The ncurses (new curses) library is a free software emulation of curses in System V Release 4.0 (SVr4), and more. It uses terminfo format, supports pads and color and multiple highlights and forms characters and function-key mapping, and has all the other SVr4-curses enhancements over BSD curses. SVr4 curses became the basis of X/Open Curses.
In mid-June 1995, the maintainer of 4.4BSD curses declared that he considered 4.4BSD curses obsolete, and encouraged the keepers of unix releases such as BSD/OS, FreeBSD and NetBSD to switch over to ncurses.
Since 1995, ncurses has been ported to many systems:
The distribution includes the library and support utilities, including
Full manual pages are provided for the library and tools.
The ncurses distribution is available at ncurses' homepage:
It is also available via anonymous FTP at the GNU distribution site
These notes are for ncurses 6.3, released October 21, 2021.
This release is designed to be source-compatible with ncurses 5.0 through 6.2; providing extensions to the application binary interface (ABI). Although the source can still be configured to support the ncurses 5 ABI, the reason for the release is to reflect improvements to the ncurses 6 ABI and the supporting utility programs.
There are, of course, numerous other improvements, listed in this announcement.
The most important bug-fixes/improvements dealt with portability issues. The release notes also mention some other bug-fixes, but are focused on new features and improvements to existing features since ncurses 6.2 release.
There are a few new features:
A new (experimental) driver, for the Windows Terminal configuration is provided.
A script is provided which enables OpenBSD users to upgrade their system to use ncurses 6.3 (OpenBSD developers are also invited to do this).
Additionally, to improve performance other changes (and extensions) are provided in this release:
modify lib_mouse.c to check for out-of-range button numbers, convert those to position reports.
These are revised features:
These were done to limit or ultimately deprecate features:
mark wgetch-events feature as deprecated.
prevent KEY_EVENT from appearing in curses.h unless the configure option
--enable-wgetch-events is used.
modify MKkey_defs.sh to hide ncurses' definition of KEY_EVENTS to reduce Visual Studio C++ redefinition warnings.
reduce build-warnings by excluding ncurses-internals from deprecation warnings.
These are improvements to existing features:
drop symbols GCC_PRINTF and GCC_SCANF from <curses.h>, to simplify use.
apply gcc format attribute to prototypes which use a va_list parameter rather than a “...” variable-length parameter list.
modify <term.h> so that it is not necessary to include <curses.h> before <term.h>.
provide for wide-characters as background character in wbkgrnd
improve parameter-checking for tparm, adding function _nc_tiparm() to handle the most-used case, which accepts only numeric parameters.
use return-value from vsnprintf to reallocate as needed to allow for buffers larger than the screen size.
add another fflush(stdout) in _nc_flush to handle time-delays in the middle of strings such as flash when the application uses low-level calls rather than curses.
These are corrections to existing features:
add a check to guard against repeat_char emitting digits which could be interpreted as BSD-style padding when --enable-bsdpad is configured.
Several improvements were made to the utility programs:
implement “+m” option
add check for duplicate “use=” clauses.
add check to report instances where tparm would detect an error in an expression.
add user-defined capabilities from mintty to Caps-ncurses, for checking consistency.
improve warning when oc/op do not mention SGR 39/49 for xterm compatible
improve checks for number of parameters of
improve “-c” option to validate the number and type of parameters and compare against expected number/type before deciding which set of parameter-lists to use in tparm calls.
improve check for errors detected in
improve format of output, to ensure that the messages contain only printable text.
modify to eliminate unnecessary “
\” to escape “
:” in terminfo format.
remove check that assumes that none or both parameterized and non-parameterized margin-setting capabilities are present.
modify output of “toe -as” to show first description found rather than the last.
add a check to ensure that a “termcap file” is text rather than binary.
modify to allow multiple commands per line.
improve parameter-checking by analyzing all extended string capabilities, e.g., as used in the
Ms capabilities of the tmux description.
make warning messages consistently using alias names when those are used, rather than the underlying program's name.
improve usage message for aliases such as clear, by eliminating tput-specific portions.
modify initialization to avoid opening /dev/tty for cases other than reset/init, e.g., for clear.
