I keep hearing that iTerm2 is much better than Terminal. However, when I downloaded iTerm2, I didn't see what made it preferable over Terminal. What are the differences between these two apps?

  • 12
    honestly, terminal has gotten much better from Leopard>SL>Lion. iTerm used to be required, now it is just a bit nice. I actually switched back to Terminal in Lion now that ANSI colors are fully supported. No more SIMBL! Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 22:23
  • 10
    Press Cmd+Shift+D and learn.
    – Fake Name
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 10:19
  • 1
    @Fake Awesome! But Terminal does that already.
    – daviesgeek
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 19:38
  • Make sure you label this as iTerm2 a different development altogether.
    – ocodo
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 2:41
  • 2
    My opinion? Basically, it's the difference between a rolls royce and a honda. Both will get you where you want to go, but one of them is a much nicer ride with a lot of nice features. The current beta version has even more features. Wonderful.
    – pdwalker
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 6:03

10 Answers 10


There are several features listed on their features page.

Some of the features I like are:

  • Split pane view
  • Hotkey window for instant terminal anywhere
  • Search will highlight all found words (like in Chrome and Safari)
  • Mouseless copy
  • Instant replay (can "rewind" your session in case you forgot to note/copy something)
  • Paste history
  • Growl support for notification when a process completes
  • I agree all of them and I'd like to add one, command broadcast! If you're doing things like multihost log digging or data processing, it's super intutive.
    – StanleyZ
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 20:48
  • I just got notified that you could do an advanced paste that allows you to edit your clipboard before sending it to the terminal (Build 3.4.15). If I can remember to use that, I think it would be super useful. I would be okay always sending CMD+V to the editor and send SHIFT+CMD+V directly to the terminal, bypassing the editor. Anyway...I use it mostly for the split pane view. I remember Growl. Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 19:43

@joel's answer is good, but Terminal.app gained some exclusive features in Lion:

  • support for Lion's restore feature
  • support for system services - this means I have a system shortcut for “new terminal in this folder” without strange hacks.
  • support for system services means great automator integration
  • document proxy in the window and generally better D&D support
  • right click on a string to search in man pages or open its man page in a cool floating window. Really handy!

See: http://www.macosxautomation.com/lion/terminal.html

  • 4
    256 colors, Background Color Erase (BCE), customizable ANSI colors, Full Screen, status indicators in the tabs and Dock icons, including live terminal displays in minimized windows. Oh, and, a much improved visual bell :-)
    – Chris Page
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 1:48

I just love iTerm because it does have the auto-complete for commands.thats just awesome.

From the feature list for iTerm2's on its website:

Just type the start of any word that has ever appeared in your window and then Cmd-; will pop open a window with suggestions. The word you're looking for is usually on top of the list!

enter image description here

  • So does Terminal.
    – daviesgeek
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 3:35
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    Although autocompletion is a feature of bash and other shells (zsh has particularly awesome autocomplete) and not the Terminal app itself. iTerm2 also has a special autocompletion mode too ... iterm2.com/#/section/features/autocomplete
    – ocodo
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 3:47
  • @slomojo yes,the ⌘-; is pretty much cool.
    – Ajith
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 5:33
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    I have to add that, personally, I think the zsh completion is about the best I've used inside a shell / terminal. (Especially when used with oh-my-zsh - by the way...take note.)
    – ocodo
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 8:55
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    @slomojo I see now. (the picture explains it)
    – daviesgeek
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 21:37

Besides the features already listed, iTerm2 is constantly improving, while Terminal receives minor updates every few years. Feature requests have a much better chance of being honored in iTerm2. There are some cool things coming in the next release that are not yet documented, but have a look through the recent release notes to see them.

Also, I'd note that there's some confusion about split panes in a comment in the OP. Terminal's split panes give you two views of the same window, while iTerm2's give you unlimited independent terminals in one tab.

