over again when running build multiple times.

How it works

A regular build of Zsh cannot be transplanted to another machine due to having dependencies on system files and hard-coded absolute paths to Zsh's own autoloadable functions and scripts. This section explains how zsh-bin solves these problems.

zsh-bin uses fully static linking to avoid dependencies on dynamic libraries and program loader. It includes an extensive terminfo database that it falls back to if there is no suitable entry for $TERM in the system database. These two measures remove all dependencies on files outside of zsh-bin.

The main zsh binary in zsh-bin contains hard-coded absolute paths to autoloadable functions and scripts, just like in the regular build of Zsh, but they are laid out in such a way as to allow for replacement through binary patching. In a nutshell, when you build Zsh normally, the C source code contains something like this:

#define FPATH_DIR "/usr/share/zsh/5.8/functions"

If you start zsh and check the value of fpath parameter, you'll see that it contains /usr/share/zsh/5.8/functions. This comes from FPATH_DIR that got fixed during compilation.

When you build Zsh with zsh-bin scripts, the C code looks a bit different:

#define FPATH_DIR_TAG ":iLWDLaG9dUlsxzEQp10k:fpath:"
#define FPATH_DIR ((const char *)(tagged_fpath_dir + sizeof(FPATH_DIR_TAG) - 1))
volatile char tagged_fpath_dir[sizeof(FPATH_DIR_TAG) + 4096] = {
  FPATH_DIR_TAG "/usr/share/zsh/5.8/functions"

FPATH_DIR still resolves to /usr/share/zsh/5.8/functions, so fpath parameter has the same value as before. What's different is the content of zsh binary.

Regular zsh binary:

                  FPATH_DIR points here
            ^                                           ^              ^
            |                                           |              |
            |                                     NUL terminator       |
            |                                                          |
            +---------- other data and code----------------------------+

zsh from zsh-bin:

                  FPATH_DIR points here
            ^                                           ^              ^
            |                                           |              |
  magic marker, trailing p10k totally accidental ;-)    |              |
                                                        |              |
                                                  NUL terminator       |
                                enough space for a 4096-character-long directory

Now it's possible to "relocate" autoloadable functions by finding :iLWDLaG9dUlsxzEQp10k: inside zsh and writing a new directory after it. relocate script included in zsh-bin does just that. It's written in POSIX sh, so it'll run anywhere. Here's the relevant part of relocate (simplified):

bin=$(LC_ALL=C tr -c '[:alnum:]:' ' ' <"$zsh")
dd if=/dev/zero of="$zsh" bs=1 seek=${#prefix} count=4096 conv=notrunc
echo "$new_fpath_dir" | dd of="$zsh" bs=1 seek=${#prefix} count=${#dir} conv=notrunc

Supported platforms

The build script currently works on Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, Cygwin and MSYS2. Prebuilt archives for popular CPU architectures can be found in releases.

You can use zsh-5.8-linux-x86_64.tar.gz on WSL but you cannot run the build script there.


Assuming that you want to use Zsh 5.8 (who doesn't, right?), ideally you would install it with the official package manager for your OS. If your OS doesn't provide an option to install Zsh 5.8, or you don't have root access to install it, you'll need to look for alternative installation methods.

The next thing you can try is to build Zsh from source on the target machine. This method allows you to install any version of Zsh to any directory. If you don't have root access, you can choose to install Zsh to your home directory. However, if some of the tools necessary for building Zsh are missing (autoconf, make, gcc, yodl, ncurses, etc.), this option is also out.

If you have access to another machine with compatible CPU, kernel and runtime, and with all necessary build tools, you can compile Zsh there and copy build artifacts to the target machine. If you place all files in the same location and set a few custom environment variables, it should work.

Or you can download a 4MB archive from zsh-bin, extract it, and enjoy Zsh 5.8.

No, seriously, why?

