If you’re a fan of Linux, you know the reason it’s awesome: the command line. Though many outsiders view it as only a “hacker tool,” it’s one of the best available tools for any operating system. The Linux shell has the ability to install software, manage your operating system, and basically everything else, but you need a terminal emulator to interact with the command line.
There are many good ones, and picking the right one depends on your needs and how you prefer it to look.
Note: most if not all programs on this list can be found in your distribution’s package repository. Install them by using your package manager.
For the ultimate multitasker, Terminator (based on the GNOME terminal) could be the unicorn of terminal emulators. Sure, you could just do a split screen, but why bother when Terminator lets you have multiple sessions all in the same window?
This makes it much easier to manage and see. What’s so great is that the possibilities are endless. Easily resize each session to fully customize the screen. This is a completely different experience from the multi-tab support some other emulators use.
For those new to terminal emulators, you might not like the setup. It’s not the easiest to customize until you learn the right keyboard shortcuts. But, if you don’t mind taking the time to learn, it’s well worth the effort.
Troubleshooting tip: If you are unable to type in the Terminal, try these fixes.
If speed is your priority, look no further than Kitty. It uses GPU (using OpenGL) versus CPU for processing, which makes it perfect for ultra-fast keyboard users. Not only is it incredibly efficient, it works well with older systems, those with fewer resources, or any system where you’re already close to maxing out resources. Unlike terminals using the CPU for processing, there’s less chance of freezing or crashing.
Obviously, performance is front and center with Kitty. You’ll see results almost instantly with minimal latency. The great part is most every performance element is customizable to best fit your needs.
To get things done even faster, just remember the various keyboard shortcuts. You can also map a variety of actions to different key combos to further customize how you use this terminal emulator.
Guake is a Quake-inspired and designed for those who love to customize their terminal. The drop-down Linux terminal lets you multitask with both split and multi-tab views.
You can start Guake at launch along with a script that automatically configures your layout – at least until the save session option is added. With over 130 color palette layouts, full control over choosing keyboard shortcuts, and simple hotkey start and hide, it’s a powerful terminal that’s surprisingly lightweight.
It works extremely well with multiple monitors too. If you prefer having the terminal automatically load on one monitor over another, you can set it to do that.
The top-down design is made specifically for the GNOME desktop. It’s a fun terminal emulator great for both beginners and power users.
Good to know: learn all the ways to copy and paste text, files and folders in the terminal.
If you were a fan of Termite, the developers recommend you switch to Alacritty. It’s inspired by Termite, which is no longer being actively supported or developed. Instead of VTE, it’s an OpenGL-based terminal, which makes it exceptionally fast.
The multi-window feature lets you save resources by only using a single process for multiple tasks. It’s also easy to navigate thanks to vi mode, which lets you take advantage of vi bindings for better keyboard and mouse support. These are completely customizable too.
If you’re trying to remember what you’ve done in terminal so far, you don’t have to just scroll and hope you find it. The search feature lets you quickly find anything currently in Alacritty’s scrollback buffer.
Rxvt-unicode, also called urxvt, is one of the top terminal emulators for Linux thanks to how easy it is to customize using the configuration file. It’s also one of the lighter weight terminals, meaning it’s ideal for any Linux system.
Thanks to only a few dependencies, it’s fast and able to process large amounts of text quickly. Not only is text stored in Unicode, but Unicode provides support for international languages. You can even open multiple windows using a single instance in daemon mode. It’s speed comes from having both a server and client modes
It doesn’t have tabs by default, but you can use plugins to get tab support. If you’re looking for something that’s not overly complicated, it’s hard to beat this terminal emulator.
Tip: check out more Bash tips and tricks to get the best out of your Terminal usage.
6. Cool Retro Term
Cool Retro Term is more about looks than anything else. Love 80s and 90s hacker flicks and want your terminal to emulate that same look? Then this is the best terminal emulator for Linux. It takes the shape of classic CRT monitors, though you can control how much the terminal window curves and even flickers.
While Classic Amber is the default, there are other themes to choose from, such as Apple II and Vintage. If old school is your goal, this lightweight terminal has you covered.
It’s likely the most unique-looking terminal emulator you’ll find. Easily choose the retro monitor you’d like to emulate and you might just feel like you’re back in a 90s hacker movie.
