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terminfo(5) File formats terminfo(5)


terminfo - terminal capability database




Terminfo is a database describing terminals, used by screen-oriented programs such as nvi(1), lynx(1), mutt(1), and other curses applications, using high-level calls to libraries such as ncurses(3NCURSES). It is also used via low-level calls by non-curses applications which may be screen-oriented (such as clear(1)) or non-screen (such as tabs(1)).

Terminfo describes terminals by giving a set of capabilities which they have, by specifying how to perform screen operations, and by specifying padding requirements and initialization sequences.

This document describes ncurses version 6.5 (patch 20240629).

terminfo Entry Syntax

Entries in terminfo consist of a sequence of fields:

  • Each field ends with a comma “,” (embedded commas may be escaped with a backslash or written as “\054”).
  • White space between fields is ignored.
  • The first field in a terminfo entry begins in the first column.
  • Newlines and leading whitespace (spaces or tabs) may be used for formatting entries for readability. These are removed from parsed entries.
The infocmp -f and -W options rely on this to format if-then-else expressions, or to enforce maximum line-width. The resulting formatted terminal description can be read by tic.
The first field for each terminal gives the names which are known for the terminal, separated by “|” characters.
The first name given is the most common abbreviation for the terminal (its primary name), the last name given should be a long name fully identifying the terminal (see longname(3NCURSES)), and all others are treated as synonyms (aliases) for the primary terminal name.
X/Open Curses advises that all names but the last should be in lower case and contain no blanks; the last name may well contain upper case and blanks for readability.
This implementation is not so strict; it allows mixed case in the primary name and aliases. If the last name has no embedded blanks, it allows that to be both an alias and a verbose name (but will warn about this ambiguity).
Lines beginning with a “#” in the first column are treated as comments.
While comment lines are valid at any point, the output of captoinfo and infotocap (aliases for tic) will move comments so they occur only between entries.

Terminal names (except for the last, verbose entry) should be chosen using the following conventions. The particular piece of hardware making up the terminal should have a root name, thus “hp2621”. This name should not contain hyphens. Modes that the hardware can be in, or user preferences, should be indicated by appending a hyphen and a mode suffix. Thus, a vt100 in 132-column mode would be vt100-w. The following suffixes should be used where possible:

Suffix Example Meaning
-nn aaa-60 Number of lines on the screen
-np c100-4p Number of pages of memory
-am vt100-am With automargins (usually the default)
-m ansi-m Mono mode; suppress color
-mc wy30-mc Magic cookie; spaces when highlighting
-na c100-na No arrow keys (leave them in local)
-nam vt100-nam Without automatic margins
-nl hp2621-nl No status line
-ns hp2626-ns No status line
-rv c100-rv Reverse video
-s vt100-s Enable status line
-vb wy370-vb Use visible bell instead of beep
-w vt100-w Wide mode (> 80 columns, usually 132)

For more on terminal naming conventions, see the term(7) manual page.

terminfo Capabilities Syntax

The terminfo entry consists of several capabilities, i.e., features that the terminal has, or methods for exercising the terminal's features.

After the first field (giving the name(s) of the terminal entry), there should be one or more capability fields. These are Boolean, numeric or string names with corresponding values:

  • Boolean capabilities are true when present, false when absent. There is no explicit value for Boolean capabilities.
  • Numeric capabilities have a “#” following the name, then an unsigned decimal integer value.
  • String capabilities have a “=” following the name, then an string of characters making up the capability value.
String capabilities can be split into multiple lines, just as the fields comprising a terminal entry can be split into multiple lines. While blanks between fields are ignored, blanks embedded within a string value are retained, except for leading blanks on a line.

Any capability can be canceled, i.e., suppressed from the terminal entry, by following its name with “@” rather than a capability value.

Similar Terminals

If there are two very similar terminals, one (the variant) can be defined as being just like the other (the base) with certain exceptions. In the definition of the variant, the string capability use can be given with the name of the base terminal:

  • The capabilities given before use override those in the base type named by use.
  • If there are multiple use capabilities, they are merged in reverse order. That is, the rightmost use reference is processed first, then the one to its left, and so forth.
  • Capabilities given explicitly in the entry override those brought in by use references.

A capability can be canceled by placing xx@ to the left of the use reference that imports it, where xx is the capability. For example, the entry

2621-nl, smkx@, rmkx@, use=2621,

defines a 2621-nl that does not have the smkx or rmkx capabilities, and hence does not turn on the function key labels when in visual mode. This is useful for different modes for a terminal, or for different user preferences.

An entry included via use can contain canceled capabilities, which have the same effect as if those cancels were inline in the using terminal entry.

Predefined Capabilities

Tables of capabilities ncurses recognizes in a terminfo terminal type description and available to terminfo-using code follow.

  • The capability name identifies the symbol by which the programmer using the terminfo API accesses the capability.
  • The TI (terminfo) code is the short name used by a person composing or updating a terminal type entry.
Whenever possible, these codes are the same as or similar to those of the ANSI X3.64-1979 standard (now superseded by ECMA-48, which uses identical or very similar names). Semantics are also intended to match those of the specification.
terminfo codes have no hard length limit, but ncurses maintains an informal one of 5 characters to keep them short and to allow the tabs in the source file Caps to line up nicely. (Some standard codes exceed this limit regardless.)
  • The TC (termcap) code is that used by the corresponding API of ncurses. (Some capabilities are new, and have names that BSD termcap did not originate.)
  • The description field attempts to convey the capability's semantics.

The description field employs a handful of notations.

indicates that padding may be specified.
indicates that padding may vary in proportion to the number of output lines affected.
indicates the ith parameter of a string capability; the programmer should pass the string to tparm(3NCURSES) with the parameters listed.
If the description lists no parameters, passing the string to tparm(3NCURSES) may produce unexpected behavior, for instance if the string contains percent signs.

Boolean Capability Name TI TC Description
auto_left_margin bw bw cub1 wraps from column 0 to last column
auto_right_margin am am terminal has automatic margins
no_esc_ctlc xsb xb beehive (f1=escape, f2=ctrl C)
ceol_standout_glitch xhp xs standout not erased by overwriting (hp)
eat_newline_glitch xenl xn newline ignored after 80 cols (concept)
erase_overstrike eo eo can erase overstrikes with a blank
generic_type gn gn generic line type
hard_copy hc hc hardcopy terminal
has_meta_key km km Has a meta key (i.e., sets 8th-bit)
has_status_line hs hs has extra status line
insert_null_glitch in in insert mode distinguishes nulls
memory_above da da display may be retained above the screen
memory_below db db display may be retained below the screen
move_insert_mode mir mi safe to move while in insert mode
move_standout_mode msgr ms safe to move while in standout mode
over_strike os os terminal can overstrike
status_line_esc_ok eslok es escape can be used on the status line
dest_tabs_magic_smso xt xt tabs destructive, magic so char (t1061)
tilde_glitch hz hz cannot print ~'s (Hazeltine)
transparent_underline ul ul underline character overstrikes
xon_xoff xon xo terminal uses xon/xoff handshaking
needs_xon_xoff nxon nx padding will not work, xon/xoff required
prtr_silent mc5i 5i printer will not echo on screen
hard_cursor chts HC cursor is hard to see
non_rev_rmcup nrrmc NR smcup does not reverse rmcup
no_pad_char npc NP pad character does not exist
non_dest_scroll_region ndscr ND scrolling region is non-destructive
can_change ccc cc terminal can re-define existing colors
back_color_erase bce ut screen erased with background color
hue_lightness_saturation hls hl terminal uses only HLS color notation (Tektronix)
col_addr_glitch xhpa YA only positive motion for hpa/mhpa caps
cr_cancels_micro_mode crxm YB using cr turns off micro mode
has_print_wheel daisy YC printer needs operator to change character set
row_addr_glitch xvpa YD only positive motion for vpa/mvpa caps
semi_auto_right_margin sam YE printing in last column causes cr
cpi_changes_res cpix YF changing character pitch changes resolution
lpi_changes_res lpix YG changing line pitch changes resolution

Numeric Capability Name TI TC Description
columns cols co number of columns in a line
init_tabs it it tabs initially every # spaces
lines lines li number of lines on screen or page
lines_of_memory lm lm lines of memory if > line. 0 means varies
magic_cookie_glitch xmc sg number of blank characters left by smso or rmso
padding_baud_rate pb pb lowest baud rate where padding needed
virtual_terminal vt vt virtual terminal number (CB/unix)
width_status_line wsl ws number of columns in status line
num_labels nlab Nl number of labels on screen
label_height lh lh rows in each label
label_width lw lw columns in each label
max_attributes ma ma maximum combined attributes terminal can handle
maximum_windows wnum MW maximum number of definable windows
max_colors colors Co maximum number of colors on screen
max_pairs pairs pa maximum number of color-pairs on the screen
no_color_video ncv NC video attributes that cannot be used with colors

The following numeric capabilities are present in the SVr4.0 term structure, but are not yet documented in the man page. They came in with SVr4's printer support.

Numeric Capability Name TI TC Description
buffer_capacity bufsz Ya numbers of bytes buffered before printing
dot_vert_spacing spinv Yb spacing of pins vertically in pins per inch
dot_horz_spacing spinh Yc spacing of dots horizontally in dots per inch
max_micro_address maddr Yd maximum value in micro_..._address
max_micro_jump mjump Ye maximum value in parm_..._micro
micro_col_size mcs Yf character step size when in micro mode
micro_line_size mls Yg line step size when in micro mode
number_of_pins npins Yh numbers of pins in print-head
output_res_char orc Yi horizontal resolution in units per line
output_res_line orl Yj vertical resolution in units per line
output_res_horz_inch orhi Yk horizontal resolution in units per inch
output_res_vert_inch orvi Yl vertical resolution in units per inch
print_rate cps Ym print rate in characters per second
wide_char_size widcs Yn character step size when in double wide mode
buttons btns BT number of buttons on mouse
bit_image_entwining bitwin Yo number of passes for each bit-image row
bit_image_type bitype Yp type of bit-image device