I ssh to servers through a Bash wrapper script that automatically copies my admin tools and shell configs from local host to remote. Here's the gist of it:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
# Usage: ssh.bash [ssh-options] [user@]hostname

set -ueo pipefail
dump=$(tar -C ~ -pcz -- .bashrc admin-scripts | base64)
ssh -t "$@" "echo '$dump'" | base64 -d | tar -C ~ -pxz  && exec bash -il'

It archives a few local files and runs a command over SSH. This command extracts files from the archive and starts Bash. Pretty simple.

I'm using Zsh locally but Bash remotely. I don't install Zsh on servers as it's not necessary for running things. Some of the servers are also tricky to get Zsh onto. For example, network routers running EdgeOS.

In March of 2020 an announcement was posted on /r/zsh. It mentioned that "xxh uses the portable version of Zsh". I thought it would be cool to migrate my ssh.bash script to Zsh and install the portable version of Zsh on the remote host if there isn't one already installed (this is basically what xxh does).

This worked in some cases but not always as the version of Zsh from xxh turned out not portable enough for my needs. I set out to build a more portable alternative and created zsh-bin. Since it works for me, I figured it might be of use to others.

Users of zsh4humans can run z4h ssh instead of plain ssh to fire up Zsh on the remote host with local Zsh configs.


Zsh from zsh-bin cannot load user-defined compiled modules. There is no way to guarantee that user-defined modules have been linked with the same libc as zsh, so it's unsafe to load them. This limitation likely cannot be removed.

Not all standard zsh modules are enabled on all platforms:

  • zsh/db_gdbm is enabled only on Linux.
  • zsh/attr is disabled on FreeBSD.
  • zsh/pcre is disabled on Cygwin.

This can be fixed. Please open an issue or better yet send a PR if you care.

Zsh from zsh-bin doesn't read global rc files from anywhere. It does read user rc files of course.

This can be changed. An empty etc directory could be added to the archive, from which Zsh would source zshenv and similar files if they exist. Please open an issue or better yet send a PR if you care.

The build script doesn't work if /bin/sh is bash v4.4 or older. Use a newer version of bash or a different interpreter. Try zsh, dash and ash. You might have one of these already installed.

This limitation can be removed but the motivation is rather low for doing this. There is no need for the build script to be super portable. The install script and relocate are a different matter. They must be very portable and they are. They work on older versions of bash just fine.

The build script requires certain software to be installed by the user. For example, on Linux it needs Docker but cannot install it on its own. When you run build, it'll tell you what's missing.

Builds are done natively, meaning that the target kernel and CPU architecture must be the same as on the host. Given a Linux-x86_64 host, you can build Zsh for Linux-x86_64 and Linux-i686 but not for Linux-aarch64 or Darwin-x86_64.

All archives in releases are produced by mbuild. This script builds Zsh on remote machines over SSH. It's not an officially supported script, so please don't expect it to be stable or well documented.

The build script doesn't know how to build man pages and help files on macOS. The problem is that there is no yodl for macOS and porting it is a daunting task. To get out of this conundrum build pulls man pages and help files from zsh-5.8-linux-x86_64.tar.gz and embeds them in zsh-5.8-darwin-x86_64.tar.gz. So if you are trying to reproduce the macOS build, you'll need to start by building Zsh for Linux-x86_64.

If installation instructions are not followed, certain things won't work.

For example, if instead of running install you simply download and extract zsh-5.8-linux-x86_64.tar.gz, you'll get errors when trying to use builtin autoloadable functions:

add-zsh-hook: function definition file not found
is-at-least: function definition file not found
compinit: function definition file not found

If you don't add bin subdirectory of the installation directory to PATH, zsh command may fail:

zsh: command not found

If you work around this problem by adding a symbolic link to zsh to a directory in your PATH, man zsh may still fail:

No manual entry for zsh

The easiest solution for problems of this kind is to follow installation instructions. If you cannot or don't want to, improvise.