Sunday, September 28, 2008

In Praise of screen

I've used screen for a few years now, but I only recently learned about one of its highly helpful features. As I was using my XO laptop in text only mode (ctrl-alt-fn-2), I was using screen to simulate multiple terminals, and I needed to copy and paste text between them. In the past, I've usually used screen when ssh-ing into a machine, and putty (my ssh client of choice) provided copy and paste, so I had never needed screen's system.

It turns out, screen's built-in, cross-window copy-paste system is a breeze to use. Press ctrl-a [ to enter copy mode, press enter to mark the start point and enter again to mark the end point. You have now copied the text. Switch to the desired window, and paste in the text using ctrl-a ].

This feature is especially handy in the XO laptop, where I've never been able to figure out how to copy and paste in the Terminal Activity.

For me, screen's most useful feature has been the ability to detach and reattach to a session which continues to run on the server. If I lose my ssh connection, all of my processes continue to run, and I can reattach to my screen session as if nothing ever happened.

Screen can be difficult to understand if you've never seen it in action, so I recommend watching this video. You can also learn more in this tutorial.

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