Telling your Raspberry Pi that your terminal is bigger than 24 lines (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 25 May 2013

Telling your Raspberry Pi that your terminal is bigger than 24 lines

When I'm working with an embedded Linux box -- a plug computer, or most recently with a Raspberry Pi -- I usually use GNU screen as my terminal program. screen /dev/ttyUSB0 115200 connects to the appropriate USB serial port at the appropriate speed, and then you can log in just as if you were using telnet or ssh.

With one exception: the window size. Typically everything is fine until you use an editor, like vim. Once you fire up an editor, it assumes your terminal window is only 24 lines high, regardless of its actual size. And even after you exit the editor, somehow your window will have been changed so that it scrolls at the 24th line, leaving the bottom of the window empty.

Tracking down why it happens took some hunting. Tthere are lots of different places the screen size can be set. Libraries like curses can ask the terminal its size (but apparently most programs don't). There's a size built into most terminfo entries (specified by the TERM environment variable) -- but it's not clear that gets used very much any more. There are environment variables LINES and COLUMNS, and a lot of programs read those; but they're often unset, and even if they are set, you can't trust them. And setting any of these didn't help -- I could change TERM and LINES and COLUMNS all I wanted, but as soon as I ran vim the terminal would revert to that scrolling-at-24-lines behavior.

In the end it turned out the important setting was the tty setting. You can get a summary of what the tty driver thinks its size is:

% stty size
32 80

But to set it, you use rows and columns rather than size. I discovered I could type stty rows 32 (or whatever my current terminal size was), and then I could run vim and it would stay at 32 rather than reverting to 24. So that was the important setting vim was following.

The basic problem was that screen, over a serial line, doesn't have a protocol for passing the terminal's size information, the way a remote login program like ssh, rsh or telnet does. So how could I get my terminal size set appropriately on login?

Auto-detecting terminal size

There's one program that will do it for you, which I remembered from the olden days of Unix, back before programs like telnet had this nice size-setting built in. It's called resize, and on Debian, it turned out to be part of the xterm package.

That's actually okay on my current Raspberry Pi, since I have X libraries installed in case I ever want to hook up a monitor. But in general, a little embedded Linux box shouldn't need X, so I wasn't very satisfied with this solution. I wanted something with no X dependencies. Could I do the same thing in Python?

How it works

Well, as I mentioned, there are ways of getting the size of the actual terminal window, by printing an escape sequence and parsing the result.

But finding the escape sequence was trickier than I expected. It isn't written about very much. I ended up running script and capturing the output that resize sent, which seemed a little crazy: '\e[7\e[r\e[999;999H\e[6n' (where \e means the escape character). Holy cow! What are all those 999s?

Apparently what's going on is that there isn't any sequence to ask xterm (or other terminal programs) "What's your size?" But there is a sequence to ask, "Where is the cursor on the screen right now?"

So what you do is send a sequence telling it to go to row 999 and column 999; and then another sequence asking "Where are you really?" Then read the answer: it's the window size.

(Note: if we ever get monitors big enough for 1000x1000 terminals, this will fail. I'm not too worried.)

Reading the answer

Okay, great, we've asked the terminal where it is, and it responds. How do we read the answer? That was actually the trickiest part.

First, you have to write to /dev/tty, not just stdout.

Second, you need the output to be available for your program to read, not just echo in the terminal for the user to see. Setting the tty to noncanonical mode does that.

Third, you can't just do a normal blocking read of stdin -- it'll never return. Instead, put stdin into non-blocking mode and use select() to see when there's something available to read.

And of course, you have to make sure you reset the terminal back to normal canonical line-buffered mode when you're done, whether or not your read succeeds.

Once you do all that, you can read the output, which will look something like "\e[32;80R". The two numbers, of course, are the lines and columns values you want; ignore the rest.

stty in python

Oh, yes, and one other thing: once you've read the terminal size, how do you set the stty size appropriately? You can't just run system('stty rows %d' % (rows) seems like it should work, but it doesn't, probably because it's using stdout instead of /dev/tty. But I did find one way to do it, the enigmatic:

fcntl.ioctl(fd, termios.TIOCSWINSZ,
            struct.pack("HHHH", rows, cols, 0, 0))

Here it all is in one script, which you can install on your Raspberry Pi (or other embedded Linux box) and run from .bash_profile:
termsize: set stty size to the size of the current terminal window.

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[ 18:47 May 25, 2013    More hardware | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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