A pseudoterminal (sometimes abbreviated "pty") is a pair of virtual
character devices that provide a bidirectional communication channel.
One end of the channel is called the master; the other end is called
the slave. The slave end of the pseudoterminal provides an interface
that behaves exactly like a classical terminal. A process that expects
to be connected to a terminal, can open the slave end of a pseudotermi-
nal and then be driven by a program that has opened the master end.
Anything that is written on the master end is provided to the process
on the slave end as though it was input typed on a terminal. For exam-
ple, writing the interrupt character (usually control-C) to the master
device would cause an interrupt signal (SIGINT) to be generated for the
foreground process group that is connected to the slave. Conversely,
anything that is written to the slave end of the pseudoterminal can be
read by the process that is connected to the master end. Pseudotermi-
nals are used by applications such as network login services (ssh(1),
rlogin(1), telnet(1)), terminal emulators, script(1), screen(1), and
Historically, two pseudoterminal APIs have evolved: BSD and System V.
SUSv1 standardized a pseudoterminal API based on the System V API, and
this API should be employed in all new programs that use pseudotermi-
Linux provides both BSD-style and (standardized) System V-style pseu-
doterminals. System V-style terminals are commonly called UNIX 98
pseudoterminals on Linux systems. Since kernel 2.6.4, BSD-style pseu-
doterminals are considered deprecated (they can be disabled when con-
figuring the kernel); UNIX 98 pseudoterminals should be used in new
UNIX 98 pseudoterminals
An unused UNIX 98 pseudoterminal master is opened by calling
posix_openpt(3). (This function opens the master clone device,
/dev/ptmx; see pts(4).) After performing any program-specific initial-
izations, changing the ownership and permissions of the slave device
using grantpt(3), and unlocking the slave using unlockpt(3)), the cor-
responding slave device can be opened by passing the name returned by
ptsname(3) in a call to open(2).
The Linux kernel imposes a limit on the number of available UNIX 98
pseudoterminals. In kernels up to and including 2.6.3, this limit is
configured at kernel compilation time (CONFIG_UNIX98_PTYS), and the
permitted number of pseudoterminals can be up to 2048, with a default
setting of 256. Since kernel 2.6.4, the limit is dynamically
adjustable via /proc/sys/kernel/pty/max, and a corresponding file,
/proc/sys/kernel/pty/nr, indicates how many pseudoterminals are cur-
rently in use. For further details on these two files, see proc(5).
BSD-style pseudoterminals are provided as precreated pairs, with names
of the form /dev/ptyXY (master) and /dev/ttyXY (slave), where X is a
letter from the 16-character set [p-za-e], and Y is a letter from the
/dev/tty[p-za-e][0-9a-f] (BSD slave devices)
A description of the TIOCPKT ioctl(2), which controls packet mode oper-
ation, can be found in tty_ioctl(4).
The BSD ioctl(2) operations TIOCSTOP, TIOCSTART, TIOCUCNTL, and TIOCRE-
MOTE have not been implemented under Linux.
select(2), setsid(2), forkpty(3), openpty(3), termios(3), pts(4),
This page is part of release 3.54 of the Linux man-pages project. A
description of the project, and information about reporting bugs, can
be found at http://www.kernel.org/doc/man-pages/.
Linux 2005-10-10 PTY(7)
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