String Capability Name TI TC Description
back_tab cbt bt back tab (P)
bell bel bl audible signal (bell) (P)
carriage_return cr cr carriage return (P*) (P*)
change_scroll_region csr cs change region to line #1 to line #2 (P)
clear_all_tabs tbc ct clear all tab stops (P)
clear_screen clear cl clear screen and home cursor (P*)
clr_eol el ce clear to end of line (P)
clr_eos ed cd clear to end of screen (P*)
column_address hpa ch horizontal position #1, absolute (P)
command_character cmdch CC terminal settable cmd character in prototype !?
cursor_address cup cm move to row #1 columns #2
cursor_down cud1 do down one line
cursor_home home ho home cursor (if no cup)
cursor_invisible civis vi make cursor invisible
cursor_left cub1 le move left one space
cursor_mem_address mrcup CM memory relative cursor addressing, move to row #1 columns #2
cursor_normal cnorm ve make cursor appear normal (undo civis/cvvis)
cursor_right cuf1 nd non-destructive space (move right one space)
cursor_to_ll ll ll last line, first column (if no cup)
cursor_up cuu1 up up one line
cursor_visible cvvis vs make cursor very visible
delete_character dch1 dc delete character (P*)
delete_line dl1 dl delete line (P*)
dis_status_line dsl ds disable status line
down_half_line hd hd half a line down
enter_alt_charset_mode smacs as start alternate character set (P)
enter_blink_mode blink mb turn on blinking
enter_bold_mode bold md turn on bold (extra bright) mode
enter_ca_mode smcup ti string to start programs using cup
enter_delete_mode smdc dm enter delete mode
enter_dim_mode dim mh turn on half-bright mode
enter_insert_mode smir im enter insert mode
enter_secure_mode invis mk turn on blank mode (characters invisible)
enter_protected_mode prot mp turn on protected mode
enter_reverse_mode rev mr turn on reverse video mode
enter_standout_mode smso so begin standout mode
enter_underline_mode smul us begin underline mode
erase_chars ech ec erase #1 characters (P)
exit_alt_charset_mode rmacs ae end alternate character set (P)
exit_attribute_mode sgr0 me turn off all attributes
exit_ca_mode rmcup te strings to end programs using cup
exit_delete_mode rmdc ed end delete mode
exit_insert_mode rmir ei exit insert mode
exit_standout_mode rmso se exit standout mode
exit_underline_mode rmul ue exit underline mode
flash_screen flash vb visible bell (may not move cursor)
form_feed ff ff hardcopy terminal page eject (P*)
from_status_line fsl fs return from status line
init_1string is1 i1 initialization string
init_2string is2 is initialization string
init_3string is3 i3 initialization string
init_file if if name of initialization file
insert_character ich1 ic insert character (P)
insert_line il1 al insert line (P*)
insert_padding ip ip insert padding after inserted character
key_backspace kbs kb backspace key
key_catab ktbc ka clear-all-tabs key
key_clear kclr kC clear-screen or erase key
key_ctab kctab kt clear-tab key
key_dc kdch1 kD delete-character key
key_dl kdl1 kL delete-line key
key_down kcud1 kd down-arrow key
key_eic krmir kM sent by rmir or smir in insert mode
key_eol kel kE clear-to-end-of-line key
key_eos ked kS clear-to-end-of-screen key
key_f0 kf0 k0 F0 function key
key_f1 kf1 k1 F1 function key
key_f10 kf10 k; F10 function key
key_f2 kf2 k2 F2 function key
key_f3 kf3 k3 F3 function key
key_f4 kf4 k4 F4 function key
key_f5 kf5 k5 F5 function key
key_f6 kf6 k6 F6 function key
key_f7 kf7 k7 F7 function key
key_f8 kf8 k8 F8 function key
key_f9 kf9 k9 F9 function key
key_home khome kh home key
key_ic kich1 kI insert-character key
key_il kil1 kA insert-line key
key_left kcub1 kl left-arrow key
key_ll kll kH lower-left key (home down)
key_npage knp kN next-page key
key_ppage kpp kP previous-page key
key_right kcuf1 kr right-arrow key
key_sf kind kF scroll-forward key
key_sr kri kR scroll-backward key
key_stab khts kT set-tab key
key_up kcuu1 ku up-arrow key
keypad_local rmkx ke leave keyboard transmit mode
keypad_xmit smkx ks enter keyboard transmit mode
lab_f0 lf0 l0 label on function key f0 if not f0
lab_f1 lf1 l1 label on function key f1 if not f1
lab_f10 lf10 la label on function key f10 if not f10
lab_f2 lf2 l2 label on function key f2 if not f2
lab_f3 lf3 l3 label on function key f3 if not f3
lab_f4 lf4 l4 label on function key f4 if not f4
lab_f5 lf5 l5 label on function key f5 if not f5
lab_f6 lf6 l6 label on function key f6 if not f6
lab_f7 lf7 l7 label on function key f7 if not f7
lab_f8 lf8 l8 label on function key f8 if not f8
lab_f9 lf9 l9 label on function key f9 if not f9
meta_off rmm mo turn off meta mode
meta_on smm mm turn on meta mode (8th-bit on)
newline nel nw newline (behave like cr followed by lf)
pad_char pad pc padding char (instead of null)
parm_dch dch DC delete #1 characters (P*)
parm_delete_line dl DL delete #1 lines (P*)
parm_down_cursor cud DO down #1 lines (P*)
parm_ich ich IC insert #1 characters (P*)
parm_index indn SF scroll forward #1 lines (P)
parm_insert_line il AL insert #1 lines (P*)
parm_left_cursor cub LE move #1 characters to the left (P)
parm_right_cursor cuf RI move #1 characters to the right (P*)
parm_rindex rin SR scroll back #1 lines (P)
parm_up_cursor cuu UP up #1 lines (P*)
pkey_key pfkey pk program function key #1 to type string #2
pkey_local pfloc pl program function key #1 to execute string #2
pkey_xmit pfx px program function key #1 to transmit string #2
print_screen mc0 ps print contents of screen
prtr_off mc4 pf turn off printer
prtr_on mc5 po turn on printer
repeat_char rep rp repeat char #1 #2 times (P*)
reset_1string rs1 r1 reset string
reset_2string rs2 r2 reset string
reset_3string rs3 r3 reset string
reset_file rf rf name of reset file
restore_cursor rc rc restore cursor to position of last save_cursor
row_address vpa cv vertical position #1 absolute (P)
save_cursor sc sc save current cursor position (P)
scroll_forward ind sf scroll text up (P)
scroll_reverse ri sr scroll text down (P)
set_attributes sgr sa define video attributes #1-#9 (PG9)
set_tab hts st set a tab in every row, current columns
set_window wind wi current window is lines #1-#2 cols #3-#4
tab ht ta tab to next 8-space hardware tab stop
to_status_line tsl ts move to status line, column #1
underline_char uc uc underline char and move past it
up_half_line hu hu half a line up
init_prog iprog iP path name of program for initialization
key_a1 ka1 K1 upper left of keypad
key_a3 ka3 K3 upper right of keypad
key_b2 kb2 K2 center of keypad
key_c1 kc1 K4 lower left of keypad
key_c3 kc3 K5 lower right of keypad
prtr_non mc5p pO turn on printer for #1 bytes
char_padding rmp rP like ip but when in insert mode
acs_chars acsc ac graphics charset pairs, based on vt100
plab_norm pln pn program label #1 to show string #2
key_btab kcbt kB back-tab key
enter_xon_mode smxon SX turn on xon/xoff handshaking
exit_xon_mode rmxon RX turn off xon/xoff handshaking
enter_am_mode smam SA turn on automatic margins
exit_am_mode rmam RA turn off automatic margins
xon_character xonc XN XON character
xoff_character xoffc XF XOFF character
ena_acs enacs eA enable alternate char set
label_on smln LO turn on soft labels
label_off rmln LF turn off soft labels
key_beg kbeg @1 begin key
key_cancel kcan @2 cancel key
key_close kclo @3 close key
key_command kcmd @4 command key
key_copy kcpy @5 copy key
key_create kcrt @6 create key
key_end kend @7 end key
key_enter kent @8 enter/send key
key_exit kext @9 exit key
key_find kfnd @0 find key
key_help khlp %1 help key
key_mark kmrk %2 mark key
key_message kmsg %3 message key
key_move kmov %4 move key
key_next knxt %5 next key
key_open kopn %6 open key
key_options kopt %7 options key
key_previous kprv %8 previous key
key_print kprt %9 print key
key_redo krdo %0 redo key
key_reference kref &1 reference key
key_refresh krfr &2 refresh key
key_replace krpl &3 replace key
key_restart krst &4 restart key
key_resume kres &5 resume key
key_save ksav &6 save key
key_suspend kspd &7 suspend key
key_undo kund &8 undo key
key_sbeg kBEG &9 shifted begin key
key_scancel kCAN &0 shifted cancel key
key_scommand kCMD *1 shifted command key
key_scopy kCPY *2 shifted copy key
key_screate kCRT *3 shifted create key
key_sdc kDC *4 shifted delete-character key
key_sdl kDL *5 shifted delete-line key
key_select kslt *6 select key
key_send kEND *7 shifted end key
key_seol kEOL *8 shifted clear-to-end-of-line key
key_sexit kEXT *9 shifted exit key
key_sfind kFND *0 shifted find key
key_shelp kHLP #1 shifted help key
key_shome kHOM #2 shifted home key
key_sic kIC #3 shifted insert-character key
key_sleft kLFT #4 shifted left-arrow key
key_smessage kMSG %a shifted message key
key_smove kMOV %b shifted move key
key_snext kNXT %c shifted next key
key_soptions kOPT %d shifted options key
key_sprevious kPRV %e shifted previous key
key_sprint kPRT %f shifted print key
key_sredo kRDO %g shifted redo key
key_sreplace kRPL %h shifted replace key
key_sright kRIT %i shifted right-arrow key
key_srsume kRES %j shifted resume key
key_ssave kSAV !1 shifted save key
key_ssuspend kSPD !2 shifted suspend key
key_sundo kUND !3 shifted undo key
req_for_input rfi RF send next input char (for ptys)
key_f11 kf11 F1 F11 function key
key_f12 kf12 F2 F12 function key
key_f13 kf13 F3 F13 function key
key_f14 kf14 F4 F14 function key
key_f15 kf15 F5 F15 function key
key_f16 kf16 F6 F16 function key
key_f17 kf17 F7 F17 function key
key_f18 kf18 F8 F18 function key
key_f19 kf19 F9 F19 function key
key_f20 kf20 FA F20 function key
key_f21 kf21 FB F21 function key
key_f22 kf22 FC F22 function key
key_f23 kf23 FD F23 function key
key_f24 kf24 FE F24 function key
key_f25 kf25 FF F25 function key
key_f26 kf26 FG F26 function key
key_f27 kf27 FH F27 function key
key_f28 kf28 FI F28 function key
key_f29 kf29 FJ F29 function key
key_f30 kf30 FK F30 function key
key_f31 kf31 FL F31 function key
key_f32 kf32 FM F32 function key
key_f33 kf33 FN F33 function key
key_f34 kf34 FO F34 function key
key_f35 kf35 FP F35 function key
key_f36 kf36 FQ F36 function key
key_f37 kf37 FR F37 function key
key_f38 kf38 FS F38 function key
key_f39 kf39 FT F39 function key
key_f40 kf40 FU F40 function key
key_f41 kf41 FV F41 function key
key_f42 kf42 FW F42 function key
key_f43 kf43 FX F43 function key
key_f44 kf44 FY F44 function key
key_f45 kf45 FZ F45 function key
key_f46 kf46 Fa F46 function key
key_f47 kf47 Fb F47 function key
key_f48 kf48 Fc F48 function key
key_f49 kf49 Fd F49 function key
key_f50 kf50 Fe F50 function key
key_f51 kf51 Ff F51 function key
key_f52 kf52 Fg F52 function key
key_f53 kf53 Fh F53 function key
key_f54 kf54 Fi F54 function key
key_f55 kf55 Fj F55 function key
key_f56 kf56 Fk F56 function key
key_f57 kf57 Fl F57 function key
key_f58 kf58 Fm F58 function key
key_f59 kf59 Fn F59 function key
key_f60 kf60 Fo F60 function key
key_f61 kf61 Fp F61 function key
key_f62 kf62 Fq F62 function key
key_f63 kf63 Fr F63 function key
clr_bol el1 cb Clear to beginning of line
clear_margins mgc MC clear right and left soft margins
set_left_margin smgl ML set left soft margin at current column (not in BSD termcap)
set_right_margin smgr MR set right soft margin at current column
label_format fln Lf label format
set_clock sclk SC set clock, #1 hrs #2 mins #3 secs
display_clock dclk DK display clock
remove_clock rmclk RC remove clock
create_window cwin CW define a window #1 from #2,#3 to #4,#5
goto_window wingo WG go to window #1
hangup hup HU hang-up phone
dial_phone dial DI dial number #1
quick_dial qdial QD dial number #1 without checking
tone tone TO select touch tone dialing
pulse pulse PU select pulse dialing
flash_hook hook fh flash switch hook
fixed_pause pause PA pause for 2-3 seconds
wait_tone wait WA wait for dial-tone
user0 u0 u0 User string #0
user1 u1 u1 User string #1
user2 u2 u2 User string #2
user3 u3 u3 User string #3
user4 u4 u4 User string #4
user5 u5 u5 User string #5
user6 u6 u6 User string #6
user7 u7 u7 User string #7
user8 u8 u8 User string #8
user9 u9 u9 User string #9
orig_pair op op Set default pair to its original value
orig_colors oc oc Set all color pairs to the original ones
initialize_color initc Ic initialize color #1 to (#2,#3,#4)
initialize_pair initp Ip Initialize color pair #1 to fg=(#2,#3,#4), bg=(#5,#6,#7)
set_color_pair scp sp Set current color pair to #1
set_foreground setf Sf Set foreground color #1
set_background setb Sb Set background color #1
change_char_pitch cpi ZA Change number of characters per inch to #1
change_line_pitch lpi ZB Change number of lines per inch to #1
change_res_horz chr ZC Change horizontal resolution to #1
change_res_vert cvr ZD Change vertical resolution to #1
define_char defc ZE Define a character #1, #2 dots wide, descender #3
enter_doublewide_mode swidm ZF Enter double-wide mode
enter_draft_quality sdrfq ZG Enter draft-quality mode
enter_italics_mode sitm ZH Enter italic mode
enter_leftward_mode slm ZI Start leftward carriage motion
enter_micro_mode smicm ZJ Start micro-motion mode
enter_near_letter_quality snlq ZK Enter NLQ mode
enter_normal_quality snrmq ZL Enter normal-quality mode
enter_shadow_mode sshm ZM Enter shadow-print mode
enter_subscript_mode ssubm ZN Enter subscript mode
enter_superscript_mode ssupm ZO Enter superscript mode
enter_upward_mode sum ZP Start upward carriage motion
exit_doublewide_mode rwidm ZQ End double-wide mode
exit_italics_mode ritm ZR End italic mode
exit_leftward_mode rlm ZS End left-motion mode
exit_micro_mode rmicm ZT End micro-motion mode
exit_shadow_mode rshm ZU End shadow-print mode
exit_subscript_mode rsubm ZV End subscript mode
exit_superscript_mode rsupm ZW End superscript mode
exit_upward_mode rum ZX End reverse character motion
micro_column_address mhpa ZY Like column_address in micro mode
micro_down mcud1 ZZ Like cursor_down in micro mode
micro_left mcub1 Za Like cursor_left in micro mode
micro_right mcuf1 Zb Like cursor_right in micro mode
micro_row_address mvpa Zc Like row_address #1 in micro mode
micro_up mcuu1 Zd Like cursor_up in micro mode
order_of_pins porder Ze Match software bits to print-head pins
parm_down_micro mcud Zf Like parm_down_cursor in micro mode
parm_left_micro mcub Zg Like parm_left_cursor in micro mode
parm_right_micro mcuf Zh Like parm_right_cursor in micro mode
parm_up_micro mcuu Zi Like parm_up_cursor in micro mode
select_char_set scs Zj Select character set, #1
set_bottom_margin smgb Zk Set bottom margin at current line
set_bottom_margin_parm smgbp Zl Set bottom margin at line #1 or (if smgtp is not given) #2 lines from bottom
set_left_margin_parm smglp Zm Set left (right) margin at column #1
set_right_margin_parm smgrp Zn Set right margin at column #1
set_top_margin smgt Zo Set top margin at current line
set_top_margin_parm smgtp Zp Set top (bottom) margin at row #1
start_bit_image sbim Zq Start printing bit image graphics
start_char_set_def scsd Zr Start character set definition #1, with #2 characters in the set
stop_bit_image rbim Zs Stop printing bit image graphics
stop_char_set_def rcsd Zt End definition of character set #1
subscript_characters subcs Zu List of subscriptable characters
superscript_characters supcs Zv List of superscriptable characters
these_cause_cr docr Zw Printing any of these characters causes CR
zero_motion zerom Zx No motion for subsequent character

