As a Linux user, you might have come across the terminology 'terminal emulator'. Automatically, you might be tempted to think that a terminal emulator is synonymous with the terminal. While these two are similar in almost every sense, a few subtle differences exist between these two.
What is a terminal emulator in Linux
The terminal emulator or simply TERM is an application that mimics or emulates the functionalities of a conventional terminal window. It is used to run shell commands, terminal-based graphical applications, and more.
The terminal emulator allows users to connect and access remote devices such as servers, routers and other PCs via command line using protocols such as SSH or telnet. Once connected or logged in to the host system, a user can perform administrative tasks such as installing, configuring, and running applications as well as carrying out file transfer between the host and the remote system.
Some emulators such as Terminix and terminator have a tiling feature allowing you to split multiple terminal sessions in one terminal window. You can easily switch from one terminal session to another and even split the terminal horizontally or vertically.
Best terminal emulators in Linux
Most GUI-based Linux distributions ship with their own default terminal emulators. Below are the best and most used emulators:
1. Konsole emulator
The konsole emulator is the default terminal emulator for KDE desktop lovers. It's a powerful and customizable emulator written in C++. Much as it is a standalone program, Konsole is used by multiple KDE programs including Kate Editor and KDevelop which is a cross platform KDE. Konsole offers multiple tabs support, bookmark support, searching and general terminal input. It's easily customizable and allows users to tweak various aspects such as font size and color, terminal size and so much more.
2. Gnome terminal
For GNOME desktop and GTK-based environments, the GNOME terminal is the default terminal emulator. It's a feature-rich emulator that allows you to customize its appearances such as transparency, size, and color of text. It understands hyperlinks and email address when you mouse hover and allows you to open multiple tabs at go. You can also search files and also save output from the terminal.
3. XFCE terminal
The XFCE4 terminal is a lightweight, powerful, and easy-to-use emulator for XFCE desktop lovers. It closely resembles the GNOME terminal and shares the same features and customization options.
Written in Java, Terminator is a free and open-source cross-platform emulator that is licensed under the GNU GPL v2. It's a powerful and feature-rich terminal that comes as a recommended alternative to your default terminal. Terminator gives you the ability to multi-task by splitting the screen either horizontally or vertically. As a Linux user or sysadmin, you can easily perform different tasks on each screen. Additionally, you can rearrange the terminals in a grid-like structure, drag and drop and save the layouts using a GUI preferences editor.
Xterm is probably one of the oldest terminal emulators, dating back to the 1980s. It's a standard emulator for the X window system, and ships with major Linux distributions with a GUI. xTerm is quite minimalistic and is ideal for a minimal Linux distribution with a GUI. It's not a feature-rich terminal unlike the previous ones we have mentioned, but it's pretty much a terminal.
Written in C, Tilda is yet another open-source and highly configurable terminal emulator. It's available under the GNU GPL v2 and closely compares to popular and widely used emulators such as Konsole (KDE) and gnome-terminal (GNOME). With Tilda, you can change the overall appearance of the emulator, change the color scheme, configure hotkeys for key bindings, and tweak many other options provided by Tilda.
Guake emulator is a simple yet elegant terminal emulator that stands out from the rest with its 'drop-down' style interface. With a single keystroke, you can reveal or hide the terminal. Out of the box, Guake ships with a myriad of themes and you can also select your preferred color profile. Guake is feature-rich and highly customizable with various hotkeys that you can set to perform a specific task. Guake is available under the GPL v2.
Yakauke is a portmanteau for "yet another kuake". Just like Guake, Yakauke is another "drop-down" terminal emulator. However, Yakauke belongs to the KDE family. It smoothly unfurls from the top to the bottom of your screen and comes with a tabbed interface. Yakauke borrows heavily from Konsole which is the default emulator for KDE. If you prefer Konsole but still would like to have the Quake-style approach, this is the terminal for you. Yakauke is released under the GPL v2, GPL v3 licenses.
Like Guake, Tilix is yet another tiling emulator that employs the VTE GTK+ 3 widget.
Tilix closely resembles Terminix and both share the same features. These include:
- Drop-down terminal (Quake mode support).
- Ability to split terminal screens horizontally or vertically.
- Rearranging terminals using drag and drop functionality between and within windows.
- Terminals can be detached using drop and drop functionality.
- The terminal layout can be saved into disk.
- Synchronized input such that commands can be invoked simultaneously in all terminals from one terminal.
- Transparent background.
- Support for background images.
Terminology is an open-source terminal emulator created for the Enlightenment desktop. It packs with multiple color schemes and aims to be as close as possible to Xterm. It can be used for Linux/Unix and BSD systems. Just like gnome-terminal. terminology detects URL links, and email address and underlines them when you hover a mouse. It also supports tabs and translucency and allows users to make multiple tweaks.
You can install multiple terminal emulators and use preferred combinations using apt-get, dnf, or compiling from source.
In this guide, we have shone the light on what a terminal emulator in Linux is and highlighted the basic functionalities. Which is your favorite terminal emulator? Please leave it in the below comment section.