Along with the library and utilities, improvements were made to the ncurses-examples. Most of this activity aimed at improving the test-packages. A few changes are more generally useful, e.g., for the main ncurses test-program, and for analyzing traces using the tracemunch script:
add “-r” option to the dots test-programs, to help with scripting a performance comparison.
build-fix for test_opaque, for configurations without opaque curses structs, e.g., ncurses 5.7.
improve tracemunch logic for "RUN" compaction.
improve tracemunch's coverage of form/menu/panel libraries.
improve tracemunch's checking/reporting the type for the first parameter, e.g., "WINDOW*" rather than "#1".
modify tracemunch and the panel library to show readable traces for panel- and user-pointers.
There are other new demo/test programs and reusable examples:
There are several new terminal descriptions:
absolute, att610+cvis, foot, foot-direct, hp98550-color, hpterm-color2, hterm, hterm-256color, linux-s, putty+keypad, putty+screen, putty-screen, screen.linux-s, scrt/securecrt, tmux-direct, vt220+cvis, vt220+cvis8, vt220+pcedit, vt220+vtedit, vt220-base, vt52+keypad, xterm+256color2, xterm+88color2, xterm-direct16, xterm-direct256, xterm+nofkeys, and xterm+nopcfkeys.
There are many changes to existing terminal descriptions. Some were updates to several descriptions:
while others affected specific descriptions. These were retested, to take into account changes by their developers:
kitty+common, mlterm3, ms-terminal
while these are specific fixes based on reviewing documentation, user reports, or warnings from tic:
A few entries use extensions (user-defined terminal capabilities):
As usual, this release
improves documentation by describing new features,
attempts to improve the description of features which users have found confusing
fills in overlooked descriptions of features which were described in the NEWS file but treated sketchily in manual pages.
In addition to providing background information to explain these features and show how they evolved, there are corrections, clarifications, etc.:
New/improved history and portability sections:
improve documentation for tparm and static/dynamic variables.
add history note to curs_scanw.3x for <stdarg.h> and <varargs.h>
add history note to curs_printw.3x for <stdarg.h> and <varargs.h>
add portability note to ncurses.3x regarding <stdarg.h>
improve history section for tset manpage based on the 1BSD tarball, which preceded BSD's SCCS checkins by more than three years.
explain in ncurses.3x that functions in the tinfo library do not rely upon wide-characters.
improve manual page for panel library, extending the portability section as well as documenting error-returns.
add section on margins to terminfo.5, adapted from X/Open Curses.
improve man/term.5 section on legacy storage format.
add a note in terminfo.5 explaining that no-parameter strings such as sgr0 or cnorm should not be used with tparm.
improve description of BSD-style padding in curs_termcap.3x
improve discussion of padding versus tparm and tputs in man/curs_terminfo.3x
There are no new manual pages (all of the manual page updates are to existing pages).
Some of the improvements are more subtle, relating to the way the information is presented. For instance, hyphenation is suppressed in the HTML files generated from manual pages because an upgrade to groff gave noticeably poorer results, interfering with the process of creating links between the resulting webpages.
While there were many bugs fixed during development of ncurses 6.3, only a few (the reason for this release) were both important and interesting. Most of the bug-fixes were for local issues which did not affect compatibility across releases. Since those are detailed in the NEWS file no elaboration is needed here.
The interesting bugs were:
This was a regression introduced in ncurses 6.2 (reported on the mailing list), for which the workaround was to specify a blank for the background character.
improve tparm implementation of %P and %g, more closely matching SVr4 terminfo. Those denote static and dynamic variables in terminfo expressions.
Exactly what those terms meant was never documented before in any implementation of curses, aside from source code. Unlike the other two fixes, the problem was discovered while studying OpenBSD's version of tset.
There are no major changes. Several new options were added to ease integration of packages with systems using different versions of GNAT and ncurses. Also, improvements were made to configure checks.
