Unix Screen Command

Unix Screen command

Recently I was introduced to the world of screen also known as Screen multiplexer. But the main reason behind this is not to show you what you can find in Google but what you can actually do with it.

So hopefully in this not so lengthy article I will show you some basic commands and you can comment with some more or just refer to the documentation for them.

What is screen?

Per the documentation it states:

Screen is a full-screen window manager that multiplexes a physical terminal between several pro-cesses (typically interactive shells). Each virtual terminal provides the functions of a DEC VT100 terminal and, in addition, several control functions from the ISO 6429 (ECMA 48, ANSI X3.64) and ISO 2022 standards (e.g. insert/delete line and support for multiple character sets). There is a scrollback history buffer for each virtual terminal and a copy-and-paste mechanism that allows moving text regions between windows.

Use case

We know that we can run a process in the background by appending the & at the end of the command, but what if we want to return to see the process of that process or where it hanged or where is it, or the output, well the solution. Magically screen.


There are basic commands that we want to use and this are the most basic ones, This is not intended to be a full information on it, but just a reference on the power of this tool.

  • Create a screen session with no id

    sh-3.2# screen
  • Don’t be affraid, this will probably prompt you a message or give you a blank screen where you can run all your commands
  • Detach the screen – go back to original without quitting the process – keyboard keys:

      Cntrl + A + D
  • List all the active screens (there are screens):

      sh-3.2# screen -ls   * There is a screen on:
          1918.ttys000.kike   (Detached)
          1 Socket in /var/folders/zz/zzzivhrRnAmviuee+++++++++++/-Tmp-/.screen.
  • List all the active screens (there are non):

     sh-3.2# screen -ls
     No Sockets found in /var/folders/zz/zzzivhrRnAmviuee+++++++++++/-Tmp-/.screen.
  • Get back to the recently detached screen sh-3.2# screen -r
  • Get back to a screen by the id
    • Lets get the Id from the screen

      sh-3.2# screen -ls
    • There is a screen on:

    1926.ttys000.kike (Detached)
          1 Socket in /var/folders/zz/zzzivhrRnAmviuee+++++++++++/-Tmp-/.screen.  * Id: _1926.ttys000.kike_  * Now attach to it with the following command: 
    screen -r 1926.ttys000.kike

    Few tricks

    Also a good one, instead of UNIX naming your screen you can name it by running the running:

    screen -S What happens if I already know what command I want to run in the screen? well start running it:

    screen eg: screen ping google.com Did you know that you can actually watch what I’m doing in the screen without attaching to it? Yes, that is a pretty neat, so you can learn from what your friend / coworker is doing in the screen:

    screen -x ex: screen -x 1926.ttys000.kike I hoped you enjoy this little section of hat tricks and what you can do with this amazing tool that hopefully will prevent yourself from bash or shell sessions that killed themselves or timeout out of the blue and you get kicked out and your process dumped in the middle.

Sources for help and more information

  • http://kb.iu.edu/data/acuy.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Screen
  • http://www.slac.stanford.edu/grp/cd/soft/epics/extensions/iocConsole/screen.1.html
  • http://www.thegeekstuff.com/2010/07/screen-command-examples/
Written on April 5, 2012