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xterm is the standard terminal emulator for the X Window System. It is highly configurable and has many useful and some unusual features.


Resource file settings

There are several options you can set in your X resources files that may make this terminal emulator much easier to use.

TERM Environmental Variable

Allow xterm to report the TERM variable correctly. Do not set the TERM variable from your ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_profile or similar file. The terminal itself should report the correct TERM to the system so that the proper terminfo file will be used. Two usable terminfo files are xterm, and xterm-256color.

  • Without setting TERM explicitly, xterm should report $TERM as xterm. You can check this from within xterm using either of these commands:
$ echo $TERM
$ tset -q
  • When TERM is not set explicitly, color schemes for some programs, such as vim, may not appear until a key is pressed or some other input occurs. This can be remedied with this resource setting :
xterm*termName: xterm-256color


Make certain your locale settings are correct for UTF-8. Adding the following line to your resource file will then make xterm interpret all incoming data as UTF-8 encoded:

XTerm*locale: true

Fix the 'Alt' key

If you use readline's Template:Keypress, Template:Keypress and Template:Keypress at the command line, you will need this in your resource file:

XTerm*metaSendsEscape: true


As new lines are written to the bottom of the xterm window, older lines disappear from the top. To scroll up and down through the off-screen lines one can use the mouse wheel, the key combinations Template:Keypress and Template:Keypress, or the scrollbar.

By default, 1024 lines are saved. You can change the number of saved lines with the saveLines resource,

Xterm*saveLines: 4096

Other X resources that affect scrolling are jumpScroll, set to true by default, and multiScroll and fastScroll, both of which default to false.

The Scrollbar

The scrollbar is not shown by default. It can be made visible by a menu selection, by command line options, or by setting resource values. It can be made to appear to the left or right of the window and its visual appearance can be modified through resource settings.

The scrollbar operates differently from what you may be accustomed to using.

  • To scroll down:
– Click on the scrollbar with the left mouse button.
– Click on the scrollbar below the thumb with the middle mouse button.
  • To scroll up:
– Click on the scrollbar with the right mouse button.
– Click on the scrollbar above the thumb with the middle mouse button.
  • To position text, moving in either direction:
– Grab the thumb and use "click-and-drag" with the middle mouse button.


The Archlinux version of xterm is compiled with the toolbar, or menubar, disabled. The menus are still available as popups when you press Template:Keypress within the xterm window. The actions invoked by the menu items can often be accomplished using command line options or by setting resource values.

Tip: If the popup menu windows show only as small boxes, it is probably because you have a line similar to this, xterm*geometry: 80x32, in your resources file. This does start xterm in an 80 column by 32 row main window, but it also forces the menu windows to be 80 pixels by 32 pixels! Replace the incorrect line with this:
xterm*VT100.geometry: 80x32

Some of the menu options are discussed below.

Main Options menu

Ctrl + LeftMouse

  • Secure Keyboard attempts to ensure only the xterm window, and no other application, receives your keystrokes. The display changes to reverse video when it is invoked. If the display is not in reverse video, the Secure Keyboard mode is not in effect. Please read the "SECURITY" section of the xterm man page for this option's limitations.
  • Allow SendEvents allows other processes to send keypress and mouse events to the xterm window. Because of the security risk, do not enable this unless you are very sure you know what you are doing.
  • Log to File – The log file will be named Xterm.log.hostname.yyyy.mm.dd.hh.mm.ss.XXXXXX. This file will contain all the printed output and all cursor movements. Logging may be a security risk.
  • The six Send *** Signal menu items are not often useful, except when your keyboard fails. HUP, TERM and KILL will close the xterm window. KILL should be avoided, as it does not allow any cleanup code to run.
  • The Quit menu item will also close the xterm window – it is the same as sending a HUP signal. Most users will use the keyboard combination Template:Keypress or will type exit to close an xterm instance.

VT Options menu

Ctrl + MiddleMouse

  • Select to Clipboard – Normally, selected text is stored in PRIMARY, to be pasted with Template:Keypress or by using the middle mouse button. By toggling this option to on, selected text will use CLIPBOARD, allowing you to paste the text selected in an xterm window into a GUI application using Template:Keypress. The corresponding XTerm resource is selectToClipboard.
  • Show Alternate Screen – When you use an a terminal application such as vim, or less, the alternate screen is opened. The main VT window, now hidden, remains in memory. You can view this main window, but not issue any commands in it, by toggling this menu option. You are able to select and copy text from this main window.
Tip: Suspending the process running in the Alternate Screen and then resuming it provides more functionality than using Show Alternate Screen. With a bash shell, pressing Template:Keypress suspends the process; issuing the command fg then resumes it.
  • Show Tek Window and Switch to Tek Mode – The Tektronix 4014 was a graphics terminal from the 1970s used for CAD and plotting applications. The command line program graph, from plotutils, and the application gnuplot can be made to use xterm's Tek emulation; most people will prefer more modern display options for charting data.

VT Fonts menu

Ctrl + RightMouse

  • When using XLFD fonts, the first seven menu items will change the font face and the font size used in the current xterm window. If you are using an Xft font, only the font size will change, the font face will not change with the different selections, .
Tip: Unreadable and Tiny are useful if you wish to keep an eye on a process but do not want to devote a large amount of screen space to the terminal window. An example use might be a lengthy compilation process when you only want to see that the operation completes.
  • Selection, when using XLFD font names, allows you to switch to the font name stored in the PRIMARY selection (or CLIPBOARD).

