Linux Tactic

Unraveling the History and Terminology of TTY Devices and Terminals

Introduction to TTY Devices

TTY devices, also known as teleprinters or teletypewriters, have a rich history dating back to the mid-twentieth century. These devices, which were commonly used to send and receive text messages over phone lines, have since been replaced by modern solutions like video display terminals and internet messaging services.

However, they still maintain a presence in certain industries and operating systems. In this article, we will delve into the history of TTY devices, their transition to video display terminals, and the different types of TTY devices currently available.

We will also cover the general terminology associated with terminals, including the definition of shells, types of shells, and the basics of understanding the terminal.

History of TTY Devices

The earliest TTY devices were mechanical teleprinters that used serial links to send and receive text messages. These devices consisted of a typewriter-like keyboard and a printer that produced a physical copy of the text message on a sheet of paper.

The widespread use of these devices began during World War II when they were used by the military to communicate messages over long distances. After the war, the use of TTY devices expanded to industries like news agencies and businesses.

However, the use of TTY devices declined as new technologies like fax machines and personal computers emerged.

Transition to Video Display Terminals

One of the major transitions in the history of terminals was the shift from TTY devices to video display terminals. The DEC VT100, which was introduced in 1978, was one of the first video display terminals to gain popularity.

This model had a screen display that could show more than just text, allowing users to see graphics and colors. With the proliferation of video display terminals, connecting to the console of a computer or server became easier.

Since then, terminal emulation programs have been developed that allow users to connect to remote systems using different protocols, such as telnet or SSH.

Classification of TTY Devices

There are three main types of TTY devices: serial devices, virtual terminals, and pseudo terminals. Serial devices are TTY devices that connect to a computer through a serial port.

Virtual terminals, on the other hand, are software-based TTY devices that allow users to interact with the system without the need for physical hardware. Pseudo terminals are a combination of serial and virtual terminals, allowing users to emulate a serial device through software.

Listing TTY Devices on Linux

On Linux, users can list the available TTY devices using the command line. In most cases, users can execute the command “ls -la /dev/tty*” to see a list of TTY devices along with their corresponding drivers.

General Terminal Terminologies

The terminal is an interface through which users can interact with a computer’s operating system. In order to work with a terminal, users must use a shell, which is a command-line interpreter.

Shells interpret commands typed by the user and execute them on the operating system. There are several types of shells available, including the Bourne shell, C shell, and Korn shell.

However, the two most commonly used shells are Bash and Zsh. Each shell has its own command language and syntax, making it important for users to familiarize themselves with the shell they plan to use.

When working with the terminal, users should be familiar with the file systems on the computer. In addition, they should know how to check the exit status of a command and how to access the help message for a particular command.


In conclusion, TTY devices may no longer be the primary means of sending and receiving text messages, but they remain an important part of the history of terminals. Understanding the history and classification of TTY devices, as well as the general terminology associated with terminals, can help users navigate and make the most of their computing experience.

With this knowledge, users can access and utilize the terminal with confidence. In this article, we explored the history of TTY devices, their transition to video display terminals, and the different types of TTY devices available.

We also discussed the terminology associated with working in the terminal, including shells, file systems, exit status, and help messages. Despite the decline in TTY device usage, understanding the history and terminology can benefit users in navigating and making the most of their computing experience.

Takeaways include the importance of familiarizing oneself with the shell being used, as well as knowing how to access help messages and file systems. Overall, understanding the history and terminology of terminals can enrich a user’s computing experience.

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