GNU Screen

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Revision as of 20:18, 8 September 2008 by Chochem (talk | contribs) (Add a GRUB entry to boot into Screen)
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GNU Screen is a wrapper that allows separation between the text program and the shell from which it was launched. This allows the user to, for example, start a text program in a terminal in X, kill X, and continue to interact with the program. Here are a couple of tips and tricks you may be interested in.


Commands are entered pressing Control A and then the key binding. The escape key can be changed with the escape option in ~/.screenrc. IE:

escape ``

sets the escape key to `

Common Commands

C-a 0

opens window 0

C-a A

Rename the current window

C-a c

Create a new window (with shell)

C-a S

Split current region into two regions

C-a <TAB>

Focus on next region

C-a <ESC>

Enter Copy Mode (use enter to select a range of text)

C-a ]

Paste text

C-a Q

Close all regions but the current one

Start at window 1

By default, the first screen window is 0. If you'd rather never have a window 0 and start instead with 1, put something like the following in your ~/.screenrc:

bind c screen 1
bind 0 select 10                                                            
screen 1
select 1

Fix for residual editor text

When you open a text editor like nano in screen and then close it, the text may stay visible in your terminal. To fix this, put the following in your ~/.screenrc:

altscreen on

Use 256 colors

By default, screen uses an 8-color terminal emulator. Use the following line to enable more colors, which is useful if you are using a more-capable terminal emulator:

term screen-256color

Use 256 Colors with Rxvt-Unicode (urxvt)

If you are using rxvt-unicode-256color from the AUR you may need to add this line in your ~/.screenrc to enable 256 colors while in screen.

terminfo rxvt-unicode 'Co#256:AB=\E[48;5;%dm:AF=\E[38;5;%dm'

Informative statusbar

The default statusbar may be a little lacking. You may find this one more helpful:

hardstatus off
hardstatus alwayslastline
hardstatus string '%{= kG}[ %{G}%H %{g}][%= %{= kw}%?%-Lw%?%{r}(%{W}%n*%f%t%?(%u)%?%{r})%{w}%?%+Lw%?%?%= %{g}][%{B} %m-%d %{W}%c %{g}]'

Turn welcome message off

Cause it's annoying. Add to ~/.screenrc:

startup_message off

Add a GRUB entry to boot into Screen

If you mostly use X but occasionally want to run a Screen-as-window-manager session, here's one way to do it by adding a GRUB entry for Screen on a virtual console (text terminal).

GRUB allows you to designate what runlevel you want so we'll use runlevel 4 for this purpose. Clone an appropriate GRUB entry and add a '4' to the kernel boot parameters list, like so:

# (0) Arch Linux
title  Arch Linux Screen
root   (hd0,2)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz26 root=/dev/disk/by-uuid/a29113d7-2204-49e9-be69-d94699eba466 ro acpi_no_auto_ssdt irqpoll 4
initrd /boot/kernel26.img

Add some entries to /etc/inittab to indicate what should happen on runlevel 4, substituting your user name for <user>:

# gnu screen on rl4
scr2:4:respawn:/sbin/mingetty --autologin <user> vc/1 linux

The line uses mingetty to automatically login some user to a virtual console on startup. You will need to install the mingetty package (AUR). The inittab line segments are separated by colons. The first part (scr*) is simply an id. The second part is the runlevel: This should only happen on runlevel 4 (which isn't used in any default setup - 3 is by default for a tty login and 5 is for X). 'Respawn' causes init to repeat the command (i.e. autologin) if the user logs out. We'll need to see that nothing else happens on virtual console 1 when we use runlevel 4, so remove '4' from the the first of the agetty lines:

c1:235:respawn:/sbin/agetty -8 38400 vc/1 linux

Once logged in we want to ensure that screen is started. Add the follwoing to the end of your .bashrc:

  rl=$(runlevel | grep -o [0-9])
  case $rl in
	4) TERM=screen; exec /usr/bin/screen;;

This checks for the current runlevel and will launch a screen session immediately after the autologin if the runlevel is 4.

This can also be adapted to run screen on a virtual console next to X, simply checking for the current tty instead of the current runlevel. This check to see if we're on virtual console 3:

 vico="$(tty | grep -oE ....$)"
 case "$vico" in

vc/3) TERM=screen; exec /usr/bin/screen;;


Set inittab/mingetty to automaically log in to vc/3 on runlevel 5 and you're set.

See Also