Screen. A remote desktop for your terminal window

Today I want to talk about Screen, a command that is very handy, but not used very often.

What’s it good for?

You know the fact that you lose your work in your terminal window, whenever you lose the connection to the remote system. To avoid this you can run a little tool called screen. Screen is used to detach from a console session without killing the actual shell or terminating your running processes. That means that all programs and tasks that were running in the shell, continuing to run. You can disconnect from a session on one PC and connect to the same session from another PC.

What is the advantage?

Imagine that you want to monitor a job, that will run for a while and you have to move your workplace in the meantime. Or you don’t want to lose the output in a console window.

How to use it.

 If you type the command screen on the console, you will not see any change on the console. What you might see is that the window title slightly changed. Now you are in a screen session. Try to start top on the console.

screen first pic

I opened a screen session in the top console window.

The terminal window behaves the same way it did before. With [ctrl]+[a] [c] you can open another virtual terminal. You see a new prompt and the running top is now running somewhere in the background. At the new prompt you can start another program. With [ctrl]+[a] [n] (next) or [ctrl]+[a] [p] (previous) is it possible to browse through the open terminals.

Screen 2

Here i started a script in the second virtual console.

To show what screens are currently running use screen -ls.

Screen 3

screen -ls shows the available screen sessions.

Now we can connect another terminal to our screen session. With screen -r screen.PID,  you attach a terminal window to your terminal session. In fact that you only have one screen session running on the system a screen -r connects you to that session.


The second window is now connected to the screen session.

Now start an application in the second window.


I started a script in the lower terminal window

Use [ctrl]+[a] [n] to find this process in the upper window.


Both terminals show the same output.

Now use [ctrl]+[a] [d] to detach both terminals from the screen session.


Both terminals are now detached.

As you can see is the screen session still active in the background.


I connected a new terminal to the session.

So, although all terminals are detached from the session, it is still running in the background, waiting for a reconnect/attach. To terminate the screen session, you can use [CTRL]+[a] [Ctrl]+[\] or you can switch to the command mode by using [Ctrl]+[a] [:] and type quit at the colon.

Useful commands

Every command starts with [Ctrl]+[a], followed by a character, symbol or another [Ctrl]-sequence.

[Ctrl]+[a] [“] Lists the windows in the screen session
[Ctrl]+[a] [1] Jumps to window 1
[Ctrl]+[a] [c] Create a new window in this session
[Ctrl]+[a] [C] Clear the screen
[Ctrl]+[a] [d] Detach from screen session
[Ctrl]+[a] [H] Starts/Ends a screen log
[Ctrl]+[a] [i] Show information about the current window
[Ctrl]+[a] [k] Destroy the current window
[Ctrl]+[a] [n] Jumps to the next window
[Ctrl]+[a] [p] Jumps to the previous window
[Ctrl]+[a] [i] Show information about the current window
[Ctrl]+[a] [S] Split the current window into two regions
[Ctrl]+[a] [TAB] Move between regions
[Ctrl]+[a] [X] Kill the current region
[Ctrl]+[a] [Q] Delete all regions but the current one
[Ctrl]+[a] [.] Writes a .termcap file
[Ctrl]+[a] [Ctrl]+[\] Kill all windows and terminate screen


About Juergen Caris

I am 54yo, MSc(Dist) and BSc in Computer Science, German and working as a Senior Server Engineer for the NHS Lothian. I am responsible for the patient management system, called TrakCare. I am a UNIX/Linux guy, working in this sector for more than 20 years now. I am also interested in robotics, microprocessors, system monitoring, Home automation and programming.
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