XTerm vs Terminal: Difference and Comparison

Terminal and XTerm are both terminal emulators commonly found in UNIX-based systems running the X Window System.

Emulators allow users to access programs that were developed primarily to communicate with other types of terminals.

Emulators reproduce the functionality of traditional computer terminals. Even though they are both emulators and have some similarities, they differ significantly in many ways. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Xterm is a terminal emulator for the X Window System, while Terminal is a broader term encompassing various command-line interface applications.
  2. Xterm offers a range of customization options, including fonts and colors, whereas Terminal applications may have varying degrees of customization.
  3. Xterm and Terminal applications enable users to interact with computer systems using text-based commands.

XTerm vs Terminal 

XTerm is a terminal emulator application that runs on X Window System, originally developed for the X Window System in 1984 and is still widely used today. The terminal is a terminal emulator application that is built into the macOS operating system, and used to access the command line interface of macOS.

XTerm vs Terminal

Linux systems running X Windows System use XTerm as their default terminal emulator.

The X11 environment and an XTerm window can be launched from the Terminal window by typing XTerm and hitting enter.

GNOME, however, does not install XTerm by default. Unlike Terminal, XTerm can be used simultaneously by multiple users. 

Users can communicate with a computer through the Terminal, just as they can with the written word. Linux’s Terminal is like Windows Command Prompt.

Users have access to the command-line interface through one of Linux’s most powerful features. The terminal emulator is installed by default with the Linux operating system. 

Comparison Table

 Parameters of Comparison   XTerm   Terminal  
 Support    It supports by default the Primary buffer.  It supports both Primary buffer and Clipboard buffer.  
 Access   It can be accessed by typing XTerm in the terminal window. It will show the X11 environment and an XTerm window.   It can be accessed by holding the CTRL + Alt + T keys at the same time. 
 Process Management   It allows multiple instances to run concurrently in the same display.   Only one session at a time. Each session will, however, run separately. 
 Emulation   Default terminal emulation for Linux systems running X Windows System.   Default terminal emulator for Linux and UNIX based systems. 
 Use    Several users can access it concurrently.   Not more than one user can use it at the same time.  

What is XTerm? 

Linux systems running X Windows System use XTerm as their default terminal emulator.

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The X11 environment and an XTerm window can be launched from the Terminal window by typing XTerm and hitting enter.

Multiple instances of XTerm can run simultaneously, meaning each window corresponds to a separate process. A single shell or function can access all of them independently.  

GNOME, however, does not install XTerm by default. XTerm must be launched from another terminal emulator, such as Terminal, before installing it.

As well as creating your desktop launcher, you can open an XTerm window directly from your desktop. Unlike Terminal, XTerm can be concurrently used by multiple users.   

The default emulation only copies and pastes from the clipboard. The default configuration does not make use of it.

In Xterm, the PRIMARY buffer is the only buffer supported by default, and it only receives input when the user highlights text with the mouse.

The highlighted text is copied into the same window once the user presses the middle mouse button. 

What is Terminal? 

Users can communicate with a computer through the Terminal, just as they can with the written word. Linux’s Terminal is like Windows Command Prompt.

Users have access to the command-line interface through one of Linux’s most powerful features.

Additionally, it controls only one session, which means that a controlling terminal will run each session individually as its child process.  

As its name suggests, Terminal is the default terminal emulator of the Linux desktop environment. The Terminal is also the default terminal emulator for Ubuntu.

There are various methods of accessing the Terminal in each desktop environment. The simplest way to access it is by holding the Ctrl + Alt +T keys concurrently in the same display.  

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The default emulator supports both Primary and Clipboard buffer, and everything you copy or cut will be stored in the clipboard.

It will further read it from the clipboard when the user pastes the text. No selections are automatically sent to the Terminal.

When the text gets copied, it will initially be saved to a place called the ‘pasteboard’. 

Main Differences Between XTerm and Terminal 

  1. The XTerm primarily supports, by default, the Primary buffer. On the other hand, the Terminal supports both the Primary buffer and the Clipboard buffer. 
  2. The former can be accessed by typing Xterm in the terminal window. It will show the X11 environment and an XTerm window. On the other hand, the Terminal can easily be accessed by holding the CTRL + Alt + T keys at the same time. 
  3. Multiple instances of XTerm can run concurrently, meaning each window corresponds to a separate process. On the other hand, the latter controls only one session, which means that a controlling terminal will run each session individually as its child process. 
  4. The XTerm is the default terminal emulation for Linux systems running X Windows System. On the other hand, the Default terminal emulator for Linux and UNIX-based systems is the Terminal. 
  5. XTerm allows several users can access it concurrently. On the other hand, no more than one user can use the Terminal at the same time.  
References
  1. https://www.usenix.org/conference/atc12/technical-sessions/presentation/winstein 
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128204887000359 

Last Updated : 11 June, 2023

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13 thoughts on “XTerm vs Terminal: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The article presents an ironic comparison between XTerm and Terminal, which adds a refreshing and thought-provoking twist to the subject.

    Reply
  2. The article presents a compelling argument for the differences between XTerm and Terminal, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of these terminal emulators.

    Reply
  3. I didn’t realize there were so many differences between XTerm and Terminal. It’s eye-opening to see these distinctions.

    Reply
  4. The article’s comical approach to comparing XTerm and Terminal is both entertaining and educational. It uses humor effectively to convey the differences between the two emulators.

    Reply
  5. This comparison really emphasizes the unique features of each terminal emulator. It’s impressive how much functionality they offer.

    Reply

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