I keep hearing about these things known as tty's.

  • what are they

  • how can I access them

  • what do they do?


tty is one of those funky Unix commands that prints the name of the terminal connected to standard input.

TTY's are text-only terminals commonly used as a way to get access to the computer to fix things, without actually logging into a possibly b0rked desktop.

Related: What is tty7 in the commandline?

By default Ubuntu has 7 tty's.

  • Up until Ubuntu 17.10, 1-6 are command line only and 7 runs your X session (your normal desktop).
  • On Ubuntu 17.10 and newer, it's GUI login screen on 1, GUI desktop on 2 and command lines on 3-7.

To access them, use this keyboard shortcut:

Ctrl + Alt + F1 (or F3 on 17.10 and newer)

(changing F1 to F1-F6 to access the terminal that you want)

To get back to your GUI session (the normal desktop):

Ctrl + Alt + F7 (or F2 on 17.10 and newer)

  • 7
    Sir you have mentioned " to F1-F6 to access the terminal that you need" , how they are different and how to use them as per to need ,what kind of need is supported to which terminal. I dont know if it is the right place but your question and answer pointed it for me. – Sukupa91 Nov 30 '13 at 12:40
  • 2
    actually, if you are not in an X session, you can type just Alt+F7, you don't need the Ctrl. – fonini Dec 27 '14 at 4:19

A tty, short for teletype and perhaps more commonly called a terminal, is a device which lets you interact with the system by sending and receiving data, such as commands and the output they produce.

There are many kind of ttys, but nowadays most ttys are implemented in software, such as the graphical consoles you can access with Ctrl+Alt+Fn, or terminal emulators such as Gnome terminal that run inside an X session.

There is also a tty command, which shows the device node of the terminal in which it is running (or prints "not a tty" if it is not running inside a terminal; yes, it is possible to run commands outside a terminal). For example:

firas@itsuki ~ % tty
firas@itsuki ~ % ssh localhost tty
not a tty

When I am logged in and running a shell on the machine, the shell is normally running inside a terminal, namely here it is /dev/pts/0. However, when I run ssh host command to run a command on a remote host, the command is not run inside a terminal.

  • Is a terminal emulator a TTY or PTS? – Motivated Jan 5 '19 at 17:57

You can change the displayed TTY by commmand line with chvt (requires sudo privileges), from SSH for example. Here is the relevant part of the manpage (man chvt):



chvt - change foreground virtual terminal


chvt N


The command chvt N makes /dev/ttyN the foreground terminal. (The corresponding screen is created if it did not exist yet. To get rid of unused VTs, use deallocvt) The key combination (Ctrl-)LeftAlt-FN (with N in the range 1-12) usually has a similar effect.

  • e.g. chvt 1 to switch to tty1 – carefulnow1 Nov 20 '16 at 12:47

It changes your workspace: for example, you could have a text file open and change to tty2 then you might have a /ls command for reference. This is very helpful for an environment like Ubuntu Server.

This is the equivalent of having two tabs open in a GUI Environment.

In Ubuntu Server (16.04.3 LTS - for me) I can use ALT+F1-F6 or use ALT+LeftArrow to go back a number or ALT+RightArrow to go forwards a number.

You can see your tty by logging out from Ubuntu Server (run logout) and see up at the top Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS ubuntu tty# that is standard, but may differ from version to version.

If your tty isn't shown on your login screen then you can run sudo nano /etc/issue and at the top, you can put in whatever you like but to add the tty you need to place \l. Place \n for the hostname.



Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS \n \l

would show

Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS ubuntu tty#


# refers to a number

  • I think you've made a good start at answering the "what do they do" part of the question though its still a bit above my head. There's something in your first sentence that I didn't follow. Could you clarify, for example, if I have a text file open in the normal GUI, then what can I achieve by accessing a tty that I can't do in the GUI? – Puffin Oct 4 '18 at 21:29

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