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Screen: A must for SSH


If you’ve ever used SSH to connect to a server, you ‘ll know its limitations: if you want to open a new window, you’ll need to create a second SSH connection to the server. And if the connection breaks during the SSH tunnel, you’ve lost your progress. This is where Screen comes in.

SSH GNU ScreenScreen, which calls itself a “full-screen window manager that multiplexes a physical terminal between several processes (typically interactive shells).” is a usefull tool to use 1 SSH connection, but use multiple screens to work in. So you can have 1 screen to write some scripts in, another to tail a logfile and a third to check your IRC messages ;-)

Screen is installed by default on most installations, you can verify this by running the “which screen” command. If it’s not installed, try to apt-get or yum it – it’s in most repositories.

You can start screen by typing:
[root@whosyourdaddy ~]# screen

This makes sense, right? :-)

You’ll probably notice that not much happens if you type that. At least, it seems like not much as happened. In fact, you’ve just opened a new “screen” to type your commands. The program “screen” has a few commands of its own, in order to create a new window, and navigate through the open ones.

Once you’ve opened “screen“, you can see a command list by typing “CTRL + A”, followed by “?” (the question mark). By typing “CTRL + A” you state that the next signal is to be sent to the program “screen“, in stead of to the Shell (like you would in a normal shell). You’ll see a list of all bindings known to “screen“.

Start a new window by typing “CTRL + A” + “c”. The C stands for Create – I know, too obvious. A new window will be created. In order to test this, type the command “top”. Then create a new window, by using “CTRL + A” + “c”. You’ll see top disappear, and a new window will open. Type in some commands of your choice, and return to the previous window, by doing “CTRL + A” + “n”. The “n” stands for “Next”, and will open the next screen. “CTRL + A” + “p” would’ve opened the previous screen.

Closing a window, can be done by typing “exit” (like you would in a normal shell). This will cause you to fall back to the previous monitor you opened, or to your main prompt – where you started screen, showing you a message such as “[screen is terminating]” – so you’ll know you’ve hit the main shell.

The biggest advantage in using screen, is that you can “detach” a screen-session. This means you return to the normal shell, but the processes started in “screen” are still active in the background. You can detach yourself by typing “CTRL + A” + “d”. Again, obvious that “D” stands for Detach. This gives you more flexibility for managing your server(s): you can start a number of processes, quietly exit the shell and return a couple of hours later to pick up the session started in screen.

Should you disconnect by accident, during a screen-session, you can always pick up a previous screen by relogging to shell and typing “screen -ls“. This will show a list of all running screen-sessions at any given time. You can pick up a previous screen-session, by typing “screen -r <name_of_session>“.

Probably known to most Linux Administrators, but still an awesome tool.

GNU Screen

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