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ZSH Autoload: A Guide to Dynamic Loading in ZSH

Autoloading, commonly known as dynamic loading, is a feature that is available in the ZSH shell that allows it to load the functions and scripts in a dynamic format. This allows to improve the startup times and memory usage by only loading the code that you need, when you need it.

Hence, there is no need for the shell to loading everything into the memory if it is not in use. When in use, the code is loaded and discarded once the execution is complete.

In this guide, we will teach you everything you need to know about autoload in ZSH to work with dynamic loading. We will obviously cover this with plenty of examples and explanations.

ZSH Autoload

As we mentioned, the ZSH autoload feature allows the shell to load the functions and scripts on-demand, enhancing your shell’s performance and resource efficiency.

Rather than loading all functions at startup, you can load them dynamically when you actually need them.

Some of the most prominent and powerful features of Autoload include:

  • Faster shell startup
  • Reduced memory usage
  • Cleaner configuration

How It Works

Before diving into practical examples, let’s understand the inner workings of autoload in ZSH.

The autoload features allow ZSH to look for autoload functions in a directory as defined in the “fpath” array. By default, this path is set to “$HOME/.zsh/functions”.

When we run a command that corresponds to an autoloaded function, ZSH searches for it in the “fpath” and loads it into the memory if located.

NOTE: Autoloaded functions follow a specific naming scheme that helps ZSH to identify them as autoload functions. The naming convention follows a “<prefix>_funcname” pattern where <prefix> is typically the first letter of the function name.

That explains the functionality of autoload.

Configure the Fpath

To get started with autoload, we need to configure the “fpath” array to include the directory where the autoloaded functions will reside. Add the following line to your “~/.zshrc” file:

fpath=($HOME/.zsh/functions $fpath)


This line prepends the “$HOME/.zsh/functions” to the “fpath” array, ensuring that ZSH looks for autoloaded functions there.

After modifying the “~/.zshrc” file, make sure to reload it for the changes to take effect as shown in the following command:

source ~/.zshrc


Autoloaded Function

Next, let us create a simple autoloaded function that prints a welcome message. We’ll name it as “w_welcome” to adhere to the naming convention.

Create a file named “w_welcome” in the autoload function’s directory ($HOME/.zsh/functions) and add the code as follows:

#!/usr/bin/env zsh
function w_welcome() {
    echo "Welcome!"


Save and close the file.

Next, make the file executable to ensure that ZSH can load the script.

chmod +x $HOME/.zsh/functions/w_welcome


Autoload Function with Aliases

We can create aliases that invoke the autoloaded functions. Aliases provide a more convenient way to make the autoloaded functions easily accessible which reduces the hustle of the commands.

In the ZSH configuration file, we can create an alias for the function as follows:

alias welcome='w_welcome'


Finally, save and source the file:

$ source ~/.zshrc


Now, we can use the welcome alias to invoke the autoloaded “w_welcome” function.

$ welcome


This is only executed when we need it and is not loaded upon launch.

Autoload Configuration

To manage the autoloaded functions, you can use the autoload module. For example, use the following command to see a list of currently autoloaded functions:

$ autoload -U


Example Output:

_absolute_command_paths () {                                                                                                                                                                              
        # undefined                                                                                                                                                                                      
        builtin autoload -XUz                                                                                                                                                                            
_ack () {                                                                                                                                                                                                
        # undefined                                                                                                                                                                                      
        builtin autoload -XUz                                                                                                                                                                            
_acpi () {                                                                                                                                                                                                
        # undefined                                                                                                                                                                                      
        builtin autoload -XUz                                                                                                                                                                            
_acpitool () {                                                                                                                                                                                            
        # undefined                                                                                                                                                                                      
        builtin autoload -XUz                                                                                                                                                                            
_acroread () {                                                                                                                                                                                            
        # undefined                                                                                                                                                                                      
        builtin autoload -XUz                                                                                                                                                                            
_adb () {                                                                                                                                                                                                
        # undefined                                                                                                                                                                                      
        builtin autoload -XUz                                                                                                                                                                            


To remove an autoloaded function, use the following command:

unautoload function_name


Updating the Fpath

If you create a new directory for autoloaded functions, remember to update your fpath in “~/.zshrc” accordingly to include the new directory:

fpath=($HOME/.zsh/functions $fpath $HOME/.zsh/functions/new_directory)


Remember to reload the “~/.zshrc” file after making changes.

Managing the Autoloaded Functions

As the ZSH configuration grows, you may need to manage and organize the autoloaded functions effectively. This can help you to stay organized and reduce the repeated code or errors when ZSH is unable to locate the defined scripts.

To stay organized, it is a good practice to organize the autoloaded functions into separate files. For example, you can create a directory structure like this:

    ├── task1/
    │   ├── task1_func1
    │   ├── task1_func2
    │   └── ...
    ├── task2/
    │   ├── task2_func1
    │   ├── task2_func2
    │   └── ...
    └── ...


Organizing the files this way ensures that the related functions are stored under a single directory and hence easy to locate.


In this extensive tutorial, we explored about the ZSH autoload, a powerful feature that allows you to dynamically load the functions and scripts when needed. We covered the features such as configuring the “fpath” variable, naming the conventions, autoload configuration, function management, and more.

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Source: linuxhint.com

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