Bash GUI Whiptail Menu Tutorial Part 1


Lowering the barriers of complexity for users is always something I'm interested in for the simple fact that it allows more people access to my work.

In this series you may attempt to follow along as I build a Whiptail menu with several different widgets and explore different properties of each widget to understand what can be done with this command line GUI library. If this article helps you, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear how you applied the knowledge and why.


Whiptail is part of the Newt library written in C and is already available in most distributions of Linux straight out of the box which makes this a very low barrier feature library. Newt is still under stable development and continues to receive updates in 2017. Whiptail is feature complete from the perspective of having just about all the text based GUI widgets you would expect on the CLI. It is not based on event driven architecture which actually makes sense for most scripting applications and reduces some complexity.

Prior to Whiptail, Ncurses was often used for this task and you may have seen it out in the wild still. It is slightly less asthetically pleasing in this authors opinion. Ncurses is also written in the language C.

Prior to Ncurses were other Curses libraries first developed by Berkeley for BSD in the 1980's.

You can learn more about the Newt library on Wikipedia and around the web. Unfortunutely the wikipedia link was one of the better written articles I could find on the topic.

Get Started

Make sure whiptail is installed.

1. Open a terminal or ssh to a linux machine and run

apt install whiptail

2. Create a new .sh file for testing and make it executable.

            chmod +x

3. Create a humble message box.

            whiptail \
                --title "Humble Title" \
                --msgbox "I am a humble messagebox." 8 45

Nano Hotkeys

            CTRL+O to save
            CTRL+X to quit

4. Try to run it.

Animation of message box.

Excellent, now a breakdown of the last set of instructions, refer back to the code:

  1. whiptail: Tells the terminal we want to draw something.
  2. --title: Creates a title for the window.
  3. --msgbox: Creates the box to store a message in.
  4. 8: This designates the height.
  5. 45: This designates the width of the box.

Ask A Yes/No Question

Using the steps you learned in the first example, create (touch) a new file and try this.

                if (whiptail --title "Humble Title" --yesno "What is logic?" 8 78)
                        echo "Yes."
                        echo "No."
Exit Codes

Exit codes are how bash responds depending on what the user chose. We can then use exit codes to choose a logical path for the program to take next. Let's try another one but this time show the exit codes depending on the answer provided.

                    if (whiptail --title "Humble Title" --yesno "What is logic?" 8 78)
                            echo "Yes, the exit status was $?."
                            echo "No, the exit status was $?."

The $? is a bash variable designed to display exit codes and handy for debugging.

animation of YesNo box.

Advanced Menu

                function advancedMenu() {
                ADVSEL=$(whiptail --title "Advanced Menu" --fb --menu "Choose an option" 15 60 4 \
                    "1" "Option 1" \
                    "2" "Option 2" \
                    "3" "Option 3" 3>&1 1>&2 2>&3)
                case $ADVSEL in
                        echo "Option 1"
                        whiptail --title "Option 1" --msgbox "You chose option 1. Exit status $?" 8 45
                        echo "Option 2"
                        whiptail --title "Option 1" --msgbox "You chose option 2. Exit status $?" 8 45
                        echo "Option 3"
                        whiptail --title "Option 1" --msgbox "You chose option 3. Exit status $?" 8 45
  1. We assign ADVSEL as a variable to the whiptail options so that we can store the key the user selected and call it from the case later to match with the selection.
  2. We create a case for each selection. A case is like an if statement but provides more possible paths. Rather than writing endless nested if statements this is easier to read.
  3. I also added another whiptail message box to each selection but you could also add a function call for another menu item or any other bash scripting.
Animation of a Menu.

Up Next

Bash GUI Whiptail Menu Tutorial Part 2 (Late 2017)
Bash GUI Whiptail Menu Reference Sheet (Late 2017)

Posted in Bash, Programming on Oct 31, 2017


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197/5000 Hello, I think your article is wonderful. It has helped me a lot to understand Whiptail better. I just want to ask if you have any plans to post the remainder of this tutorial. thank you

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