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I'm trying to get the solarized color scheme in my terminal and am working through some tutorials online. I have run across the $TERM environment variable that from my understanding is the current name of the terminal I'm using. I also have a $COLORTERM which I'm not quite sure what it is but it shows me: gnome-terminal whereas the $TERM variable is xterm. Isn't the terminal that Ubuntu 13.10 uses the gnome-terminal? Why is xterm being displayed in the env var?

  • Side-effect of update-alternatives. – RobotHumans Dec 10 '13 at 23:22
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It has the same reason why almost every webbrowser (FF,IE,Safari,Chrome,...) uses Mozilla in their User Agent String.

The TERM variable set to xterm only means that your terminal is compatible with the xterm terminal (has the same capabilities), so the system can treat it and communicate with it as it would with an xterm. The system has the terminfo database which stores the terminal capabilities for various terminals (/lib/terminfo directory), and in that terminfo database there is no such as gnome-terminal.

For some more info look at this answer or look up the manpages of terminfo or infocmp

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