Tek Options menu

From the Tek Window, Ctrl + MiddleMouse

The first section's options allow you to change the Tek window font size. The second set of options are used to move the focus between the Tek emulation window and the main, or VT, window and to close or hide the Tek window.

Copy and paste

Highlighting text using the mouse in an xterm will copy that text. Pasting into an xterm is accomplished by clicking the mouse middle-button or using the key combination Template:Keypress.


By default, xterm, and many other applications running under X, copy highlighted text into a buffer called the PRIMARY selection. The PRIMARY slection is short-lived; the text is immediately replaced by a new PRIMARY selection as soon as another piece of text is highlighted. Some applications will allow you to paste PRIMARY selections by using the middle-mouse, but not Template:Keypress, and some other applications may not allow pasting from PRIMARY entirely.

There is another buffer used for copied text called the CLIPBOARD selection. The text in the CLIPBOARD is long-lived, remaining available until a user actively overwrites it. Applications that use Template:Keypress and Template:Keypress for text copying and cutting operations, and Template:Keypress for pasting, are using the CLIPBOARD.

The fleeting nature of the PRIMARY selection, where copied text is lost as soon as another selection is highlighted, annoys some users. Xterm allows the user to switch between the use of PRIMARY and CLIPBOARD using Select to Clipboard on the #VT Options menu or with the selectToClipboard resource.

Selecting text

The new user usually discovers that text may be selected using a "click-and-drag" with the left mouse button. Double-clicking will select a word, where a word is defined as consecutive alphabetic characters plus the underscore, or the Basic Regular Expression (BRE) [A-Za-z_]. Triple-clicking selects a line, with a "tab" character usually copied as multiple "space" characters.

Another way of selecting text, especially useful when copying more than one full screen, is:

  1. Left-click at the start of the intended selection.
  2. Scroll to where the end of the selection is visible.
  3. Right-click at the end of the selection.

You do not have to be precise immediately with the right-click – any highlighted selection may be extended or shortened by using a right-click.

You can clear any selected text by left-clicking once, anywhere within the xterm window.


Xterm defaults to black text, the foreground color, on a white background. The foreground and background colors can be reversed using the VT Options menu or with the -rv command line option.

$ xterm -rv

Xterm's foreground color (the text color) and the background color may be set from the command line, using the options -fg and -bg respectively.

xterm -fg PapayaWhip -bg "rgb:00/00/80"

The first sixteen terminal colors, as well as the foreground and background colors, may be set from an X resources file:

XTerm*foreground: rgb:b2/b2/b2
XTerm*background: rgb:08/08/08
XTerm*color0: rgb:28/28/28

! ...Lines omitted...

XTerm*color15: rgb:e4/e4/e4
Note: Colors for applications that use the X libraries may be specified in many different ways.

Some colors can be specified by assigned names. If emacs or vim has been installed, you can examine /usr/share/emacs/24.2/etc/rgb.txt or /usr/share/vim/vim73/rgb.txt to view the list of color names with their decimal RGB values. Colors may also be specified using hexadecimal RGB values with the format rgb:RR/GG/BB, or the older and not encouraged syntax #RRGGBB.

The color PapayaWhip is the same as rgb:ff/ef/d5, which is the same as #ffefd5.

See man(7) X, from xorg-docs, for a more complete description of color syntax.

Many suggestions for color schemes can be viewed in the forum thread, Terminal Colour Scheme Screenshots.

Tip: Many people specify colors in their X resources files without specifying an application class or application instance:
*foreground: rgb:b2/b2/b2
*background: rgb:08/08/08
The above example sets the foreground and background color values for all Xlib applications (xclock, xfontsel, and others) that use these resources. This is a nice, easy way to achieve a unified color scheme.


Xterm's default font is the XLFD font named by the alias fixed, often


This font, also aliased to the name 6x13, has remakably wide coverage for unicode glyphs.

The default "TrueType" font (technically, the Xft font) is the 14‑point font matched by the name mono. The fontconfig font name, which may vary from user to user, can be found with this command:

$ fc-match mono

Fonts can be specified from the command line using the options -fn for XLFD names and -fa for Xft names. The third command line example shown below allows you to alternate between the two named fonts by toggling TrueType Fonts from the #VT Fonts menu.

$ xterm -fn 7x13
$ xterm -fa "Liberation Mono:size=10:antialias=false"
$ xterm -fn 7x13 -fa "Liberation Mono:size=10:antialias=false"

For a more permanent change, the default fonts may be set in an X resources file:

xterm*faceName: Liberation Mono:size=10:antialias=false
xterm*font: 7x13
Note: There is a long-standing bug in xterm that prevents the command line option -fn working correctly when faceName has been set in a resource file. A solution is to set the resource renderFont to false on the command line.
$ xterm -fn 8x13                             # If this command does not set the font,
$ xterm -fn 8x13 -xrm "*renderFont:false"    # set the 'renderFont' resource to 'false'.

Tips and tricks

Automatic transparency

Install the package transset-df and a composite manager like Xcompmgr.

Add the following line to your ~/.bashrc:

[ -n "$XTERM_VERSION" ] && transset-df -a >/dev/null

Now, each time you launch a shell in an xterm and a composite manager is running, it will become transparent. The test in front of the transset-df command keeps it from executing if that variable is not defined. Note that your terminal will not be transparent if you launch a program other than the shell this way. It is probably possible to work around this if you want the functionality.

See Also

Enable bell urgency

Add the following line to your ~/.Xresources file:

xterm*bellIsUrgent: true

Remove black border

Xterm has a black border in some cases, you can disable this by adding the following line to your ~/.Xresources file.

xterm*borderWidth: 0