The following string capabilities are present in the SVr4.0 term structure, but were originally not documented in the man page.

String Capability Name TI TC Description
char_set_names csnm Zy Produce #1'th item from list of character set names
key_mouse kmous Km Mouse event has occurred
mouse_info minfo Mi Mouse status information
req_mouse_pos reqmp RQ Request mouse position
get_mouse getm Gm Curses should get button events, parameter #1 not documented.
set_a_foreground setaf AF Set foreground color to #1, using ANSI escape
set_a_background setab AB Set background color to #1, using ANSI escape
pkey_plab pfxl xl Program function key #1 to type string #2 and show string #3
device_type devt dv Indicate language, codeset support
code_set_init csin ci Init sequence for multiple codesets
set0_des_seq s0ds s0 Shift to codeset 0 (EUC set 0, ASCII)
set1_des_seq s1ds s1 Shift to codeset 1
set2_des_seq s2ds s2 Shift to codeset 2
set3_des_seq s3ds s3 Shift to codeset 3
set_lr_margin smglr ML Set both left and right margins to #1, #2. (ML is not in BSD termcap).
set_tb_margin smgtb MT Sets both top and bottom margins to #1, #2
bit_image_repeat birep Xy Repeat bit image cell #1 #2 times
bit_image_newline binel Zz Move to next row of the bit image
bit_image_carriage_return bicr Yv Move to beginning of same row
color_names colornm Yw Give name for color #1
define_bit_image_region defbi Yx Define rectangular bit image region
end_bit_image_region endbi Yy End a bit-image region
set_color_band setcolor Yz Change to ribbon color #1
set_page_length slines YZ Set page length to #1 lines
display_pc_char dispc S1 Display PC character #1
enter_pc_charset_mode smpch S2 Enter PC character display mode
exit_pc_charset_mode rmpch S3 Exit PC character display mode
enter_scancode_mode smsc S4 Enter PC scancode mode
exit_scancode_mode rmsc S5 Exit PC scancode mode
pc_term_options pctrm S6 PC terminal options
scancode_escape scesc S7 Escape for scancode emulation
alt_scancode_esc scesa S8 Alternate escape for scancode emulation

The XSI Curses standard added these hardcopy capabilities. They were used in some post-4.1 versions of System V curses, e.g., Solaris 2.5 and IRIX 6.x. Except for YI, the ncurses termcap names for them are invented. According to the XSI Curses standard, they have no termcap names. If your compiled terminfo entries use these, they may not be binary-compatible with System V terminfo entries after SVr4.1; beware!

String Capability Name TI TC Description
enter_horizontal_hl_mode ehhlm Xh Enter horizontal highlight mode
enter_left_hl_mode elhlm Xl Enter left highlight mode
enter_low_hl_mode elohlm Xo Enter low highlight mode
enter_right_hl_mode erhlm Xr Enter right highlight mode
enter_top_hl_mode ethlm Xt Enter top highlight mode
enter_vertical_hl_mode evhlm Xv Enter vertical highlight mode
set_a_attributes sgr1 sA Define second set of video attributes #1-#6
set_pglen_inch slength YI Set page length to #1 hundredth of an inch (some implementations use sL for termcap).

User-Defined Capabilities

The preceding section listed the predefined capabilities. They deal with some special features for terminals no longer (or possibly never) produced. Occasionally there are special features of newer terminals which are awkward or impossible to represent by reusing the predefined capabilities.

ncurses addresses this limitation by allowing user-defined capabilities. The tic and infocmp programs provide the -x option for this purpose. When -x is set, tic treats unknown capabilities as user-defined. That is, if tic encounters a capability name which it does not recognize, it infers its type (Boolean, number or string) from the syntax and makes an extended table entry for that capability. The use_extended_names(3NCURSES) function makes this information conditionally available to applications. The ncurses library provides the data leaving most of the behavior to applications:

  • User-defined capability strings whose name begins with “k” are treated as function keys.
  • The types (Boolean, number, string) determined by tic can be inferred by successful calls on tigetflag, etc.
  • If the capability name happens to be two characters, the capability is also available through the termcap interface.

While termcap is said to be extensible because it does not use a predefined set of capabilities, in practice it has been limited to the capabilities defined by terminfo implementations. As a rule, user-defined capabilities intended for use by termcap applications should be limited to Booleans and numbers to avoid running past the 1023 byte limit assumed by termcap implementations and their applications. In particular, providing extended sets of function keys (past the 60 numbered keys and the handful of special named keys) is best done using the longer names available using terminfo.

