When I don't have GNOME installed, I can log in using GNU/Linux's text based login manager, then I'm presented with a shell. There are no GUIs running, and echo $TERM gives Linux.

Once I install GNOME and I'm logged in with the desktop manager running, I can access a terminal using GNOME's gnome-terminal, which has $TERM = xterm, but I can't figure out how to launch one of those original kernel-provided shells with $TERM = Linux. Does GNOME provide a way to do this, or is there any other way of accessing one of these shells while GNOME is running?

1 Answer 1


I think you are confusing a few things:

  • The "text based login manager" is not part of the kernel.

  • The TERM variable is only used to tell applications in what kind of terminal they are running. It can be set and changed freely (and conveniently for you, it's often set to the correct value by default)

  • Those text based shells run in "virtual terminals" (vt). You can switch between vt's using Ctrl-Alt-Fn. Different distros have different defaults for assigning terminals, here on Devuan, I have virtual terminals on F1 to F6, while the graphical X subsystem is running as vt7, so it can be accessed with F7.

  • "GNOME" is a desktop, not a distribution, and things may differ between Linux distributions, even if they all use GNOME.

  • You can configure these things differently if you need to.

So try out a few Ctrl-Alt-Fn sequences, and see if they take you to a text-based terminal.

  • Thanks for clearing this up for me! Just out of curiosity, how do you configure what keybindings swap to different virtual terminals? Or did you mean something else by "You can configure these things differently if you need to"?
    – jrpear
    Jan 17, 2021 at 8:00
  • "Swapping keybindings" is one of the real difficult things. You probably need to custom-extent and recompile quite a few bits and pieces for that. "Configure how many virtual terminals are available, and what is bound to each (text terminal, or X server)" is really easy. Details depend on what your distro/your installation uses (systemd, oldschool initd, ...)
    – dirkt
    Jan 17, 2021 at 9:25
  • Oh interesting. Thanks!
    – jrpear
    Jan 17, 2021 at 18:16

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