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I know this is a very naive question.

I was reading somewhere that Linux allows 7 xterm's. However, I can start more than 7 terminal apps from my Ubuntu system (Application -> Accessories -> Terminal).

There is definetely a hole in my knowledge... will help if someone helped me understand the difference between an xterm and the Terminal application in a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu.


Thanks for the help. I understand this better now. Just summarizing for my own clarity and for others who may come here looking for similar info. Please correct me if this is wrong.

  1. When we do Ctrl-Alt-F1, we get a pure "console terminal" which gives us a terminal without the X windowing system. On most systems, we have 6 of these from F1 - F6.
  2. An xterm is a terminal emulator running on top of the X server. So perhaps if we have an X server running without a windowing manager such as Gnome, then we would get an xterm
  3. Gnome terminal is the command prompt we get when we open the Terminal application from within Gnome.
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You can run xterm in Gnome in addition to Gnome terminal. – Dennis Williamson Mar 31 '10 at 13:10
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Sure you mean xterms? Not console terminals? Try pressing:

Ctrl + Alt + F1

Ctrl + Alt + F2

Ctrl + Alt + F3


Ctrl + Alt + F7

These are unique terminals were a different user can login on each session.

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That's right. I tried doing Ctrl+Alt+F1. When I do this I see a pure command line environment without any windowing system. So is this what you refer to as a "console terminal"? – Parag Mar 31 '10 at 11:50

It is an xterm. Or close enough to be one. From the article, "GNOME Terminal is similar to the xterm terminal emulator, and has a nearly identical feature set." You can tell it's GNOME Terminal because of the result of a "ps axf" from the terminal.

Rereading your question, the 7 terminals you may be referring to are console terminals, which another poster pointed out. They aren't xterms really because they're not running under X. Xterms are terminal emulators that run under X Windows.

To understand terminals you would need to dig through computer history to the time when people interacted with timesharing systems with...wait for it...terminals. As UNIX and other OS's of the time evolved, they just kind of adopted the whole terminal emulator thing as a way to be compatible with what was on the market.

Most Linux systems have a default number of terminal sessions running, listening for connections, in the background (through alt+Fx), and today with X being a default interface you have to hit control-alt-Fx to first get to a terminal, then change among them with alt+Fx until you get to the controlling terminal for your X session.

So, yes, Terminal in Ubuntu is an xterm/terminal emulator and you can have as many as you want running within limitations of system resources, but Linux usually (and this is configurable, big surprise) has several console session terminals in the background in case you wanted a pure command-line interaction.

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