The ncurses library uses a few of these user-defined capabilities, as described in user_caps(5). Other user-defined capabilities (including function keys) are described in the terminal database, in the section on NCURSES USER-DEFINABLE CAPABILITIES

A Sample Entry

The following entry, describing an ANSI-standard terminal, is representative of what a terminfo entry for a modern terminal typically looks like.

ansi|ansi/pc-term compatible with color,

am, mc5i, mir, msgr,
colors#8, cols#80, it#8, lines#24, ncv#3, pairs#64,
bel=^G, blink=\E[5m, bold=\E[1m, cbt=\E[Z, clear=\E[H\E[J,
cr=^M, cub=\E[%p1%dD, cub1=\E[D, cud=\E[%p1%dB, cud1=\E[B,
cuf=\E[%p1%dC, cuf1=\E[C, cup=\E[%i%p1%d;%p2%dH,
cuu=\E[%p1%dA, cuu1=\E[A, dch=\E[%p1%dP, dch1=\E[P,
dl=\E[%p1%dM, dl1=\E[M, ech=\E[%p1%dX, ed=\E[J, el=\E[K,
el1=\E[1K, home=\E[H, hpa=\E[%i%p1%dG, ht=\E[I, hts=\EH,
ich=\E[%p1%d@, il=\E[%p1%dL, il1=\E[L, ind=^J,
indn=\E[%p1%dS, invis=\E[8m, kbs=^H, kcbt=\E[Z, kcub1=\E[D,
kcud1=\E[B, kcuf1=\E[C, kcuu1=\E[A, khome=\E[H, kich1=\E[L,
mc4=\E[4i, mc5=\E[5i, nel=\r\E[S, op=\E[39;49m,
rep=%p1%c\E[%p2%{1}%-%db, rev=\E[7m, rin=\E[%p1%dT,
rmacs=\E[10m, rmpch=\E[10m, rmso=\E[m, rmul=\E[m,
s0ds=\E(B, s1ds=\E)B, s2ds=\E*B, s3ds=\E+B,
setab=\E[4%p1%dm, setaf=\E[3%p1%dm,
sgr0=\E[0;10m, smacs=\E[11m, smpch=\E[11m, smso=\E[7m,
smul=\E[4m, tbc=\E[3g, u6=\E[%i%d;%dR, u7=\E[6n,
u8=\E[?%[;0123456789]c, u9=\E[c, vpa=\E[%i%p1%dd,

Entries may continue onto multiple lines by placing white space at the beginning of each line except the first. Comments may be included on lines beginning with “#”. Capabilities in terminfo are of three types:

  • Boolean capabilities which indicate that the terminal has some particular feature,
  • numeric capabilities giving the size of the terminal or the size of particular delays, and
  • string capabilities, which give a sequence which can be used to perform particular terminal operations.

Types of Capabilities

All capabilities have names. For instance, the fact that ANSI-standard terminals have automatic margins (i.e., an automatic return and line-feed when the end of a line is reached) is indicated by the capability am. Hence the description of ansi includes am. Numeric capabilities are followed by the character “#” and then a positive value. Thus cols, which indicates the number of columns the terminal has, gives the value “80” for ansi. Values for numeric capabilities may be specified in decimal, octal, or hexadecimal, using the C programming language conventions (e.g., 255, 0377 and 0xff or 0xFF).

Finally, string valued capabilities, such as el (clear to end of line sequence) are given by the two-character code, an “=”, and then a string ending at the next following “,”.

A number of escape sequences are provided in the string valued capabilities for easy encoding of characters there:

  • Both \E and \e map to an ESCAPE character,
  • ^x maps to a control-x for any appropriate x, and
  • the sequences

\n, \l, \r, \t, \b, \f, and \s


newline, line-feed, return, tab, backspace, form-feed, and space,


X/Open Curses does not say what “appropriate x” might be. In practice, that is a printable ASCII graphic character. The special case “^?” is interpreted as DEL (127). In all other cases, the character value is AND'd with 0x1f, mapping to ASCII control codes in the range 0 through 31.

Other escapes include

  • \^ for ^,
  • \\ for \,
  • \, for comma,
  • \: for :,
  • and \0 for null.
\0 will produce \200, which does not terminate a string but behaves as a null character on most terminals, providing CS7 is specified. See stty(1).
The reason for this quirk is to maintain binary compatibility of the compiled terminfo files with other implementations, e.g., the SVr4 systems, which document this. Compiled terminfo files use null-terminated strings, with no lengths. Modifying this would require a new binary format, which would not work with other implementations.

Finally, characters may be given as three octal digits after a \.

A delay in milliseconds may appear anywhere in a string capability, enclosed in $<..> brackets, as in el=\EK$<5>, and padding characters are supplied by tputs(3NCURSES) to provide this delay.

  • The delay must be a number with at most one decimal place of precision; it may be followed by suffixes “*” or “/” or both.
  • A “*” indicates that the padding required is proportional to the number of lines affected by the operation, and the amount given is the per-affected-unit padding required. (In the case of insert character, the factor is still the number of lines affected.)
Normally, padding is advisory if the device has the xon capability; it is used for cost computation but does not trigger delays.
A “/” suffix indicates that the padding is mandatory and forces a delay of the given number of milliseconds even on devices for which xon is present to indicate flow control.

Sometimes individual capabilities must be commented out. To do this, put a period before the capability name. For example, see the second ind in the example above.

Fetching Compiled Descriptions

Terminal descriptions in ncurses are stored in terminal databases. These databases, which are found by their pathname, may be configured either as directory trees or hashed databases (see term(5)),

The library uses a compiled-in list of pathnames, which can be overridden by environment variables. Before starting to search, ncurses checks the search list, eliminating duplicates and pathnames where no terminal database is found. The ncurses library reads the first description which passes its consistency checks.

  • The environment variable TERMINFO is checked first, for a terminal database containing the terminal description.
  • Next, ncurses looks in $HOME/.terminfo for a compiled description.
This is an optional feature which may be omitted entirely from the library, or limited to prevent accidental use by privileged applications.
Next, if the environment variable TERMINFO_DIRS is set, ncurses interprets the contents of that variable as a list of colon-separated pathnames of terminal databases to be searched.
An empty pathname (i.e., if the variable begins or ends with a colon, or contains adjacent colons) is interpreted as the system location /usr/share/terminfo.
Finally, ncurses searches these compiled-in locations:
  • a list of directories (/etc/terminfo:/usr/share/terminfo), and
  • the system terminfo directory, /usr/share/terminfo

The TERMINFO variable can contain a terminal description instead of the pathname of a terminal database. If this variable begins with “hex:” or “b64:” then ncurses reads a terminal description from hexadecimal- or base64-encoded data, and if that description matches the name sought, will use that. This encoded data can be set using the “-Q” option of tic or infocmp.

The preceding addresses the usual configuration of ncurses, which uses terminal descriptions prepared in terminfo format. While termcap is less expressive, ncurses can also be configured to read termcap descriptions. In that configuration, it checks the TERMCAP and TERMPATH variables (for content and search path, respectively) after the system terminal database.

Preparing Descriptions

We now outline how to prepare descriptions of terminals. The most effective way to prepare a terminal description is by imitating the description of a similar terminal in terminfo and to build up a description gradually, using partial descriptions with vi or some other screen-oriented program to check that they are correct. Be aware that a very unusual terminal may expose deficiencies in the ability of the terminfo file to describe it or bugs in the screen-handling code of the test program.

To get the padding for insert line right (if the terminal manufacturer did not document it) a severe test is to edit a large file at 9600 baud, delete 16 or so lines from the middle of the screen, then hit the “u” key several times quickly. If the terminal messes up, more padding is usually needed. A similar test can be used for insert character.

Basic Capabilities

The number of columns on each line for the terminal is given by the cols numeric capability. If the terminal is a CRT, then the number of lines on the screen is given by the lines capability. If the terminal wraps around to the beginning of the next line when it reaches the right margin, then it should have the am capability. If the terminal can clear its screen, leaving the cursor in the home position, then this is given by the clear string capability. If the terminal overstrikes (rather than clearing a position when a character is struck over) then it should have the os capability. If the terminal is a printing terminal, with no soft copy unit, give it both hc and os. (os applies to storage scope terminals, such as TEKTRONIX 4010 series, as well as hard copy and APL terminals.) If there is a code to move the cursor to the left edge of the current line, give this as cr. (Normally this will be carriage return, control/M.) If there is a code to produce an audible signal (bell, beep, etc) give this as bel.

If there is a code to move the cursor one position to the left (such as backspace) that capability should be given as cub1. Similarly, codes to move to the right, up, and down should be given as cuf1, cuu1, and cud1. These local cursor motions should not alter the text they pass over, for example, you would not normally use “cuf1= ” because the space would erase the character moved over.

A very important point here is that the local cursor motions encoded in terminfo are undefined at the left and top edges of a CRT terminal. Programs should never attempt to backspace around the left edge, unless bw is given, and never attempt to go up locally off the top. In order to scroll text up, a program will go to the bottom left corner of the screen and send the ind (index) string.

To scroll text down, a program goes to the top left corner of the screen and sends the ri (reverse index) string. The strings ind and ri are undefined when not on their respective corners of the screen.

Parameterized versions of the scrolling sequences are indn and rin which have the same semantics as ind and ri except that they take one parameter, and scroll that many lines. They are also undefined except at the appropriate edge of the screen.

The am capability tells whether the cursor sticks at the right edge of the screen when text is output, but this does not necessarily apply to a cuf1 from the last column. The only local motion which is defined from the left edge is if bw is given, then a cub1 from the left edge will move to the right edge of the previous line. If bw is not given, the effect is undefined. This is useful for drawing a box around the edge of the screen, for example. If the terminal has switch selectable automatic margins, the terminfo file usually assumes that this is on; i.e., am. If the terminal has a command which moves to the first column of the next line, that command can be given as nel (newline). It does not matter if the command clears the remainder of the current line, so if the terminal has no cr and lf it may still be possible to craft a working nel out of one or both of them.

These capabilities suffice to describe hard-copy and “glass-tty” terminals. Thus the model 33 teletype is described as

33|tty33|tty|model 33 teletype,

bel=^G, cols#72, cr=^M, cud1=^J, hc, ind=^J, os,

while the Lear Siegler ADM-3 is described as

adm3|3|lsi adm3,

am, bel=^G, clear=^Z, cols#80, cr=^M, cub1=^H, cud1=^J,
ind=^J, lines#24,

Parameterized Strings

Cursor addressing and other strings requiring parameters in the terminal are described by a parameterized string capability, with printf-like escapes such as %x in it. For example, to address the cursor, the cup capability is given, using two parameters: the line and column to address to. (Lines and columns are numbered from zero and refer to the physical screen visible to the user, not to any unseen memory.) If the terminal has memory relative cursor addressing, that can be indicated by mrcup.

The parameter mechanism uses a stack and special % codes to manipulate it. Typically a sequence will push one of the parameters onto the stack and then print it in some format. Print (e.g., “%d”) is a special case. Other operations, including “%t” pop their operand from the stack. It is noted that more complex operations are often necessary, e.g., in the sgr string.

