I use a coloured bash prompt like so:

blue=$(tput setaf 4)
reset=$(tput sgr0)
bold=$(tput bold)
export PS1='($?) \[$bold$blue\]\u@\h:\w\[$reset\]$(__git_ps1)> '

I usually work in a terminal window (gnome-terminal) but sometimes in a full-screen console (CTRL+ALT+F3).

My coloured prompt is fine in the GUI terminal but hard to read in full-screen because the colours look different. So I'd like to use a different colour (e.g. cyan=$(tput setaf 6)), when in console window. For this to work I need to figure out which mode I'm currently in and set my $PS1 accordingly.

I tried the tty command. It gives

/dev/pts/0  # GUI terminal
/dev/tty3   # console 

I also tried to examine the value of $TERM. It gives

xterm-256color  # GUI terminal
linux           # console

Both of them would work for me but my question is: Is that the correct way to reliably distinguish console vs. terminal or are there better ways? I'm on 17.10.1 if that matters.

  • "Correct" depends on what the most important characteristic is. It appears that it is "is this Linux virtual terminal or not", and then $TERM is fine. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 1 '18 at 0:34

There are a number of ways to determine that, three famous being:

  • tty - print the file name of the terminal connected to standard input:


    This function written by Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy makes use of tty.

  • ps hotty $$ (short for ps --no-header --format tty --pid $$):

  • who who whom | awk '{ print $2 }' (in fact that's who with two arbitrary arguments, equal to who -m – which also matches the pun):


I suspect the values of TERM to differ between distributions and even releases, but tty is a stable and reliable way. I would use it like so:

if tty|grep -q tty; then
  echo "That's a TTY."
  echo "That's not a TTY."

There seems to be a problem with at least who in gnome-terminal, luckily there's a wrapper script to work around this issue.

Helpful links:

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