  • 1
    As always, if something is important to you, please file a detailed enhancement request or bug report at bugreport.apple.com . That's the best way to ensure that your voice is heard. Talking about it online is hit-or-miss. Though, Lion Terminal does have a number of enhancements and fixes partly due to feedback seen online.
    – Chris Page
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 1:46
  • @ChrisPage you might want to add that you need to be a registered Apple Developer to be able to log on to that website. Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 8:30
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    @WimDeblauwe: Yes, you need a free developer account to create a bug report. Also note that you can use apple.com/feedback/macosx.html without any sort of account. Having a (free) developer account means you can track your bug report’s status.
    – Chris Page
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 22:26
  • FYI the no-developer-account-required feedback link Chris Page mentions above appears to have moved to apple.com/feedback/macos.html (I imagine because Apple rebranded Mac OS X to macOS)
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 3:13

The feature I chose iTerm for is being able to cut or copy by just selecting text and paste by just using the middle button

  • I understand those are standard X11/Xterm behaviors, but they are not standard for Mac OS X applications. Other than being used to it, why are those significantly more convenient than the usual Copy/Paste commands? Note: Terminal has partial support for Middle-Click, which invokes the Paste Selection command.
    – Chris Page
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 1:43
  • 2
    because you don't use the keyboard using these , alos less actions to do the copy and also you can copy from a window that you do not have to click to get the focus
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 17:27

iTerm supports opening windows in full screen by default, and there is an option to use custom full screen windows that don't have the animations for changing spaces and don't disable ⌘H.

It also has an incremental search banner instead of a find dialog. And you can select text by searching for the start and pressing tab to extend the selection by single words.


I use iTerm2 for my work in bioinformatics and have, for example, set it up in such a way, that it automatically opens a Genome Browser website in a specific chromosome position, when I cmd-click on the chromosome position.

Also, I tinkered with smart selection to allow me the selection of only DNA sequences, etc.

Also I set it to play a sound, if an Error message occurs in a terminal.

That's of course very specific use cases, but shows how capable iTerm2 is, compared to the simple Terminal client.


From the iTerm2 web site:

iTerm2 has a lot of features. Every conceivable desire a terminal user might have has been foreseen and solved. And these are just the main attractions!

iTerm2's feature page highlights the following:

  1. Split Panes
  2. Hotkey Window
  3. Search Highlighted
  4. Autocomplete
  5. Mouseless Copy
  6. Paste History
  7. Instant Replay
  8. Configurability
  9. Unixyness
  10. 256 Colors (or more!)
  11. Readability
  12. Mouse Reporting
  13. Growl Support
  14. Exposé Tab
  15. Tagged Profiles
  16. Multi-Lingual
  17. Triggers
  18. Smart Selection
  19. Shell Integration
  20. Automatic Profile Switching
  21. Inline Images
  22. Timestamps
  23. Password Manager
  24. Advanced Paste
  25. Annotations
  26. Badges
  27. Captured Output

If you're a keen user of VIM then mouse mode in iTerm2 works properly - you can position the cursor and select text using the mouse (it kind of works in Terminal but it's buggy). Plus when you're running VIM (or other console based apps that use the 'alternate' screen (t_ti, t_te)) then the scrolling works properly too.

Also there's a very useful search facility which can be used to search the contents of all open iTerm2 tabs which can be reached by going to Window->Exposé all Tabs(E).

I also like the inline image display functionality which is possible using the iTerm2 tools tools which use some custom escape codes

  • Amazing! I've always wanted that feature on! :) It seems that it doesn't work on Terminal, why is that? like, :set mouse=a doesnt do anything which I guess is the point, iTerm2 is better :) Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 17:38

I use iTerm2 since I can't configure my Mac Terminal have different colors background when I open different Terminals.

  • You mean... Shell > New Window > pick your theme here? The default terminal app definitely allows you to choose a different color per window.
    – Charlie74
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 23:20
  • If you prefer a tabbed view... Shell > New Tab > pick your theme here. Each tab will have its own color scheme.
    – Charlie74
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 23:21
  • how you can set each tab window to different color theme?
    – elliptic00
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:16
  • As mentioned above. From the menu bar at the top of the screen, select Shell > New Tab > then pick the color scheme you want to use for the new tab.
    – Charlie74
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:17
  • it does't work on my Mac Version 10.9.5.
    – elliptic00
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:17

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