The % encodings have the following meanings:

outputs “%”
as in printf(3), flags are [-+#] and space. Use a “:” to allow the next character to be a “-” flag, avoiding interpreting “%-” as an operator.
print pop() like %c in printf
print pop() like %s in printf
push i'th parameter
set dynamic variable [a-z] to pop()
get dynamic variable [a-z] and push it
set static variable [a-z] to pop()
get static variable [a-z] and push it
The terms “static” and “dynamic” are misleading. Historically, these are simply two different sets of variables, whose values are not reset between calls to tparm(3NCURSES). However, that fact is not documented in other implementations. Relying on it will adversely impact portability to other implementations:
  • SVr2 curses supported dynamic variables. Those are set only by a %P operator. A %g for a given variable without first setting it with %P will give unpredictable results, because dynamic variables are an uninitialized local array on the stack in the tparm function.
  • SVr3.2 curses supported static variables. Those are an array in the TERMINAL structure (declared in term.h), and are zeroed automatically when the setupterm function allocates the data.
  • SVr4 curses made no further improvements to the dynamic/static variable feature.
  • Solaris XPG4 curses does not distinguish between dynamic and static variables. They are the same. Like SVr4 curses, XPG4 curses does not initialize these explicitly.
  • Before version 6.3, ncurses stores both dynamic and static variables in persistent storage, initialized to zeros.
  • Beginning with version 6.3, ncurses stores static and dynamic variables in the same manner as SVr4.
  • Unlike other implementations, ncurses zeros dynamic variables before the first %g or %P operator.
  • Like SVr2, the scope of dynamic variables in ncurses is within the current call to tparm. Use static variables if persistent storage is needed.
char constant c
integer constant nn
push strlen(pop)
%+, %-, %*, %/, %m
arithmetic (%m is mod): push(pop() op pop())
%&, %|, %^
bit operations (AND, OR and exclusive-OR): push(pop() op pop())
%=, %>, %<
logical operations: push(pop() op pop())
%A, %O
logical AND and OR operations (for conditionals)
%!, %~
unary operations (logical and bit complement): push(op pop())
add 1 to first two parameters (for ANSI terminals)
%? expr %t thenpart %e elsepart %;
This forms an if-then-else. The %e elsepart is optional. Usually the %? expr part pushes a value onto the stack, and %t pops it from the stack, testing if it is nonzero (true). If it is zero (false), control passes to the %e (else) part.
It is possible to form else-if's a la Algol 68:
%? c1 %t b1 %e c2 %t b2 %e c3 %t b3 %e c4 %t b4 %e %;
where ci are conditions, bi are bodies.
Use the -f option of tic or infocmp to see the structure of if-then-else's. Some strings, e.g., sgr can be very complicated when written on one line. The -f option splits the string into lines with the parts indented.

Binary operations are in postfix form with the operands in the usual order. That is, to get x-5 one would use “%gx%{5}%-”. %P and %g variables are persistent across escape-string evaluations.

Consider the HP2645, which, to get to line 3 and column 12, needs to be sent \E&a12c03Y padded for 6 milliseconds. The order of the lines and columns is inverted here, and the lines and column are printed as two digits. The corresponding terminal description is expressed thus:


The Microterm ACT-IV needs the current line and column sent preceded by a ^T, with the line and column simply encoded in binary,


Terminals which use “%c” need to be able to backspace the cursor (cub1), and to move the cursor up one line on the screen (cuu1). This is necessary because it is not always safe to transmit \n ^D and \r, as the system may change or discard them. (The library routines dealing with terminfo set tty modes so that tabs are never expanded, so \t is safe to send. This turns out to be essential for the Ann Arbor 4080.)

A final example is the LSI ADM-3a, which uses line and column offset by a blank character, thus

cup=\E=%p1%' '%+%c%p2%' '%+%c

After sending “\E=”, this pushes the first parameter, pushes the ASCII value for a space (32), adds them (pushing the sum on the stack in place of the two previous values) and outputs that value as a character. Then the same is done for the second parameter. More complex arithmetic is possible using the stack.

Cursor Motions

If the terminal has a fast way to home the cursor (to very upper left corner of screen) then this can be given as home; similarly a fast way of getting to the lower left-hand corner can be given as ll; this may involve going up with cuu1 from the home position, but a program should never do this itself (unless ll does) because it can make no assumption about the effect of moving up from the home position. Note that the home position is the same as addressing to (0,0): to the top left corner of the screen, not of memory. (Thus, the \EH sequence on HP terminals cannot be used for home.)

If the terminal has line or column absolute cursor addressing, these can be given as single parameter capabilities hpa (horizontal position absolute) and vpa (vertical position absolute). Sometimes these are shorter than the more general two parameter sequence (as with the hp2645) and can be used in preference to cup. If there are parameterized local motions (e.g., move n spaces to the right) these can be given as cud, cub, cuf, and cuu with a single parameter indicating how many spaces to move. These are primarily useful if the terminal does not have cup, such as the TEKTRONIX 4025.

If the terminal needs to be in a special mode when running a program that uses these capabilities, the codes to enter and exit this mode can be given as smcup and rmcup. This arises, for example, from terminals like the Concept with more than one page of memory. If the terminal has only memory relative cursor addressing and not screen relative cursor addressing, a one screen-sized window must be fixed into the terminal for cursor addressing to work properly. This is also used for the TEKTRONIX 4025, where smcup sets the command character to be the one used by terminfo. If the smcup sequence will not restore the screen after an rmcup sequence is output (to the state prior to outputting rmcup), specify nrrmc.


SVr4 (and X/Open Curses) list several string capabilities for setting margins. Two were intended for use with terminals, and another six were intended for use with printers.

  • The two terminal capabilities assume that the terminal may have the capability of setting the left and/or right margin at the current cursor column position.
  • The printer capabilities assume that the printer may have two types of capability:
  • the ability to set a top and/or bottom margin using the current line position, and
  • parameterized capabilities for setting the top, bottom, left, right margins given the number of lines or columns.

In practice, the categorization into “terminal” and “printer” is not suitable:

The AT&T SVr4 terminal database uses smgl four times, for AT&T hardware.
Three of the four are printers. They lack the ability to set left/right margins by specifying the column.
Other (non-AT&T) terminals may support margins but using different assumptions from AT&T.
For instance, the DEC VT420 supports left/right margins, but only using a column parameter. As an added complication, the VT420 uses two settings to fully enable left/right margins (left/right margin mode, and origin mode). The former enables the margins, which causes printed text to wrap within margins, but the latter is needed to prevent cursor-addressing outside those margins.
Both DEC VT420 left/right margins are set with a single control sequence. If either is omitted, the corresponding margin is set to the left or right edge of the display (rather than leaving the margin unmodified).

These are the margin-related capabilities:

Name Description
smgl Set left margin at current column
smgr Set right margin at current column
smgb Set bottom margin at current line
smgt Set top margin at current line
smgbp Set bottom margin at line N
smglp Set left margin at column N
smgrp Set right margin at column N
smgtp Set top margin at line N
smglr Set both left and right margins to L and R
smgtb Set both top and bottom margins to T and B

When writing an application that uses these string capabilities, the pairs should be first checked to see if each capability in the pair is set or only one is set:

  • If both smglp and smgrp are set, each is used with a single argument, N, that gives the column number of the left and right margin, respectively.
  • If both smgtp and smgbp are set, each is used to set the top and bottom margin, respectively:
  • smgtp is used with a single argument, N, the line number of the top margin.
  • smgbp is used with two arguments, N and M, that give the line number of the bottom margin, the first counting from the top of the page and the second counting from the bottom. This accommodates the two styles of specifying the bottom margin in different manufacturers' printers.
When designing a terminfo entry for a printer that has a settable bottom margin, only the first or second argument should be used, depending on the printer. When developing an application that uses smgbp to set the bottom margin, both arguments must be given.

Conversely, when only one capability in the pair is set:

  • If only one of smglp and smgrp is set, then it is used with two arguments, the column number of the left and right margins, in that order.
  • Likewise, if only one of smgtp and smgbp is set, then it is used with two arguments that give the top and bottom margins, in that order, counting from the top of the page.
When designing a terminfo entry for a printer that requires setting both left and right or top and bottom margins simultaneously, only one capability in the pairs smglp and smgrp or smgtp and smgbp should be defined, leaving the other unset.

Except for very old terminal descriptions, e.g., those developed for SVr4, the scheme just described should be considered obsolete. An improved set of capabilities was added late in the SVr4 releases (smglr and smgtb), which explicitly use two parameters for setting the left/right or top/bottom margins.

When setting margins, the line- and column-values are zero-based.

The mgc string capability should be defined. Applications such as tabs(1) rely upon this to reset all margins.

Area Clears

If the terminal can clear from the current position to the end of the line, leaving the cursor where it is, this should be given as el. If the terminal can clear from the beginning of the line to the current position inclusive, leaving the cursor where it is, this should be given as el1. If the terminal can clear from the current position to the end of the display, then this should be given as ed. Ed is only defined from the first column of a line. (Thus, it can be simulated by a request to delete a large number of lines, if a true ed is not available.)

Insert/Delete Line and Vertical Motions

If the terminal can open a new blank line before the line where the cursor is, this should be given as il1; this is done only from the first position of a line. The cursor must then appear on the newly blank line. If the terminal can delete the line which the cursor is on, then this should be given as dl1; this is done only from the first position on the line to be deleted. Versions of il1 and dl1 which take a single parameter and insert or delete that many lines can be given as il and dl.

If the terminal has a settable scrolling region (like the vt100) the command to set this can be described with the csr capability, which takes two parameters: the top and bottom lines of the scrolling region. The cursor position is, alas, undefined after using this command.

It is possible to get the effect of insert or delete line using csr on a properly chosen region; the sc and rc (save and restore cursor) commands may be useful for ensuring that your synthesized insert/delete string does not move the cursor. (Note that the ncurses(3NCURSES) library does this synthesis automatically, so you need not compose insert/delete strings for an entry with csr).

Yet another way to construct insert and delete might be to use a combination of index with the memory-lock feature found on some terminals (like the HP-700/90 series, which however also has insert/delete).

Inserting lines at the top or bottom of the screen can also be done using ri or ind on many terminals without a true insert/delete line, and is often faster even on terminals with those features.

The Boolean non_dest_scroll_region should be set if each scrolling window is effectively a view port on a screen-sized canvas. To test for this capability, create a scrolling region in the middle of the screen, write something to the bottom line, move the cursor to the top of the region, and do ri followed by dl1 or ind. If the data scrolled off the bottom of the region by the ri re-appears, then scrolling is non-destructive. System V and X/Open Curses expect that ind, ri, indn, and rin will simulate destructive scrolling; their documentation cautions you not to define csr unless this is true. This curses implementation is more liberal and will do explicit erases after scrolling if ndsrc is defined.

