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1. Introduction

For a quick attempt to install a terminal see Quick Install.

1.1 Copyright, Trademarks, Disclaimer, & Credits


Copyright 1998-2001 by David S. Lawyer.

Please freely copy and distribute (sell or give away) this document in any format. Send any corrections and comments to the document maintainer. You may create a derivative work and distribute it provided that you:

  1. If it's not a translation: Email a copy of your derivative work (in a format LDP accepts) to the author(s) and maintainer (could be the same person). If you don't get a response then email the LDP (Linux Documentation Project):
  2. License the derivative work in the spirit of this license or use GPL. Include a copyright notice and at least a pointer to the license used.
  3. Give due credit to previous authors and major contributors.

If you're considering making a derived work other than a translation, it's requested that you discuss your plans with the current maintainer.


While I haven't intentionally tried to mislead you, there are likely a number of errors in this document. Please let me know about them. Since this is free documentation, it should be obvious that I cannot be held legally responsible for any errors.


Any brand names (starts with a capital letter such as MS Windows) should be assumed to be a trademark). Such trademarks belong to their respective owners.


Much of the section "Physical Connection" is from Serial-HOWTO v. 1.11 (1997) by Greg Hankins (with his permission). His "How Do I Set Up A Terminal Connected To My PC?" was incorporated into v1.00 at various places. v1.09 has about 25 changes (and error corrections) suggested by Alessandro Rubini who reviewed this HOWTO. Jeremy Jon Spykerman told me about using a keyboardless terminal as a console for a monitorless PC (using ttysnoop). In 2001 (v1.26) I fixed about 25 typos, etc. found by Alain Cochard:

1.2 Future Plans: You Can Help

Please let me know of any errors in facts, opinions, logic, spelling, grammar, clarity, links, etc. But first, if the date is over a few months old, check to see that you have the latest version. Please send me any info that you think belongs in this document.

Starting with version 1.00, a first attempt was made to help people set up terminals without recourse to a terminal manual. Much more is needed in this respect. One way to solve this problem would be for more terminal manufacturers put their manuals on the Internet. Wyse has already done so. I suggest that you encourage others to do so (if they haven't already). The task of providing information on how to configure most terminals in this HOWTO is daunting. There are so many different terminals, but there are far fewer models than there used to be in the 1980,s so the task is not totally infeasible.

Please send me any surplus terminal manuals which you may have, especially on terminals made within the past 10 years (but I'll accept older ones also). Also, you might want to write up something on a certain terminal to put in the Appendix D: Notes by Brand Name.

1.3 New Versions of this HOWTO

New versions of the Text-Terminal-HOWTO should be released every few months or so. They will be available to browse and/or download at LDP mirror sites. For a list of mirror sites see: Various formats are available. If you only want to quickly check the date of the latest version look at The version your are currently reading is: v1.31, January 2003 .

1.4 New in Recent Versions:

For a full revision history going back to the first version see the source file (in linuxdoc format) at

1.5 Related HOWTOs, etc.

Go to the nearest mirror site (per above) to get HOWTOs.

1.6 Terminology Used in this Document

Configuration means the same as set-up. While Linux commands take options (using - or -- symbols), options in a broader sense include various other types of choices. Install in the broad sense includes setting up (configuring) software and hardware. A statement that I suspect is true (but may not be) ends with 2 question marks: ?? If you know for sure, let me know.

1.7 What is a Terminal ?

A real terminal consists of a screen and keyboard that one uses to communicate remotely with a (host) computer. One uses it just like it was a personal computer but the terminal is remote from its host computer (on the other side of the room or even on the other side of the world). Programs execute on the host computer but the results display on the terminal screen. The terminal's computational ability is relatively low (otherwise it would be a computer and not a terminal). The terminal is generally limited to the ability to display what is sent to it (possibly including full-screen graphics) and the ability to send to the host what is typed at the keyboard.

A text-terminal only displays text on the screen without pictures. In the days of mainframes from the mid 1970's to the mid 1980's, most people used real text-terminals to communicate with computers. They typed in programs, ran programs, wrote documents, issued printing commands, etc. A cable connected the terminal to the computer (often indirectly). It was called a terminal since it was located at the terminal end of this cable. Some text-terminals were called "graphic" but the resolution was poor and the speed slow by today's standards due to the high cost of memory and the limited speed of the conventional serial port, etc.

Today, real terminals are not as common as they once were and most people that use terminals use a personal computer to emulate a terminal. Almost everyone who uses Linux uses terminal emulation. Without X Window, one uses a text interface (virtual terminal). It's also called a command line interface. In X Window one can get one or more terminal windows (xterm, rxvt, or zterm). All these use software to emulate a real terminal.

A real text-terminal is different from a monitor because it's a different electronic setup. A text terminal is often connected to a serial port of the computer via a long cable. Thus, in contrast to a monitor which is usually located right next to the computer, a terminal may be quite a distance away from its host computer. For a monitor, the video card inside a computer stores the video image. For a terminal, the equivalent of this video card is built right into the terminal but since text terminals are often monochrome without much graphics, the capabilities of its "video card" are rather weak. Also, most text terminals do not have mice.

In network client-server terminology, one might think that the terminal is the client and that the host computer is the server. The terminal has been called a "thin client" by some. But it is not actually a "client" nor is the host a "server". The only "service" the host provides is to receive every letter typed at the keyboard and react to this just like a computer would. The terminal is like a window into the computer just like a monitor (and keyboard) are. You may have already used virtual terminals in Linux (by pressing Left Alt-F2, etc.). A real terminal is just like running such a virtual terminal but you run it on its own terminal screen instead of having to share the monitor screen. In contrast to using a virtual terminal at the console (monitor), this allows another person to sit at a terminal and use the computer simultaneously with others.

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