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On a clean install of Ubuntu 12.10, the default gnome-terminal is reporting $TERM to be xterm where it should really be reporting xterm-256color. What is the best way of changing this? I'm avoiding putting this in my .bashrc as that's just asking for trouble.

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Care to explain why xterm is wrong? Afaik we all have xterm. Besides that: also care to explain why putting this in bashrc is asking for trouble? –  Rinzwind Dec 27 '12 at 16:19
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xterm is wrong because most applications won't work in 256-color mode unless it's xterm-256color or screen-256color (vim and tmux being the main ones I care about). Like @Freddy I would prefer not to set these in my shell profile, because I may be connecting from a different terminal type over SSH, and because it's really the terminal emulator's job to set this. I'm amazed that gnome-terminal doesn't provide multiple emulations. –  Jim Stewart Mar 31 '13 at 2:48
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2 Answers

For connecting with a terminal that's not able to do 256 colors.

It'd be far better to detect the terminal specifically with $COLORTERM. Look for gnome-terminal, xfce4-terminal, etc, and then set the $TERM variable to xterm-256color.

I do it with:

if [ "$COLORTERM" == "gnome-terminal" ] || [ "$COLORTERM" == "xfce4-terminal" ]
then
    TERM=xterm-256color
    elif [ "$COLORTERM" == "rxvt-xpm" ]
    then
        TERM=rxvt-256color
fi
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While it's true that terminfo has xterm+256color (/usr/share/terminfo/x/xterm+256color), termcap has just xterm (/usr/share/vte/termcap/xterm), so changing $TERM shouldn't be advisable.

Anyhow, $TERM is not set by gnome-terminal, but by vte. The default value for that environment variable can be changed either at compile time (giving an option to the configure script) or by calling the vte_pty_set_term() function. Looking at the sources of gnome-terminal, I see that vte_pty_set_term gets never called, so I can say that there are no ways to modify $TERM editing gnome-terminal's settings.

What you have to do is to place the following piece of code in your ~/.profile:

if [ "x$TERM" == "xxterm" ]
then
    export TERM=xterm+256color
fi
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