If the terminal has the ability to define a window as part of memory, which all commands affect, it should be given as the parameterized string wind. The four parameters are the starting and ending lines in memory and the starting and ending columns in memory, in that order.

If the terminal can retain display memory above, then the da capability should be given; if display memory can be retained below, then db should be given. These indicate that deleting a line or scrolling may bring non-blank lines up from below or that scrolling back with ri may bring down non-blank lines.

Insert/Delete Character

There are two basic kinds of intelligent terminals with respect to insert/delete character which can be described using terminfo. The most common insert/delete character operations affect only the characters on the current line and shift characters off the end of the line rigidly. Other terminals, such as the Concept 100 and the Perkin Elmer Owl, make a distinction between typed and untyped blanks on the screen, shifting upon an insert or delete only to an untyped blank on the screen which is either eliminated, or expanded to two untyped blanks.

You can determine the kind of terminal you have by clearing the screen and then typing text separated by cursor motions. Type “abc    def” using local cursor motions (not spaces) between the “abc” and the “def”. Then position the cursor before the “abc” and put the terminal in insert mode. If typing characters causes the rest of the line to shift rigidly and characters to fall off the end, then your terminal does not distinguish between blanks and untyped positions. If the “abc” shifts over to the “def” which then move together around the end of the current line and onto the next as you insert, you have the second type of terminal, and should give the capability in, which stands for “insert null”.

While these are two logically separate attributes (one line versus multi-line insert mode, and special treatment of untyped spaces) we have seen no terminals whose insert mode cannot be described with the single attribute.

Terminfo can describe both terminals which have an insert mode, and terminals which send a simple sequence to open a blank position on the current line. Give as smir the sequence to get into insert mode. Give as rmir the sequence to leave insert mode. Now give as ich1 any sequence needed to be sent just before sending the character to be inserted. Most terminals with a true insert mode will not give ich1; terminals which send a sequence to open a screen position should give it here.

If your terminal has both, insert mode is usually preferable to ich1. Technically, you should not give both unless the terminal actually requires both to be used in combination. Accordingly, some non-curses applications get confused if both are present; the symptom is doubled characters in an update using insert. This requirement is now rare; most ich sequences do not require previous smir, and most smir insert modes do not require ich1 before each character. Therefore, the new curses actually assumes this is the case and uses either rmir/smir or ich/ich1 as appropriate (but not both). If you have to write an entry to be used under new curses for a terminal old enough to need both, include the rmir/smir sequences in ich1.

If post insert padding is needed, give this as a number of milliseconds in ip (a string option). Any other sequence which may need to be sent after an insert of a single character may also be given in ip. If your terminal needs both to be placed into an “insert mode” and a special code to precede each inserted character, then both smir/rmir and ich1 can be given, and both will be used. The ich capability, with one parameter, n, will repeat the effects of ich1 n times.

If padding is necessary between characters typed while not in insert mode, give this as a number of milliseconds padding in rmp.

It is occasionally necessary to move around while in insert mode to delete characters on the same line (e.g., if there is a tab after the insertion position). If your terminal allows motion while in insert mode you can give the capability mir to speed up inserting in this case. Omitting mir will affect only speed. Some terminals (notably Datamedia's) must not have mir because of the way their insert mode works.

Finally, you can specify dch1 to delete a single character, dch with one parameter, n, to delete ncharacters, and delete mode by giving smdc and rmdc to enter and exit delete mode (any mode the terminal needs to be placed in for dch1 to work).

A command to erase n characters (equivalent to outputting n blanks without moving the cursor) can be given as ech with one parameter.

Highlighting, Underlining, and Visible Bells

If your terminal has one or more kinds of display attributes, these can be represented in a number of different ways. You should choose one display form as standout mode, representing a good, high contrast, easy-on-the-eyes, format for highlighting error messages and other attention getters. (If you have a choice, reverse video plus half-bright is good, or reverse video alone.) The sequences to enter and exit standout mode are given as smso and rmso, respectively. If the code to change into or out of standout mode leaves one or even two blank spaces on the screen, as the TVI 912 and Teleray 1061 do, then xmc should be given to tell how many spaces are left.

Codes to begin underlining and end underlining can be given as smul and rmul respectively. If the terminal has a code to underline the current character and move the cursor one space to the right, such as the Microterm Mime, this can be given as uc.

Other capabilities to enter various highlighting modes include blink (blinking) bold (bold or extra bright) dim (dim or half-bright) invis (blanking or invisible text) prot (protected) rev (reverse video) sgr0 (turn off all attribute modes) smacs (enter alternate character set mode) and rmacs (exit alternate character set mode). Turning on any of these modes singly may or may not turn off other modes.

If there is a sequence to set arbitrary combinations of modes, this should be given as sgr (set attributes), taking 9 parameters. Each parameter is either zero (0) or nonzero, as the corresponding attribute is on or off. The 9 parameters are, in order: standout, underline, reverse, blink, dim, bold, blank, protect, alternate character set. Not all modes need be supported by sgr, only those for which corresponding separate attribute commands exist.

For example, the DEC vt220 supports most of the modes:

tparm Parameter Attribute Escape Sequence
none none \E[0m
p1 standout \E[0;1;7m
p2 underline \E[0;4m
p3 reverse \E[0;7m
p4 blink \E[0;5m
p5 dim not available
p6 bold \E[0;1m
p7 invis \E[0;8m
p8 protect not used
p9 altcharset ^O (off) ^N (on)

We begin each escape sequence by turning off any existing modes, since there is no quick way to determine whether they are active. Standout is set up to be the combination of reverse and bold. The vt220 terminal has a protect mode, though it is not commonly used in sgr because it protects characters on the screen from the host's erasures. The altcharset mode also is different in that it is either ^O or ^N, depending on whether it is off or on. If all modes are turned on, the resulting sequence is \E[0;1;4;5;7;8m^N.

Some sequences are common to different modes. For example, ;7 is output when either p1 or p3 is true, that is, if either standout or reverse modes are turned on.

Writing out the above sequences, along with their dependencies yields

Sequence When to Output terminfo Translation
\E[0 always \E[0
;1 if p1 or p6 %?%p1%p6%|%t;1%;
;4 if p2 %?%p2%|%t;4%;
;5 if p4 %?%p4%|%t;5%;
;7 if p1 or p3 %?%p1%p3%|%t;7%;
;8 if p7 %?%p7%|%t;8%;
m always m
^N or ^O if p9 ^N, else ^O %?%p9%t^N%e^O%;

Putting this all together into the sgr sequence gives:


Remember that if you specify sgr, you must also specify sgr0. Also, some implementations rely on sgr being given if sgr0 is, Not all terminfo entries necessarily have an sgr string, however. Many terminfo entries are derived from termcap entries which have no sgr string. The only drawback to adding an sgr string is that termcap also assumes that sgr0 does not exit alternate character set mode.

Terminals with the “magic cookie” glitch (xmc) deposit special “cookies” when they receive mode-setting sequences, which affect the display algorithm rather than having extra bits for each character. Some terminals, such as the HP 2621, automatically leave standout mode when they move to a new line or the cursor is addressed. Programs using standout mode should exit standout mode before moving the cursor or sending a newline, unless the msgr capability, asserting that it is safe to move in standout mode, is present.

If the terminal has a way of flashing the screen to indicate an error quietly (a bell replacement) then this can be given as flash; it must not move the cursor.

If the cursor needs to be made more visible than normal when it is not on the bottom line (to make, for example, a non-blinking underline into an easier to find block or blinking underline) give this sequence as cvvis. If there is a way to make the cursor completely invisible, give that as civis. The capability cnorm should be given which undoes the effects of both of these modes.

If your terminal correctly generates underlined characters (with no special codes needed) even though it does not overstrike, then you should give the capability ul. If a character overstriking another leaves both characters on the screen, specify the capability os. If overstrikes are erasable with a blank, then this should be indicated by giving eo.

Keypad and Function Keys

If the terminal has a keypad that transmits codes when the keys are pressed, this information can be given. Note that it is not possible to handle terminals where the keypad only works in local (this applies, for example, to the unshifted HP 2621 keys). If the keypad can be set to transmit or not transmit, give these codes as smkx and rmkx. Otherwise the keypad is assumed to always transmit.

The codes sent by the left arrow, right arrow, up arrow, down arrow, and home keys can be given as kcub1, kcuf1, kcuu1, kcud1, and khome respectively. If there are function keys such as f0, f1, ..., f10, the codes they send can be given as kf0, kf1, ..., kf10. If these keys have labels other than the default f0 through f10, the labels can be given as lf0, lf1, ..., lf10.

The codes transmitted by certain other special keys can be given:

  • kll (home down),
  • kbs (backspace),
  • ktbc (clear all tabs),
  • kctab (clear the tab stop in this column),
  • kclr (clear screen or erase key),
  • kdch1 (delete character),
  • kdl1 (delete line),
  • krmir (exit insert mode),
  • kel (clear to end of line),
  • ked (clear to end of screen),
  • kich1 (insert character or enter insert mode),
  • kil1 (insert line),
  • knp (next page),
  • kpp (previous page),
  • kind (scroll forward/down),
  • kri (scroll backward/up),
  • khts (set a tab stop in this column).

In addition, if the keypad has a 3 by 3 array of keys including the four arrow keys, the other five keys can be given as ka1, ka3, kb2, kc1, and kc3. These keys are useful when the effects of a 3 by 3 directional pad are needed.

Strings to program function keys can be given as pfkey, pfloc, and pfx. A string to program screen labels should be specified as pln. Each of these strings takes two parameters: the function key number to program (from 0 to 10) and the string to program it with. Function key numbers out of this range may program undefined keys in a terminal dependent manner. The difference between the capabilities is that pfkey causes pressing the given key to be the same as the user typing the given string; pfloc causes the string to be executed by the terminal in local; and pfx causes the string to be transmitted to the computer.

The capabilities nlab, lw and lh define the number of programmable screen labels and their width and height. If there are commands to turn the labels on and off, give them in smln and rmln. smln is normally output after one or more pln sequences to make sure that the change becomes visible.

Tabs and Initialization

A few capabilities are used only for tabs:

  • If the terminal has hardware tabs, the command to advance to the next tab stop can be given as ht (usually control/I).
  • A “back-tab” command which moves leftward to the preceding tab stop can be given as cbt.
By convention, if the teletype modes indicate that tabs are being expanded by the computer rather than being sent to the terminal, programs should not use ht or cbt even if they are present, since the user may not have the tab stops properly set.
If the terminal has hardware tabs which are initially set every n spaces when the terminal is powered up, the numeric parameter it is given, showing the number of spaces the tabs are set to.
The it capability is normally used by the tset command to determine whether to set the mode for hardware tab expansion, and whether to set the tab stops. If the terminal has tab stops that can be saved in non-volatile memory, the terminfo description can assume that they are properly set.

