At my job, I ssh into a development server everyday. I usually use exceed XStart to ssh in, but I downloaded PuTTY to see if I could do anything that I couldn't do with XStart.

I spend almost the entire day looking at the regular white background/black text terminal. The TERM variable in the server is set to vt100, and as far as I know, it's an eight-color display.

I was wondering if there was a way to have PuTTY emulate a 256 color terminal. I would really like some syntax highlighting in Vim, and the built-in ones are just awful. I've tried vim -T xterm-256color, and that only seems to let me use the default color schemes.

I also tried setting t_Co=256, but that doesn't work either.

If it helps, the dev server is a Red Hat 6 box.


1. Configure Putty

In Settings > Windows > Colours there is a check box for "Allow terminal to use xterm 256-colour mode".

2. Let the app know

You'll probably have to change Settings -> Connection > Data > Terminal-type string to:


if your server has a terminfo entry for putty-256color, typically in /usr/share/terminfo/p/putty-256color, you can set Putty's Terminal-Type to putty-256color instead.

The main thing here is to make the server use an available Terminfo entry that most closely matches the way Putty is configured.

See also http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/wishlist/terminfo.html

  • 2
    I have just verified that I can get 256 colors in Vim with PuTTY when that option is enabled. PuTTY seems to set the TERM to "xterm" automatically for me; you may still need to manually do ":set t_Co=256" within Vim.
    – Heptite
    Jun 14 '12 at 17:48
  • I tried the Allow xterm 256-color mode, and that hasn't done anything. I also changed the terminal string to xterm-color, that also did nothing.
    – Tom
    Jun 14 '12 at 19:54
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    @Tom the terminal should be xterm-256color
    – bahamat
    Jun 14 '12 at 21:46
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    @Tom: All other systems that I've used use xterm-256color. If putty doesn't do anything with that I'm not sure anything else can be done. Check this page: http://www.frexx.de/xterm-256-notes/ and try the 256colors2.pl script to determine for sure wether or not it's working.
    – bahamat
    Jun 15 '12 at 18:10
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    @RedGrittyBrick xterm-256color was the key in Putty that I have been missing all these years! So awesome. And thanks Heptite for that comment about t_Co=256 too. Jun 14 '16 at 10:34

I recommend the putty-256color terminal type instead of xterm-256color, if the system you're logging in to includes the appropriate terminfo file (or if you have permissions to install the terminfo file there). The putty/putty-256color TERM has better support for some keys (e.g. F1-F4).

  • Setting putty-256color without a ~/.terminfo file will result with the following when using certain programs, such as nano: Error opening terminal: putty-256color.
    – JW0914
    Feb 11 '18 at 14:52
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    That's why I mentioned that the terminfo file should be already present on the system, or installed locally. Feb 12 '18 at 15:24
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    This added the terminfo files I needed: apt-get install ncurses-term
    – roeland
    Jul 18 '19 at 16:27
  • I agree with using putty-256color. I tried using xterm-256color in the Terminal-type string. (Tested in KiTTY) It seemed ok at first but when I started KiTTY and got back into screen, it resized the window to 80 columns. putty-256color does not have this problem and the colors work. Feb 22 at 8:44

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