Tag Archives: terminal

screen: The granddaddy of terminal multiplexers

I was for a very long time a faithful user of GNU screen.


That has mellowed somewhat over the past few years, partly because tmux — I must admit — is leaps and bounds beyond what screen can do, but also just because there are other options too.

Things like dvtm, or even twin, which both handle the concept of multiple-terminals-one-screen in their own fashion.

Any of those three can do … somewhat something similar to what screen does, and have probably all seen more improvements over the years than screen.

I hold no one responsible for screen’s slow spiral into staleness; in fact, if anything, that makes screen quite easy to figure out: There is plenty of discussion about screen and how it works … even if some of it isn’t flattering. 😯

It may be the ugly stepmother of terminal multiplexers, but you can’t deny that it does what it claims. And in the realm of console-based software, that alone is sometimes enough to get by. In my book, anyway. 🙄

Postscript, 2014-04-20: Wouldn’t you know it, only a day after whining about years without updates, this trickles down the pipe to my lowly Arch install.


You could knock me over with a feather. 😯 Ask and ye shall receive, apparently. 😕

kibitz: A favorite of backseat drivers

Buried in a package called expect is a utility that seems to have a lot of potential: kibitz.

Or at least, it should have had some potential, when it started out in this world way back in 1994. 😯


(I know, that’s a lousy screenshot. I don’t know what I’d show if I did get kibitz running though. Stock photo of two people typing at computers? 🙄 )

If I understand it correctly, it should allow two users to piggyback in the same shell, watching each other type and offering help when necessary.

For me, it didn’t seem to want to work; I tried to kibitz from root to the kmandla account, but kept getting “write permission” messages.

I think I understand how it should work though, and I like the idea, generally speaking. Although two people typing in the same shell sounds like a recipe for a wheel war.

I did have better luck with screen -X though, many long years ago. If kibitz is still doing as it promised almost 20 years ago, it’s a worthy application no matter what I say. 😯

dtach: Beauty in sparsity

I have known about dtach for a long time. I’ve used dtach briefly to free virtual console space.

But dtach is such a slim tool and has such a narrow focus that I wonder what it could offer in the stead of either screen or tmux.


(Danger: 1024×768 gif.)

That’s about all dtach does — detaches from a terminal and reattaches soon after. I suppose there’s not much more to ask of it; people that I know who use dtach want that function and that function only.

On the other hand, I do like that I can name a socket, which makes it easy to reattach to one later.

If you like the idea of detaching from a terminal, but don’t want the stoic classicism of screen or the dynamic complexity of tmux, dtach might be an answer.

One quick final note: I mentioned dtach when I mentioned dvtm. Oddly, I see these two working together quite nicely. It might be that I just was introduced to them both at the same time. Of course, you could substitute anything you wanted. …

byobu: Now with even more tmux

I don’t have much to say about byobu that I didn’t point out three years ago. byobu is still around (and oddly enough, that post is still one of the most popular on the old blog), although it has changed a bit.


tmux appears to be its preferred mode of operation now, and I can’t say that I blame it.

screen is good fun, but even I have to wonder if screen is ever going to see any progress. tmux grows and improves by leaps and bounds, while screen developers are apparently busy picking navel lint.

And yet, I rarely see fit to use byobu, for screen or for tmux. I guess I just grew to prefer my own versions.

Regardless, if you use either screen or tmux and want to spruce it up at a minimum of effort, byobu is your go-to package.

setterm: Some minor magic

I have setterm on my list of applications to discuss. And I honestly hope you already know how to use it.

Because setterm is the tool you should be going to, to adjust smaller points of console life.

To include, but not limited to: foreground colors, background colors, cursor behavior, brightness, tabs, blanking timeouts, power savings and/or poweroff settings, and a whole spiel of other toys … including the flag to reset the entire business back to normal.

You will have to experiment to get the exact flavors you like out of a virtual console, and be forewarned that some of them (linewrap, for instance) might behave differently than you expect.

And also remember that these tweaks may or may not have an effect inside a terminal emulator. Those applications (in my experience) usually have their own way of adjusting the environment.

“All very nice, K.Mandla, but. … when would this ever be important?” you say. “Why would I care about stopping the cursor from blinking?”

Read on, true believer. …

P.S.: Yes, I know. No screenshot today. But what can I show this time? An unblinking cursor as opposed to a blinking one? Methinks you already knows that. … 😐

Bonus: twin, bigger and better than ever

I wasn’t going to mention twin again. I talked about it more than once some years ago, and it is a reasonable substitute for a window manager or a terminal multiplexer. I admit that.

In fact, I wasn’t even going to keep it on my list, because it’s not really an application. But just for kicks I tried it out against the framebuffer on the extra extra machine today, and wouldn’t you know it …


Picture perfect, after all these years. So that’s what I get for poring over old pages of long-dead blogs: Something that seems to have improved. Who’d’ve thunk it.

twin is running here against the framebuffer on an Intel 945GM graphics card — something which is unpredictable at times.

But you can see that it works. You’ll need gpm as a mouse interface, and possibly something other than the default font (may I respectfully suggest Terminus, which works wonderfully at the console).

Shortcomings? Well, there are a few, but only a few. Line drawing is awkward, but that might depend on the application. You can see mc running there with the -a flag, which defaults to plain ascii. htop is hopelessly scrambled.

And mouse movement seems a little clunky, which might not be the fault of twin either. I am accustomed to the speed and snappy behavior of screen-vs; going back to the mouse seems like a delay.

Regardless: You’ll have to try it out and see if it suits you.