Other capabilities include

  • is1, is2, and is3, initialization strings for the terminal,
  • iprog, the path name of a program to be run to initialize the terminal,
  • and if, the name of a file containing long initialization strings.

These strings are expected to set the terminal into modes consistent with the rest of the terminfo description. They are normally sent to the terminal, by the init option of the tput program, each time the user logs in. They will be printed in the following order:


is1 and
mgc or
smglp and smgrp or
smgl and smgr
tbc and hts

Most initialization is done with is2. Special terminal modes can be set up without duplicating strings by putting the common sequences in is2 and special cases in is1 and is3.

A set of sequences that does a harder reset from a totally unknown state can be given as rs1, rs2, rf and rs3, analogous to is1 , is2 , if and is3 respectively. These strings are output by reset option of tput, or by the reset program (an alias of tset), which is used when the terminal gets into a wedged state. Commands are normally placed in rs1, rs2 rs3 and rf only if they produce annoying effects on the screen and are not necessary when logging in. For example, the command to set the vt100 into 80-column mode would normally be part of is2, but it causes an annoying glitch of the screen and is not normally needed since the terminal is usually already in 80-column mode.

The reset program writes strings including iprog, etc., in the same order as the init program, using rs1, etc., instead of is1, etc. If any of rs1, rs2, rs3, or rf reset capability strings are missing, the reset program falls back upon the corresponding initialization capability string.

If there are commands to set and clear tab stops, they can be given as tbc (clear all tab stops) and hts (set a tab stop in the current column of every line). If a more complex sequence is needed to set the tabs than can be described by this, the sequence can be placed in is2 or if.

The tput reset command uses the same capability strings as the reset command, although the two programs (tput and reset) provide different command-line options.

In practice, these terminfo capabilities are not often used in initialization of tabs (though they are required for the tabs program):

Almost all hardware terminals (at least those which supported tabs) initialized those to every eight columns:
The only exception was the AT&T 2300 series, which set tabs to every five columns.
  • In particular, developers of the hardware terminals which are commonly used as models for modern terminal emulators provided documentation demonstrating that eight columns were the standard.
  • Because of this, the terminal initialization programs tput and tset use the tbc (clear_all_tabs) and hts (set_tab) capabilities directly only when the it (init_tabs) capability is set to a value other than eight.

Delays and Padding

Many older and slower terminals do not support either XON/XOFF or DTR handshaking, including hard copy terminals and some very archaic CRTs (including, for example, DEC VT100s). These may require padding characters after certain cursor motions and screen changes.

If the terminal uses xon/xoff handshaking for flow control (that is, it automatically emits ^S back to the host when its input buffers are close to full), set xon. This capability suppresses the emission of padding. You can also set it for memory-mapped console devices effectively that do not have a speed limit. Padding information should still be included so that routines can make better decisions about relative costs, but actual pad characters will not be transmitted.

If pb (padding baud rate) is given, padding is suppressed at baud rates below the value of pb. If the entry has no padding baud rate, then whether padding is emitted or not is completely controlled by xon.

If the terminal requires other than a null (zero) character as a pad, then this can be given as pad. Only the first character of the pad string is used.

Status Lines

Some terminals have an extra “status line” which is not normally used by software (and thus not counted in the terminal's lines capability).

The simplest case is a status line which is cursor-addressable but not part of the main scrolling region on the screen; the Heathkit H19 has a status line of this kind, as would a 24-line VT100 with a 23-line scrolling region set up on initialization. This situation is indicated by the hs capability.

Some terminals with status lines need special sequences to access the status line. These may be expressed as a string with single parameter tsl which takes the cursor to a given zero-origin column on the status line. The capability fsl must return to the main-screen cursor positions before the last tsl. You may need to embed the string values of sc (save cursor) and rc (restore cursor) in tsl and fsl to accomplish this.

The status line is normally assumed to be the same width as the width of the terminal. If this is untrue, you can specify it with the numeric capability wsl.

A command to erase or blank the status line may be specified as dsl.

The Boolean capability eslok specifies that escape sequences, tabs, etc., work ordinarily in the status line.

The ncurses implementation does not yet use any of these capabilities. They are documented here in case they ever become important.

Line Graphics

Many terminals have alternate character sets useful for forms-drawing. Terminfo and curses have built-in support for most of the drawing characters supported by the VT100, with some characters from the AT&T 4410v1 added. This alternate character set may be specified by the acsc capability.

ACS Name Value Symbol ASCII Fallback / Glyph Name
ACS_RARROW 0x2b + > arrow pointing right
ACS_LARROW 0x2c , < arrow pointing left
ACS_UARROW 0x2d - ^ arrow pointing up
ACS_DARROW 0x2e . v arrow pointing down
ACS_BLOCK 0x30 0 # solid square block
ACS_DIAMOND 0x60 ` + diamond
ACS_CKBOARD 0x61 a : checker board (stipple)
ACS_DEGREE 0x66 f \ degree symbol
ACS_PLMINUS 0x67 g # plus/minus
ACS_BOARD 0x68 h # board of squares
ACS_LANTERN 0x69 i # lantern symbol
ACS_LRCORNER 0x6a j + lower right corner
ACS_URCORNER 0x6b k + upper right corner
ACS_ULCORNER 0x6c l + upper left corner
ACS_LLCORNER 0x6d m + lower left corner
ACS_PLUS 0x6e n + large plus or crossover
ACS_S1 0x6f o ~ scan line 1
ACS_S3 0x70 p - scan line 3
ACS_HLINE 0x71 q - horizontal line
ACS_S7 0x72 r - scan line 7
ACS_S9 0x73 s _ scan line 9
ACS_LTEE 0x74 t + tee pointing right
ACS_RTEE 0x75 u + tee pointing left
ACS_BTEE 0x76 v + tee pointing up
ACS_TTEE 0x77 w + tee pointing down
ACS_VLINE 0x78 x | vertical line
ACS_LEQUAL 0x79 y < less-than-or-equal-to
ACS_GEQUAL 0x7a z > greater-than-or-equal-to
ACS_PI 0x7b { * greek pi
ACS_NEQUAL 0x7c | ! not-equal
ACS_STERLING 0x7d } f UK pound sign
ACS_BULLET 0x7e ~ o bullet

A few notes apply to the table itself:

  • X/Open Curses incorrectly states that the mapping for lantern is uppercase “I” although Unix implementations use the lowercase “i” mapping.
  • The DEC VT100 implemented graphics using the alternate character set feature, temporarily switching modes and sending characters in the range 0x60 (96) to 0x7e (126) (the acsc Value column in the table).
  • The AT&T terminal added graphics characters outside that range.
Some of the characters within the range do not match the VT100; presumably they were used in the AT&T terminal: board of squares replaces the VT100 newline symbol, while lantern symbol replaces the VT100 vertical tab symbol. The other VT100 symbols for control characters (horizontal tab, carriage return and line-feed) are not (re)used in curses.

The best way to define a new device's graphics set is to add a column to a copy of this table for your terminal, giving the character which (when emitted between smacs/rmacs switches) will be rendered as the corresponding graphic. Then read off the VT100/your terminal character pairs right to left in sequence; these become the ACSC string.

Color Handling

The curses library functions init_pair and init_color manipulate the color pairs and color values discussed in this section (see color(3NCURSES) for details on these and related functions).

Most color terminals are either “Tektronix-like” or “HP-like”:

  • Tektronix-like terminals have a predefined set of N colors (where N is usually 8), and can set character-cell foreground and background characters independently, mixing them into N * N color pairs.
  • On HP-like terminals, the user must set each color pair up separately (foreground and background are not independently settable). Up to M color pairs may be set up from 2*M different colors. ANSI-compatible terminals are Tektronix-like.

Some basic color capabilities are independent of the color method. The numeric capabilities colors and pairs specify the maximum numbers of colors and color pairs that can be displayed simultaneously. The op (original pair) string resets foreground and background colors to their default values for the terminal. The oc string resets all colors or color pairs to their default values for the terminal. Some terminals (including many PC terminal emulators) erase screen areas with the current background color rather than the power-up default background; these should have the Boolean capability bce.

While the curses library works with color pairs (reflecting the inability of some devices to set foreground and background colors independently), there are separate capabilities for setting these features:

  • To change the current foreground or background color on a Tektronix-type terminal, use setaf (set ANSI foreground) and setab (set ANSI background) or setf (set foreground) and setb (set background). These take one parameter, the color number. The SVr4 documentation describes only setaf/setab; the XPG4 draft says that "If the terminal supports ANSI escape sequences to set background and foreground, they should be coded as setaf and setab, respectively.
  • If the terminal supports other escape sequences to set background and foreground, they should be coded as setf and setb, respectively. The vidputs and the refresh(3NCURSES) functions use the setaf and setab capabilities if they are defined.

The setaf/setab and setf/setb capabilities take a single numeric argument each. Argument values 0-7 of setaf/setab are portably defined as follows (the middle column is the symbolic #define available in the header for the curses or ncurses libraries). The terminal hardware is free to map these as it likes, but the RGB values indicate normal locations in color space.

Color #define Value RGB
black COLOR_BLACK 0 0, 0, 0
red COLOR_RED 1 max, 0, 0
green COLOR_GREEN 2 0, max, 0
yellow COLOR_YELLOW 3 max, max, 0
blue COLOR_BLUE 4 0, 0, max
magenta COLOR_MAGENTA 5 max, 0, max
cyan COLOR_CYAN 6 0, max, max
white COLOR_WHITE 7 max, max, max

The argument values of setf/setb historically correspond to a different mapping, i.e.,

Color #define Value RGB
black COLOR_BLACK 0 0, 0, 0
blue COLOR_BLUE 1 0, 0, max
green COLOR_GREEN 2 0, max, 0
cyan COLOR_CYAN 3 0, max, max
red COLOR_RED 4 max, 0, 0
magenta COLOR_MAGENTA 5 max, 0, max
yellow COLOR_YELLOW 6 max, max, 0
white COLOR_WHITE 7 max, max, max

It is important to not confuse the two sets of color capabilities; otherwise red/blue will be interchanged on the display.

On an HP-like terminal, use scp with a color pair number parameter to set which color pair is current.

Some terminals allow the color values to be modified:

  • On a Tektronix-like terminal, the capability ccc may be present to indicate that colors can be modified. If so, the initc capability will take a color number (0 to colors - 1)and three more parameters which describe the color. These three parameters default to being interpreted as RGB (Red, Green, Blue) values. If the Boolean capability hls is present, they are instead as HLS (Hue, Lightness, Saturation) indices. The ranges are terminal-dependent.
  • On an HP-like terminal, initp may give a capability for changing a color pair value. It will take seven parameters; a color pair number (0 to max_pairs - 1), and two triples describing first background and then foreground colors. These parameters must be (Red, Green, Blue) or (Hue, Lightness, Saturation) depending on hls.

