Bash Fortunes


This tutorial might be outdated!


This is user-contributed content. Credits go to Maxie D. Schmidt!

One of the most entertaining games available on a Unix / Linux system is the fortune command which prints random fortune cookies, or short messages, to the terminal. Many system administrators prefer to setup the fortune utility to print a new fortune every time a new terminal is opened. The printed fortunes can be customized further with the cowsay command which provides an ascii art figure speaking the fortune. We provide instructions for installing this fortune setup both on CoCalc and on a local Linux box in the next section. We also document the usage of the new math-fortune-mod add-ons available for download here.

Examples of the Fortune Command

The fortune command can be run by issuing the following at your terminal:

$ /usr/games/fortune math.fortunes
$ ls /usr/share/games/fortunes
$ /usr/games/fortune debian

We can customize the printing of the fortunes with the cowsay command:

$ /usr/games/fortune math.fortunes | /usr/games/cowsay -f Sigma
$ ls /usr/share/cowsay/cows
$ /usr/games/fortune debian | /usr/games/cowsay -f tux

The first and third of the previous commands should print output similar (though not identical) to the following ascii text:

/ TRIVIAL:                              \
|                                       |
| If I have to show you how to do this, |
\ you're in the wrong class.            /
         .omMMMh-``       +d
           ``+mMy-``       :s

/ revision date: 2001/05/31      \
| 21:32:44; author: branden; state: Exp;  |
| lines: +1 -1 ARRRRGH!! GOT THE G** D*** |
       |o_o |
       |:_/ |
      //   \ \
     (|     | )
    /'\_   _/``\


Configuring the .bashrc File

If we desire to have a friendly bit of “mathy” wisdom printed out each time we open a bash terminal, either on the CoCalc or on our local box, we can append a fortune line to the end of the configuration file ~/.bashrc:

$ echo -e "/usr/games/fortune math.fortunes | /usr/games/cowsay -f Sigma\n" >> ~/.bashrc
$ source ~/.bashrc

If all went well in the installation, you should now have a Sigma-symbol-spoken math quote printed to the command line every time you open a new terminal. This behavior can be reversed by removing the corresponding fortune line at the end of ~/.bashrc.

Installing Packages on a Local Debian / Ubuntu Box

CoCalc has both the fortune command, cowsay, and the auxiliary math fortune packages installed for use in the CoCalc terminal applications. In order to get fortune and cowsay installed on your local Debian-based Linux box, we need to install a few packages with apt:

$ sudo apt-get install fortunes fortune-mod cowsay
$ ls /usr/share/games/fortunes
$ ls /usr/share/cowsay/cows

More fortune and cowsay-related packages can be found by running the following search commands:

$ apt-cache search fortune
$ apt-cache search cowsay

In particular, we didn’t install the offensive fortune and cowsay sets by default. Heed the warnings before you install these for use on your system: some of these fortune messages and quotes are truly offensive.

Next, we need to install the math.fortunes* fortune cookie messages and the Sigma.cow speaking Sigma symbol on the local system (again, CoCalc has these, or will soon have these, installed by default). We can install this extra data for use with fortune by running the next commands (if you do not have git installed, try running sudo apt-get install git-all first).

$ cd ~
$ git clone
$ cd math-fortune-mod/
$ sudo cp math.fortunes{,.dat} /usr/share/games/fortunes/
$ sudo cp Sigma.cow /usr/share/cowsay/cows/
$ /usr/games/fortune math.fortunes | /usr/games/cowsay -f Sigma