How to Use Option (Alt) + Arrows to Navigate Between Words in iTerm2

I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a terminal power user. I use iTerm2 as my terminal emulator and there are some things I like to customize. And it bugs me how cumbersome it is to enable the ability to switch between words with + and + .

Apparently, this is actually called backward-word and forward-word. You can see your current setup with:

bindkey -L | grep backward-word


bindkey -L | grep forward-word
Sample output of running the previous command.
Sample output.

You might even like the defaults. (I doubt it.) Now, you can manually set the binding keys via the terminal of course, but I don’t really get how it’s used and I hate typing out character codes by hand. 🙂

So instead, I’m going to document this method that uses the iTerm2 preferences menu – for future reference to myself and to others who might have the same problem. (Please note that this is specific to this emulator.)

How to Configure backward-word and forward-word in iTerm2

First, in iTerm2, go to Preferences > Profile > Keys.

Here you need to set your left key to act as an escape character. Or Esc+ as it is written. (See screenshot.)

Left Option Key Settings
Left Option Key Settings

Then, in your Key Mappings on the same screen, we need to redefine the shortcuts for our desired combination.

Screenshot of Key Mappings Section
Screenshot of Key Mappings Section

Find the current shortcut for + (or create a new one), with the following settings:

  • Action: Send Escape Sequence
  • Esc +: b
Configure backward-word
Configure backward-word

Find or create a shortcut for + as well with:

  • Action: Send Escape Sequence
  • Esc +: f
Configure backward-word
Configure forward-word

And that’s it, happy hacking! 🎉 If you end up having a lot of these presets, it would be a good idea to export and save them somewhere for future use.

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