Hyper is built on the web technologies HTML, CSS, and JS using Electron, and it’s also cross-platform. If you frequently jump between Linux, Windows, and/or Mac, your terminal can stay the same. It doesn’t really do anything special outside of being extremely easy to customize.
In fact, it supports plugins and themes to make customization even quicker. If you design your own themes, you can submit them directly to Hyper. The plugins truly set it apart from other terminal emulators. While the site doesn’t have a ton available, awesome-hyper on GitHub does.
If you’re not into spending a lot of time on customization, you’ll still love Hyper. It looks great without doing anything else to it. The downside is it slows down quickly if you’re using multiple terminal windows or using Hyper alongside multiple other apps.
8. GNOME Terminal
If you’re already using a distro with the GNOME desktop environment, you already have GNOME terminal. But if you’re using another distro, such as a Fedora or a Debian-based distro, you may want to give GNOME terminal a chance.
Easily customize the look and feel, auto-detect URLs, and even switch between split and full screen quickly. It’s easy to use and surprisingly simple to customize to your needs. It’s also nice if you’re switching distros and want to keep GNOME terminal.
For multiple users or preferences, GNOME supports profiles, which is always a nice feature to have. Not only does it support them, but easily switch back and forth in real-time just by right-clicking.
Terminology is based on Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (EFL). It has a wide range of features and customizations. For instance, you can enable OpenGL for rendering in your acceleration settings, adjust colors and fonts, and change the background to a video if you’d like.
It’s a security-focused terminal, too. All scrollback stays in RAM to keep your data safer, and there are even audible alerts (which you can turn off) if something’s not right. You can also multitask easily with quick switch tabs.
While you can add your own backgrounds, Terminology comes preinstalled with backgrounds and themes to help you get started quickly. Being able to preview all types of files within the terminal makes it the ideal option for those who prefer doing everything via the terminal versus a GUI.
Comparison: are you a fan of multiplexer? Find out whether Tmux or Screen is the best terminal multiplexer.
If you’ve ever used a KDE desktop environment, you’ve probably used Konsole before. Just like the GNOME terminal goes with the GNOME desktop., Konsole is bundled with KDE – not that you can’t use it on other desktop environments.
It’s a fairly lightweight terminal that lets you take advantage of both tabs and grouped windows. Of course, there are ample customization features to give it some extra personality.
If you’re a heavy terminal user or just get interrupted a lot, you’ll love having bookmarks. These let you save your current working path so you can jump back in whenever you want. It’s also useful if you tend to work with a lot of different directories.
Tilix is a more advanced terminal emulator based on GTK3 and follows the Gnome Human Interface guidelines. This tiling terminal is available for a wide number of distros. One thing that really stands out is the ability to save layouts. If you’ve set up a group of terminals, save it to use the next time.
Easily customize Tilix with transparent backgrounds. Move panes around with ease and even drag and drop terminals into place. You can even custom links and titles.
All the settings are easy to access in the GUI. Change everything from the general appearance to setting up different profiles for various users, including root.
Find out more: Interested about Tilix? Check out our review here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I customize the terminal prompt?
Want a unique looking terminal prompt? While many terminal emulators let you customize the prompt, you can also use a separate prompt build like Starship, then get creative and see how unique things become.
Why won't my new terminal load?
Ubuntu sometimes has this problem with the built-in terminal. The troubleshooting steps work well for figuring out what may be causing your new terminal emulator to not load properly. However, a few things to check immediately are:
- Is it compatible with your version of Linux and desktop? Not every emulator is compatible with every version. Check to ensure that the terminal will work with your desktop and Linux version before installing.
- Did you install it correctly? It’s incredibly easy to type a single letter or symbol that wreaks havoc on the installation. Try reinstalling to see whether something may have gone wrong.
Can I still use Termite if I already have it installed?
If you love using Termite, keep using it. However, it’ll no longer being updated. This also means it could eventually pose a security risk. Alacritty is faster and more secure, so it’s a great replacement. After all, even the developers are recommending it.
Why is my terminal crashing?
The more you ask the terminal to handle at once, the more likely it is to crash. If you’re a power user, you may want to consider using at terminal that uses OpenGL for faster processing. It can also be an issue with insufficient system resources for what you’re trying to do. As a result, the terminal crashes, as it can’t complete the process.
Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Crystal Crowder.
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