Terminal Special Files: /dev/tty... etc.

"tty" is an abbreviation for "Teletype". The first terminals were Teletypes (like remotely controlled typewriters). See subsection the section called Teletypes.

Serial Port Terminals

The computer considers the terminal on a serial port to be a "device". For each such terminal there is a special file in the /dev (device) directory. /dev/ttyS0 is the special file for the serial port known as COM1 in the DOS/Windows world. To send text to a terminal you may redirect standard output of some command-line command to the appropriate special file. For example typing "echo test > /dev/ttyS1" at the command prompt should send the word "test" to the terminal on COM2 (provided you have write permission on /dev/ttyS1). Similarly, typing "cat my_file > /dev/ttyS0" will send the contents of the file my_file to COM1 (ttyS0).

In addition to ttyS0 (/dev/ttyS0), ttyS1, ttyS2, etc. (the "S" stands for Serial port) there is also a "cua" series: cua0, cua1, cua2, etc. cua0 is the same port as ttyS0, etc. The "cu" of cua stands for CalloUt. The ttyS series are Posix compliant while using cua may permit the opening of a port that the modem control lines say is not ready. It's claimed that the cua series is only included for backwards compatibility so you should probably use the ttyS series.

Pseudo Terminals

Pseudo terminals have no unique physical connector on the computer. They are used to emulate a serial port. For example, if someone connects via telnet to your computer over a network, they may wind up connected to the device /dev/ptyp2 (a pseudo terminal port). In X-Windows, the terminal emulator program, xterm, uses pseudo terminals. Ham radio programs under Linux also use them. Using certain application software it is possible to have 2 or more pseudo terminals attached to the same physical serial port.

Pseudo terminals come in pairs such as ttyp3 and ptyp3. The pty... is the master or controlling terminal and the tty... is the slave. ttyq5 is also a pseudo terminal as is ttysc (c is a hexadecimal digit). More precisely, pseudo master terminals are /dev/pty[p-s]n and the corresponding slaves are /dev/tty[p-s]n where n is a hexadecimal digit.

The Controlling Terminal /dev/tty

/dev/tty stands for the controlling terminal (if any) for the current process (the process that uses "/dev/tty" in a command). To find out which tty's are attached to which processes use the "ps -a" command at the shell prompt (command line). Look at the "tty" column. For the shell process you're in, /dev/tty is the terminal you are now using. Type "tty" at the shell prompt to see what it is (see manual pg. tty(1)). /dev/tty is something like a link to the actually terminal device name with some additional features for C-programmers: see the manual page tty(4).

/dev/ttyI? "Terminals"

? stands for an integer. One use of these in Linux is with the ISDN driver package: isdn4linux. The ttyI? is something like ttyS?. There is also a cui? which is something like cua?. The ttyI and cui emulate modems and may be given modem commands.

The Console: /dev/tty?

In Linux the PC monitor is called the console and has several device special files associated with it: tty0, tty1, tty2, etc. When you log in you are on tty1. To go to tty2 press Alt-F2. tty1, tty2, etc. are "virtual terminals" (sometimes called "virtual consoles"). You may log in to different virtual terminals and thus have a few different sessions with the computer going on at the same time. You switch between them using the Alt-F? key where "?" is the virtual-terminal number you want. The console is also known as /dev/tty0 and system messages may go to that device and display on your console. Only the system or the root user may write to /dev/tty0 to which /dev/console is sometimes linked. System messages may also be written directly to the hardware address of the serial port card, thus bypassing /dev/tty0. For more info on the console see the section called The Linux Console.

Creating a Device with mknod

The /dev directory comes supplied with many device special files. If you need something that's not there you may try to create it with the "mknod" command. See the manual page tty(4) for how to do this for serial ports. To use mknod you must know the major and minor device numbers. You might be able to infer the numbers you need by using the "ls -l" command in the /dev directory. It will display the major and minor numbers of existing special files.