How to manage multiple terminal windows on Linux Desktop

If you use a desktop environment in Linux, your desktop may often end up being cluttered with terminal windows. Especially if you are a system admin who deals with various system configurations and monitoring, your desktop will probably be occupied with many different terminals dedicated for different purposes. Multitasking through overlapping terminals scattered all over your desktop may not be the best way to be productive in such an environment.

In this tutorial, I will describe how to manage multiple terminal windows efficiently on Linux desktop environment.

One way to mitigate the problem of cluttered desktop with multiple terminals is to use "terminal multiplexers" such as screen or tmux. These programs allow you to switch between different virtual consoles within a single terminal window. Similar to terminal multiplexers, you can also use multiple "tabs" inside one terminal window, as supported by gnome-terminal.

However, all these approaches are not very user-friendly in that you have to manually switch among different consoles or tabs to make them appear on your desktop, and it is hard to keep track of all those overlapping consoles and tabs.

One desktop utility that does an excellent job in managing multiple terminal windows is terminator.

terminator allows you to create and arrange multiple terminals in a grid layout. You can open up new terminals as you need, by splitting existing terminals either horizontally or vertically, thereby aligning all terminals automatically in a grid layout.

To install terminator on Ubuntu or Debian:

$ sudo apt-get install terminator

To install terminator on CentOS or RHEL, first enable Repoforge on your system, and run the following.

$ sudo yum install terminator

To install terminator on Fedora:

$ sudo yum install terminator

To launch terminator, simply type the command, and press enter.

$ terminator

By default, it will open up just one terminal inside terminator window. If you want to add additional terminals, right-click inside the terminal, and choose either "Split Horizontally" or "Split Vertically". It will create an additional terminal by splitting an existing terminal into two accordingly.

You can also choose to add a new tab to an existing terminal, instead of splitting it. In that case, right-click and choose "Open Tab".

You can recursively split into multiple terminals vertically or horizontally. If you want, you can adjust the width or height of any given terminal. In the end, you can have something like the following, all within a single terminator window.

Once multiple terminals are set up as you wanted with terminator, you can save the current layout, so that you can reload the same layout automatically when launching terminator later.

To save the current layout of terminator, right-click anywhere inside the terminator window, and choose "Preferences". Then click on "Layouts" tab. Finally, click on "Add" button at the right bottom, and it will save the existing layout as "New Layout" name. Change the name of the saved layout to any custom name (e.g., xmodulo).

After saving the current layout, you can recover the same layout by launching terminator with "-l" option.

$ terminator -l xmodulo

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Dan Nanni is the founder and also a regular contributor of Xmodulo.com. He is a Linux/FOSS enthusiast who loves to get his hands dirty with his Linux box. He likes to procrastinate when he is supposed to be busy and productive. When he is otherwise free, he likes to watch movies and shop for the coolest gadgets.

8 thoughts on “How to manage multiple terminal windows on Linux Desktop

  1. Oh yes! I finally found it! A long time searching for this solution. I have to manage several machines and now I will be able to take in the view of one window.

  2. Great tutorial.
    I think Tmux is also one of the best terminal multiplexers for managing multiple terminals.

  3. I use Tmux but for a more desktop-ish experience I always install Terminology and Finalterm. which are eye-candy but really do a great

  4. This was a great article!
    However, I am having a problem. How do I close the original terminal that was used to launch terminator?

    • I'm sorry if sound mocking Mohak, but your question shows how little you've fiddled around with Linux. It's actually a cluster of questions, as you need to know some small but really useful information.

      1. Just don't run a command in a terminal to start terminator.
      Usually if you install terminator, add its own desktop icon. It should be in your graphical interface, somewhere in the applications menu.
      2. If you really need to run it by typing its name somewhere, then user Alt +F2 (most desktop environments have that keyboard shortcut mapped for a graphical windows which you can use to type commands in as with the Windows OS's Win+R dialog.
      3. If you really don't want to sound like a n00b the next time something like this happens to you and you need help.... just do a internet search and look up how to add new items to your desktop environment's "applications menu" and create a new item and under the "command" field write "terminator".
      4. To run a command in your terminal without it being dependent on the terminal windows u used to run it from you should add & after the command and then you can close the original terminal without affecting the command you just ran from it. In this case the command would be "terminator &".

      • "your question shows how little you've fiddled around with Linux"
        Did I mention anywhere in my comment that I was very experienced, a hacker or something of that sort?

        " If you really don't want to sound like a n00b the next time something like this happens to you and you need help.... just do a internet search and look up how to add new items to your desktop environment's "applications menu" and create a new item and under the "command" field write "terminator"."

        Well, I arrived for the first time on this website and I thought it would be as accurate and complete as most other blogs are and so followed the approach mentioned "To launch terminator, simply type the command, and press enter."

        "In this case the command would be "terminator &". FYI: I already tried it. It did not work and so asked the author.

        Lastly,
        "I'm sorry if sound mocking Mohak" .Didn't you learn to be better at english before hacking around with Linux and poking around in blogs of other people?

        • I'm sorry if I've offended you Mohak. I only tried to help you out and I pointed out how inexperienced you sounded because the information you asked for cannot be answered in only one clear sentence.
          The sort of question that you just posted is really in the "How to Linux" category. Please research more before posting questions, or at least start off your questions with "I already tried this and that"

          P.S. The letter "I" in that sentence, "I'm sorry if sound mocking Mohak" was a typo, and even so , if it got the message across I don't see why you are bitching about non-native English speaker's grammar instead of focusing on you personal lack of knowledge.

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