More about styling

This page will attempt to explain in more detail how to use styling in prompt_toolkit.

To some extent, it is very similar to how Pygments styling works.

Style strings

Many user interface controls, like Window accept a style argument which can be used to pass the formatting as a string. For instance, we can select a foreground color:

  • "fg:ansired" (ANSI color palette)
  • "fg:ansiblue" (ANSI color palette)
  • "fg:#ffaa33" (hexadecimal notation)
  • "fg:darkred" (named color)

Or a background color:

  • "bg:ansired" (ANSI color palette)
  • "bg:#ffaa33" (hexadecimal notation)

Or we can add one of the following flags:

  • "bold"
  • "italic"
  • "underline"
  • "blink"
  • "reverse" (reverse foreground and background on the terminal.)
  • "hidden"

Or their negative variants:

  • "nobold"
  • "noitalic"
  • "nounderline"
  • "noblink"
  • "noreverse"
  • "nohidden"

All of these formatting options can be combined as well:

  • "fg:ansiyellow bg:black bold underline"

The style string can be given to any user control directly, or to a Container object from where it will propagate to all its children. A style defined by a parent user control can be overridden by any of its children. The parent can for instance say style="bold underline" where a child overrides this style partly by specifying style="nobold bg:ansired".


These styles are actually compatible with Pygments styles, with additional support for reverse and blink. Further, we ignore flags like roman, sans, mono and border.

The following ANSI colors are available (both for foreground and background):

# Low intensity, dark.  (One or two components 0x80, the other 0x00.)
ansiblack, ansired, ansigreen, ansiyellow, ansiblue
ansimagenta, 'ansicyan, ansigray

# High intensity, bright.
ansibrightblack, ansibrightred, ansibrightgreen, ansibrightyellow
ansibrightblue, ansibrightmagenta, ansibrightcyan, ansiwhite

In order to know which styles are actually used in an application, it is possible to call get_used_style_strings(), when the application is done.

Class names

Like we do for web design, it is not a good habit to specify all styling inline. Instead, we can attach class names to UI controls and have a style sheet that refers to these class names. The Style can be passed as an argument to the Application.

from prompt_toolkit.layout import VSplit, Window
from import Style

layout = VSplit([
    Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:left'),
        Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:top'),
        Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:bottom'),
    ], style='class:right')

style = Style([
     ('left': 'bg:ansired'),
     ('top': 'fg:#00aaaa'),
     ('bottom': 'underline bold'),

It is possible to add multiple class names to an element. That way we’ll combine the styling for these class names. Multiple classes can be passed by using a comma separated list, or by using the class: prefix twice.

Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:left,bottom'),
Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:left class:bottom'),

It is possible to combine class names and inline styling. The order in which the class names and inline styling is specified determines the order of priority. In the following example for instance, we’ll take first the style of the “header” class, and then override that with a red background color.

Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:header bg:red'),

Dot notation in class names

The dot operator has a special meaning in a class name. If we write: style="class:a.b.c", then this will actually expand to the following: style="class:a class:a.b class:a.b.c".

This is mainly added for Pygments lexers, which specify “Tokens” like this, but it’s useful in other situations as well.

Multiple classes in a style sheet

A style sheet can be more complex as well. We can for instance specify two class names. The following will underline the left part within the header, or whatever has both the class “left” and the class “header” (the order doesn’t matter).

style = Style([
     ('header left': 'underline'),

If you have a dotted class, then it’s required to specify the whole path in the style sheet (just typing c or b.c doesn’t work if the class is a.b.c):

style = Style([
     ('a.b.c': 'underline'),

It is possible to combine this:

style = Style([
     ('header body left.text': 'underline'),

Evaluation order of rules in a style sheet

The style is determined as follows:

  • First, we concatenate all the style strings from the root control through all the parents to the child in one big string. (Things at the right take precedence anyway.)

    E.g: class:body bg:#aaaaaa #000000 class:header.focused class:left.text.highlighted underline

  • Then we go through this style from left to right, starting from the default style. Inline styling is applied directly.

    If we come across a class name, then we generate all combinations of the class names that we collected so far (this one and all class names to the left), and for each combination which includes the new class name, we look for matching rules in our style sheet. All these rules are then applied (later rules have higher priority).

    If we find a dotted class name, this will be expanded in the individual names (like class:left class:left.text class:left.text.highlighted), and all these are applied like any class names.

  • Then this final style is applied to this user interface element.

Using a dictionary as a style sheet

The order of the rules in a style sheet is meaningful, so typically, we use a list of tuples to specify the style. But is also possible to use a dictionary as a style sheet. This makes sense for Python 3.6, where dictionaries remember their ordering. An OrderedDict works as well.

from import Style

style = Style.from_dict({
     'header body left.text': 'underline',

Loading a style from Pygments

Pygments has a slightly different notation for specifying styles, because it maps styling to Pygments “Tokens”. A Pygments style can however be loaded and used as follows:

from prompt_toolkit.styles.from_pygments import style_from_pygments_cls
from pygments.styles import get_style_by_name

style = style_from_pygments_cls(get_style_by_name('monokai'))

Merging styles together

Multiple Style objects can be merged together as follows:

from prompt_toolkit.styles import merge_styles

style = merge_styles([

Color depths

There are four different levels of color depths available:

1 bit Black and white ColorDepth.DEPTH_1_BIT ColorDepth.MONOCHROME
4 bit ANSI colors ColorDepth.DEPTH_4_BIT ColorDepth.ANSI_COLORS_ONLY
8 bit 256 colors ColorDepth.DEPTH_8_BIT ColorDepth.DEFAULT
24 bit True colors ColorDepth.DEPTH_24_BIT ColorDepth.TRUE_COLOR

By default, 256 colors are used, because this is what most terminals support these days. If the TERM enviroment variable is set to linux or eterm-color, then only ANSI colors are used, because of these terminals. 24 bit true color output needs to be enabled explicitely. When 4 bit color output is chosen, all colors will be mapped to the closest ANSI color.

Setting the default color depth for any prompt_toolkit application can be done by setting the PROMPT_TOOLKIT_COLOR_DEPTH environment variable. You could for instance copy the following into your .bashrc file.


An application can also decide to set the color depth manually by passing a ColorDepth value to the Application object:

from prompt_toolkit.output.color_depth import ColorDepth

app = Application(
    # ...