There are a few new/modified configure options:
new configure option and check for gcc -fvisibility=hidden feature
corrected to allow turning leak-checking off later in a set of options.
new configure option makes the
_Noreturn keyword optional to ease transition.
revised option also controls whether
$LDFLAGS from the build is provided in “-config” and “.pc” files.
add configure option which tells ncurses to disallow most file-opens by setuid processes.
changed default to help packagers who reuse wide ncursesw header file with non-wide ncurses library.
revised option uses the actual search path from pkg-config or pkgconf using the output from --debug.
new several --with-xxx-libname options, to help with pkgsrc
Many of the portability changes are implemented via the configure script:
add a special case in the configure script to work around one of the build-time breakages reported for OpenBSD 6 here:
modify configure check for libtool to prevent accidental use of an OpenBSD program which uses the same name.
modify configuration checks for build-time tic/infocmp to use AC_CHECK_TOOL. That can still be overridden by --with-tic-path and --with-infocmp-path when fallbacks are used, but even if not using fallbacks, the improved check may help with cross-compiling.
relax modification-time comparison in CF_LINK_FUNCS to allow it to accept link() function with NFS filesystems which change the mtime on the link target, e.g., several BSD systems.
modify configure check for c89/c99 aliases of clang to use its -std option instead, because some platforms, in particular macOS, do not provide workable c89/c99 aliases.
modify CF_NCURSES_CONFIG to work around Xcode's c99 "-W" option, which conflicts with conventional use for passing linker options.
modify configure scripts to filter out redefinitions of _XOPEN_SOURCE, e.g., for NetBSD which generally supports 500, but 600 is needed for ncursesw.
Here are some of the other portability fixes:
change configure-check and source-code for gcc's noreturn attribute to assume it is a prefix rather than suffix, matching c11's _Noreturn convention.
modify mk-1st.awk to account for extra-suffix configure option.
build-fix for termsort module when configured with termcap.
modify configure script and makefiles to support ".PHONY" make program feature.
amend libtool configuration to add dependency for install.tic, etc., in ncurses/Makefile on the lower-level libraries.
modify Ada95 source-generation utility to write to a file given as parameter rather than to the standard output, allowing builds with MinGW.
amend tic/infocmp check to allow for the respective tool's absence.
build-fixes for gnat 10.1.1, whose gnatmake drops integration with gprbuild.
correct configure version-check/warning for g++ to allow for 10.x
The ncurses package is fully upward-compatible with SVr4 (System V Release 4) curses:
All of the SVr4 calls have been implemented (and are documented).
ncurses supports all of the for SVr4 curses features including keyboard mapping, color, forms-drawing with ACS characters, and automatic recognition of keypad and function keys.
ncurses provides these SVr4 add-on libraries (not part of X/Open Curses):
the panels library, supporting a stack of windows with backing store.
the menus library, supporting a uniform but flexible interface for menu programming.
the form library, supporting data collection through on-screen forms.
ncurses's terminal database is fully compatible with that used by SVr4 curses.
ncurses supports user-defined capabilities which it can see, but which are hidden from SVr4 curses applications using the same terminal database.
It can be optionally configured to match the format used in related systems such as AIX and Tru64.
Alternatively, ncurses can be configured to use hashed databases rather than the directory of files used by SVr4 curses.
The ncurses utilities have options to allow you to filter terminfo entries for use with less capable curses/terminfo versions such as the HP-UX and AIX ports.
The ncurses package also has many useful extensions over SVr4:
The API is 8-bit clean and base-level conformant with the X/OPEN curses specification, XSI curses (that is, it implements all BASE level features, and most EXTENDED features). It includes many function calls not supported under SVr4 curses (but portability of all calls is documented so you can use the SVr4 subset only).
Unlike SVr3 curses, ncurses can write to the rightmost-bottommost corner of the screen if your terminal has an insert-character capability.
Ada95 and C++ bindings.
Support for mouse event reporting with X Window xterm and FreeBSD and OS/2 console windows.
Extended mouse support via Alessandro Rubini's gpm package.
wresize allows you to resize windows, preserving their data.
use_default_colors allows you to use the terminal's default colors for the default color pair, achieving the effect of transparent colors.
define_key allow you to better control the use of function keys, e.g., disabling the ncurses KEY_MOUSE, or by defining more than one control sequence to map to a given key code.