On some color terminals, colors collide with highlights. You can register these collisions with the ncv capability. This is a bit mask of attributes not to be used when colors are enabled. The correspondence with the attributes understood by curses is as follows:

Attribute Bit Decimal Set by
A_STANDOUT 0 1 sgr
A_REVERSE 2 4 sgr
A_BLINK 3 8 sgr
A_DIM 4 16 sgr
A_BOLD 5 32 sgr
A_INVIS 6 64 sgr
A_PROTECT 7 128 sgr
A_ALTCHARSET 8 256 sgr
A_HORIZONTAL 9 512 sgr1
A_LEFT 10 1024 sgr1
A_LOW 11 2048 sgr1
A_RIGHT 12 4096 sgr1
A_TOP 13 8192 sgr1
A_VERTICAL 14 16384 sgr1
A_ITALIC 15 32768 sitm

For example, on many IBM PC consoles, the underline attribute collides with the foreground color blue and is not available in color mode. These should have an ncv capability of 2.

SVr4 curses does nothing with ncv, ncurses recognizes it and optimizes the output in favor of colors.


If the terminal requires other than a null (zero) character as a pad, then this can be given as pad. Only the first character of the pad string is used. If the terminal does not have a pad character, specify npc. Note that ncurses implements the termcap-compatible PC variable; though the application may set this value to something other than a null, ncurses will test npc first and use napms if the terminal has no pad character.

If the terminal can move up or down half a line, this can be indicated with hu (half-line up) and hd (half-line down). This is primarily useful for superscripts and subscripts on hard-copy terminals. If a hard-copy terminal can eject to the next page (form feed), give this as ff (usually control/L).

If there is a command to repeat a given character a given number of times (to save time transmitting a large number of identical characters) this can be indicated with the parameterized string rep. The first parameter is the character to be repeated and the second is the number of times to repeat it. Thus, tparm(repeat_char, 'x', 10) is the same as “xxxxxxxxxx”.

If the terminal has a settable command character, such as the TEKTRONIX 4025, this can be indicated with cmdch. A prototype command character is chosen which is used in all capabilities. This character is given in the cmdch capability to identify it. The following convention is supported on some Unix systems: The environment is to be searched for a CC variable, and if found, all occurrences of the prototype character are replaced with the character in the environment variable.

Terminal descriptions that do not represent a specific kind of known terminal, such as switch, dialup, patch, and network, should include the gn (generic) capability so that programs can complain that they do not know how to talk to the terminal. (This capability does not apply to virtual terminal descriptions for which the escape sequences are known.)

If the terminal has a “meta key” which acts as a shift key, setting the 8th bit of any character transmitted, this fact can be indicated with km. Otherwise, software will assume that the 8th bit is parity and it will usually be cleared. If strings exist to turn this “meta mode” on and off, they can be given as smm and rmm.

If the terminal has more lines of memory than will fit on the screen at once, the number of lines of memory can be indicated with lm. A value of lm#0 indicates that the number of lines is not fixed, but that there is still more memory than fits on the screen.

If the terminal is one of those supported by the Unix virtual terminal protocol, the terminal number can be given as vt.

Media copy strings which control an auxiliary printer connected to the terminal can be given as mc0: print the contents of the screen, mc4: turn off the printer, and mc5: turn on the printer. When the printer is on, all text sent to the terminal will be sent to the printer. It is undefined whether the text is also displayed on the terminal screen when the printer is on. A variation mc5p takes one parameter, and leaves the printer on for as many characters as the value of the parameter, then turns the printer off. The parameter should not exceed 255. All text, including mc4, is transparently passed to the printer while an mc5p is in effect.

Glitches and Brain Damage

Hazeltine terminals, which do not allow “~” characters to be displayed should indicate hz.

Terminals which ignore a line-feed immediately after an am wrap, such as the Concept and vt100, should indicate xenl.

If el is required to get rid of standout (instead of merely writing normal text on top of it), xhp should be given.

Teleray terminals, where tabs turn all characters moved over to blanks, should indicate xt (destructive tabs). Note: the variable indicating this is now “dest_tabs_magic_smso”; in older versions, it was teleray_glitch. This glitch is also taken to mean that it is not possible to position the cursor on top of a “magic cookie”, that to erase standout mode it is instead necessary to use delete and insert line. The ncurses implementation ignores this glitch.

The Beehive Superbee, which is unable to correctly transmit the escape or control/C characters, has xsb, indicating that the f1 key is used for escape and f2 for control/C. (Only certain Superbees have this problem, depending on the ROM.) Note that in older terminfo versions, this capability was called “beehive_glitch”; it is now “no_esc_ctl_c”.

Other specific terminal problems may be corrected by adding more capabilities of the form xx.

Pitfalls of Long Entries

Long terminfo entries are unlikely to be a problem; to date, no entry has even approached terminfo's 4096-byte string-table maximum. Unfortunately, the termcap translations are much more strictly limited (to 1023 bytes), thus termcap translations of long terminfo entries can cause problems.

The man pages for 4.3BSD and older versions of tgetent instruct the user to allocate a 1024-byte buffer for the termcap entry. The entry gets null-terminated by the termcap library, so that makes the maximum safe length for a termcap entry 1k-1 (1023) bytes. Depending on what the application and the termcap library being used does, and where in the termcap file the terminal type that tgetent is searching for is, several bad things can happen:

  • some termcap libraries print a warning message,
  • some exit if they find an entry that's longer than 1023 bytes,
  • some neither exit nor warn, doing nothing useful, and
  • some simply truncate the entries to 1023 bytes.

Some application programs allocate more than the recommended 1K for the termcap entry; others do not.

Each termcap entry has two important sizes associated with it: before “tc” expansion, and after “tc” expansion. “tc” is the capability that tacks on another termcap entry to the end of the current one, to add on its capabilities. If a termcap entry does not use the “tc” capability, then of course the two lengths are the same.

The “before tc expansion” length is the most important one, because it affects more than just users of that particular terminal. This is the length of the entry as it exists in /etc/termcap, minus the backslash-newline pairs, which tgetent strips out while reading it. Some termcap libraries strip off the final newline, too (GNU termcap does not). Now suppose:

  • a termcap entry before expansion is more than 1023 bytes long,
  • and the application has only allocated a 1k buffer,
  • and the termcap library (like the one in BSD/OS 1.1 and GNU) reads the whole entry into the buffer, no matter what its length, to see if it is the entry it wants,
  • and tgetent is searching for a terminal type that either is the long entry, appears in the termcap file after the long entry, or does not appear in the file at all (so that tgetent has to search the whole termcap file).

Then tgetent will overwrite memory, perhaps its stack, and probably core dump the program. Programs like telnet are particularly vulnerable; modern telnets pass along values like the terminal type automatically. The results are almost as undesirable with a termcap library, like SunOS 4.1.3 and Ultrix 4.4, that prints warning messages when it reads an overly long termcap entry. If a termcap library truncates long entries, like OSF/1 3.0, it is immune to dying here but will return incorrect data for the terminal.

The “after tc expansion” length will have a similar effect to the above, but only for people who actually set TERM to that terminal type, since tgetent only does “tc” expansion once it is found the terminal type it was looking for, not while searching.

In summary, a termcap entry that is longer than 1023 bytes can cause, on various combinations of termcap libraries and applications, a core dump, warnings, or incorrect operation. If it is too long even before “tc” expansion, it will have this effect even for users of some other terminal types and users whose TERM variable does not have a termcap entry.

When in -C (translate to termcap) mode, the ncurses implementation of tic(1) issues warning messages when the pre-tc length of a termcap translation is too long. The -c (check) option also checks resolved (after tc expansion) lengths.


compiled terminal description database directory


Searching for terminal descriptions in $HOME/.terminfo and TERMINFO_DIRS is not supported by older implementations.

Some SVr4 curses implementations, and all previous to SVr4, do not interpret the %A and %O operators in parameter strings.

SVr4/XPG4 do not specify whether msgr licenses movement while in an alternate-character-set mode (such modes may, among other things, map CR and NL to characters that do not trigger local motions). The ncurses implementation ignores msgr in ALTCHARSET mode. This raises the possibility that an XPG4 implementation making the opposite interpretation may need terminfo entries made for ncurses to have msgr turned off.

The ncurses library handles insert-character and insert-character modes in a slightly non-standard way to get better update efficiency. See the Insert/Delete Character subsection above.

The parameter substitutions for set_clock and display_clock are not documented in SVr4 or X/Open Curses. They are deduced from the documentation for the AT&T 505 terminal.

Be careful assigning the kmous capability. The ncurses library wants to interpret it as KEY_MOUSE, for use by terminals and emulators like xterm that can return mouse-tracking information in the keyboard-input stream.

X/Open Curses does not mention italics. Portable applications must assume that numeric capabilities are signed 16-bit values. This includes the no_color_video (ncv) capability. The 32768 mask value used for italics with ncv can be confused with an absent or cancelled ncv. If italics should work with colors, then the ncv value must be specified, even if it is zero.

Different commercial ports of terminfo and curses support different subsets of X/Open Curses and (in some cases) different extensions. Here is a summary, accurate as of October 1995, after which the commercial Unix market contracted and lost diversity.

  • SVr4, Solaris, and ncurses support all SVr4 capabilities.
  • IRIX supports the SVr4 set and adds one undocumented extended string capability (set_pglen).
  • SVr1 and Ultrix support a restricted subset of terminfo capabilities. The Booleans end with xon_xoff; the numerics with width_status_line; and the strings with prtr_non.
  • HP/UX supports the SVr1 subset, plus the SVr[234] numerics num_labels, label_height, label_width, plus function keys 11 through 63, plus plab_norm, label_on, and label_off, plus a number of incompatible string table extensions.
  • AIX supports the SVr1 subset, plus function keys 11 through 63, plus a number of incompatible string table extensions.
  • OSF/1 supports both the SVr4 set and the AIX extensions.


Do not count on compiled (binary) terminfo entries being portable between commercial Unix systems. At least two implementations of terminfo (those of HP-UX and AIX) diverged from those of other System V Unices after SVr1, adding extension capabilities to the string table that (in the binary format) collide with subsequent System V and X/Open Curses extensions.


Zeyd M. Ben-Halim, Eric S. Raymond, Thomas E. Dickey. Based on pcurses by Pavel Curtis.


infocmp(1), tabs(1), tic(1), ncurses(3NCURSES), color(3NCURSES), terminfo(3NCURSES), curses_variables(3NCURSES), printf(3), terminfo_variables(3NCURSES), term(5), user_caps(5)

2024-05-11 ncurses 6.5