What is Terminal in Linux? [The Ultimate Guide]

Linux is an open-source operating system that is used by programmers, system administrators, and enthusiasts. Moreover, this OS is known for its stability, security, and flexibility. The command-line interface one of the key features of Linux enables users to communicate with the system using text commands. The terminal, also known as the command line, is the interface used to enter these commands. In this article, I will describe what is the terminal, its features, and its use in Linux.

Terminal: Interface Between Humans and Computer

The computing field has a specific definition for the term “terminal,” which is a combination of an input device such as a keyboard or mouse and an output device such as a video display unit used to enter into or output data from a computer or electronic communication system.

In order for humans to interact with computers, an interface is required to input information and read the output. Peripheral devices, such as keyboards, mouse, microphones, monitors and speakers serve this purpose in personal computers. However, in the Unix and Linux realms, “terminals” refers to the input and output devices with the counterpart being the “host”. The “host” refers to the CPU, RAM and HDD etc.

Terminal and the Host

In computing, the term “terminal” refers to a device used to access a host or mainframe. The terminal typically consists of input and output devices such as a keyboard, display monitor, mouse, or speaker. On the other hand, the host refers to the main computing device that controls the system, which typically consists of a central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM), and a hard disk drive (HDD).

Connections between the Terminal and the Host

The distance between a terminal and a host can vary depending on the type of connection used to link them together. A terminal can be connected directly to a host on a laptop computer, or it can be connected to a host by wire like a desktop computer. In addition, a terminal can also connect to a host over a network. For instance, if there are two computers in a local area network (LAN), one of them running Linux, the other can use SSH or VNC (Virtual Network Computing) to log into the Linux computer, which becomes the host, and the other computer becomes the terminal.

Factors that Affect the Performance

There are different factors that affect performance. In the section below, I will discuss some of them.

A. Distance:

The physical distance between a terminal and a host is an important consideration, as it can impact the speed, reliability and performance of the connection. For example, if a terminal is connected to a host via a wired LAN, the distance between the two devices may be limited by the length of the network cable. In contrast, if a terminal is connected to a host via a wireless network, the distance may be much greater, but the signal strength and network bandwidth may affect the quality of the connection.

B. Network-Related Factors:

Network latency and reliability can affect performance depending on the distance between a terminal and a host. In addition, the type of connection used can impact the overall performance and usability of the terminalhost connection. For instance, SSH is a popular and secure way of connecting a terminal to a host over a network, while VNC allows users to remotely access the graphical user interface (GUI) of a host.

The physical distance and type of connection can impact the speed, reliability and performance of the terminal-host connection, making it important to consider these factors when setting up and managing a computing system.

The First Terminal

The first terminal in computing history was the Teletype Model 33. Teletype Model 33 terminal was introduced in 1963. It was a printing telegraph that allowed users to send and receive text-based messages to and from a computer.

The Teletype Model 33 used a combination of electromechanical components to input and output information. Users would type messages on a keyboard, which would be transmitted to the computer via a telegraph line. The computer would then send a response back to the teletype, which would print the message on a roll of paper.

The Teletype Model 33 was widely used in the early days of computing, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. It was used to communicate with mainframe computers and other computing systems. Its popularity declined in the 1980s with the introduction of video display terminals (VDTs), which provided faster and more flexible methods of input and output.

Types of Terminals

When it comes to computer terminals, there are two main types: character terminals and graphics terminals. While both of these serve as a way to interact with a computer system, they have distinct differences that make them better suited for different types of applications.

A. Character Terminal

A character terminal is a type of computer terminal that displays text characters in a monochrome format. This means that the display can only show black-and-white characters and does not have any color capabilities. The character terminal can show only some predefined sets of characters to display text on the screen.

B. Graphics Terminal

On the other hand, the graphics terminal is a type of computer terminal that can display both text and graphics, usually in color. Graphics terminals use a collection of pixels, known as bitmap, to create images. These pixels can be turned on and off to create graphics and visual elements such as windows, icons, and menus. A wide range of applications uses Graphics terminals, such as computer-aided design (CAD), gaming, and video editing. Modern computers typically use graphics terminals with graphical user interfaces (GUIs), which provide users with visual elements to interact with the system.