Support for direct-color terminals, such as modern xterm.
Support for 256-color terminals, such as modern xterm.
Support for 16-color terminals, such as aixterm and modern xterm.
Better cursor-movement optimization. The package now features a cursor-local-movement computation more efficient than either BSD's or System V's.
Super hardware scrolling support. The screen-update code incorporates a novel, simple, and cheap algorithm that enables it to make optimal use of hardware scrolling, line-insertion, and line-deletion for screen-line movements. This algorithm is more powerful than the 4.4BSD curses
Real support for terminals with the magic-cookie glitch. The screen-update code will refrain from drawing a highlight if the magic- cookie unattributed spaces required just before the beginning and after the end would step on a non-space character. It will automatically shift highlight boundaries when doing so would make it possible to draw the highlight without changing the visual appearance of the screen.
It is possible to generate the library with a list of pre-loaded fallback entries linked to it so that it can serve those terminal types even when no terminfo tree or termcap file is accessible (this may be useful for support of screen-oriented programs that must run in single-user mode).
A BSD-like tset utility is provided.
The ncurses library and utilities will automatically read terminfo entries from $HOME/.terminfo if it exists, and compile to that directory if it exists and the user has no write access to the system directory. This feature makes it easier for users to have personal terminfo entries without giving up access to the system terminfo directory.
You may specify a path of directories to search for compiled descriptions with the environment variable TERMINFO_DIRS (this generalizes the feature provided by TERMINFO under stock System V.)
In terminfo source files, use capabilities may refer not just to other entries in the same source file (as in System V) but also to compiled entries in either the system terminfo directory or the user's $HOME/.terminfo directory.
The table-of-entries utility toe makes it easy for users to see exactly what terminal types are available on the system.
The library meets the XSI requirement that every macro entry point has a corresponding function which may be linked (and will be prototype-checked) if the macro definition is disabled with
The ncurses distribution includes a selection of test programs (including a few games). These are available separately as ncurses-examples
The ncurses library has been tested with a wide variety of applications including:
FrontEnd to Apt, the debian package manager
Curses Development Kit
the underlying application used in Slackware's setup, and the basis for similar install/configure applications on many systems.
the text WWW browser
New vi uses ncurses.
A console file manager with VI key bindings in Python.
newsreader, supporting color, MIME
File manager with vi like keybindings
as well as some that use ncurses for the terminfo support alone:
terminal emulator for serial modem connections
a replacement for
terminfo action checker
vi-like-emacs may be built to use the terminfo, termcap or curses interfaces.
and finally, those which use only the termcap interface:
The most commonly used pager (a program that displays text files).
Zeyd Ben-Halim started ncurses from a previous package pcurses, written by Pavel Curtis. Eric S. Raymond continued development. Jürgen Pfeifer wrote most of the form and menu libraries.
Ongoing development work is done by Thomas E. Dickey. Thomas E. Dickey has acted as the maintainer for the Free Software Foundation, which held a copyright on ncurses for releases 4.2 through 6.1. Following the release of ncurses 6.1, effective as of release 6.2, copyright for ncurses reverted to Thomas E. Dickey (see the ncurses FAQ for additional information).
Contact the current maintainers at
To join the ncurses mailing list, please write email to
firstname.lastname@example.org the line:
This list is open to anyone interested in helping with the development and testing of this package.
Beta versions of ncurses are made available at
Patches to the current release are made available at
There is an archive of the mailing list here:
http://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/bug-ncurses (also https)
The release notes make scattered references to these pages, which may be interesting by themselves:
The distribution provides a newer version of the terminfo-format terminal description file once maintained by Eric Raymond . Unlike the older version, the termcap and terminfo data are provided in the same file, which also provides several user-definable extensions beyond the X/Open specification.
You can find lots of information on terminal-related topics not covered in the terminfo file at Richard Shuford's archive . The collection of computer manuals at bitsavers.org has also been useful.