While character terminals and graphics terminals both serve as a way to interact with a computer system.

Terminal Emulator

The “terminal emulator” is a program that enables the user to access the terminal in a graphical environment. The use of a terminal emulator is crucial for the majority of Linux server users because most people use the operating system simultaneously with a GUI for their daily computing needs. Here are a few commonly-used and free terminal emulators by OS:

  • Windows: PuTTy
  • Linux: xterm, KDE Konsole, Terminal
  • Mac OS X: iTerm2, Terminal (default)

Although each of the aforementioned terminal emulators has its own set of features, they are all simple to use and perform admirably.

History Behind the Linux Terminal

The Unix shell was developed in the early 1970s. It gave users a way to communicate with the operating system by entering commands into a terminal. The shell was created as a user-customizable, adaptable interface that could be enhanced by scripts and tools of the user’s choosing.

To develop a free and open-source operating system that was compatible with Unix, Richard Stallman launched the GNU project in the 1980s. As part of this project, the GNU Bash shell was created, which became the default shell for most Linux distributions.

By entering commands into a terminal, users can communicate with the Linux operating system using the Bash shell, a command-line interpreter. Users can manipulate files and directories, run programs, and complete other tasks using the extensive set of commands and features provided by the Bash shell.

New shells, terminal emulators and command-line utilities have all been developed over time, and these changes have all contributed to the evolution of the Linux terminal. Today, the Linux terminal is a powerful and flexible tool that is used by developers, system administrators, and power users around the world. It still plays a significant role in the Linux ecosystem by giving users a simple and effective interface for interacting with the software.

How to Start a Terminal in Linux

You can start the terminal in a different way. In this section, I have discussed 4 different ways to start the terminal in Linux.

  1. Using shortcut (CTRL+ALT+T).
  2. Open the terminal in a specific directory.
  3. Using the application menu.
  4. Using the genome-terminal command.

Method 1: Using Shortcut (CTRL+ALT+T)

You can start the terminal using the CTRL+ALT+T buttons in any Linux distribution.

Method 2: Open Terminal in a Specific Directory

You can easily start the terminal in any directory by clicking the right button on your mouse. The steps are given below:

Right-click your mouse at any point in your current directory. In my case, I am in the “Documents” directory. Then, left-click on “Open in Terminal”.Showing the dialogue box after right click.➋  At this point, your terminal will launch in your current directory.The terminal is launched in the Documents directory.

Method 3: Using the Application Menu to Start Terminal in Linux

Generally, the terminal is a preinstalled app that comes with Linux. You can start the terminal by following the steps below:

➊ Go to the “Show Applications” button and press on it.Showing the "Show Applications" button in Linux OS.➋ Make a search for “terminal” in the search bar. Then, click on the Terminal icon.Showing the process of searching for “terminal” in the search bar.➌ You will see that the terminal has started once you have finished this process.Showing that the terminal is launched.

Method 4: Using Gnome-Terminal Command to Start Terminal in Linux

Linux allows you to launch the terminal using the gnome-terminal command. To start the terminal using the command, you must follow the steps below.

➊ First, press the Alt+F2 button to start the “run command” dialogue.Showing the “run command” dialogue box.➋ Run the gnome-terminal command.The desired command is run in the "run command" dialogue box.➌ At this Point, the terminal will launch after running that command.Showing that the terminal is launched.


A terminal is a powerful tool that provides users with a more efficient way of interacting with their Linux systems. Compared to graphical user interfaces, its text-based interface offers more flexibility and control over the system. In addition, it enables users to automate tasks and create scripts to carry out complex operations. Understanding the terminal is a crucial skill whether you are a developer, system administrator, or just an enthusiast who wants to maximize his/her Linux experience.

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S. M. Amdadul Islam

S. M. Amdadul Islam

Hello everyone. I am S. M. Amdadul Islam, currently working as a Linux Content Developer Executive at SOFTEKO. I am a Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME) graduate from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. In addition to my regular work, I enjoy watching Youtube, discovering new things, gossiping with friends, visiting new places, and taking photos of landscapes. Read Full Bio

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