Reproducible results for LWN review of terminal emulators: https://lwn.net/Articles/749992/. Mirror of GitLab repository, possibly out of date..
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debian9-xorg rerun tests in a blank gnome session Mar 31, 2018
fedora27-wayland add partial test run on F27 wayland Mar 30, 2018
fedora27-xorg fedora + xorg test run Mar 30, 2018
latency add terminology results from fedora-xorg Apr 9, 2018
README.md document more clearly the default typometer settings Apr 18, 2018
benchmarks-summary.ipynb force white backgrounds and factor out fig setup Apr 14, 2018
benchmarks.ipynb yolo update, first draft sent to lwn Apr 10, 2018
cpu.png cleanup notebook, add tables, generate static graphs Mar 20, 2018
debian9-xorg-prime-100x100000.csv remove useless directories Apr 9, 2018
editors.csv add emacs benchmarks with clean profile Mar 23, 2018
fedora27-wayland-prime-100x100000.csv remove useless directories Apr 9, 2018
fedora27-xorg-prime-100x100000.csv remove duplicate header Apr 9, 2018
latency-all.csv add missing data sources Mar 16, 2018
latency.png cleanup notebook, add tables, generate static graphs Mar 20, 2018
latency.py move benchmarks out of wiki Mar 16, 2018
magicstring reduce documentation to a minimum for first part of the series Mar 28, 2018
magicstring-sarah.png regenerate magic string rendering after fixed sarah test Mar 28, 2018
memory.png cleanup notebook, add tables, generate static graphs Mar 20, 2018
performance.csv move benchmarks out of wiki Mar 16, 2018
performance.py move benchmarks out of wiki Mar 16, 2018
reproduce.py add more tests Apr 9, 2018
reproduce.sh note why gnome-term is not there Mar 31, 2018
sarah fix Sarah test so it renders correctly in emacs Mar 28, 2018
setup.cfg silence flake8 warnings Apr 9, 2018
test-bytes-helper.sh add more tests Apr 9, 2018
test-cat-src-100.sh add more tests Apr 9, 2018
test-cat-src.sh add more tests Apr 9, 2018
test-seq.sh add more tests Apr 9, 2018
time.png cleanup notebook, add tables, generate static graphs Mar 20, 2018
times-10x10000.csv add missing data sources Mar 16, 2018
unicode-mlterm-3.5-fail.png show how mlterm fails to render the magicstring in debian Mar 29, 2018

README.md

Terminal emulators benchmarking suite

This repository holds test scripts and results for a LWN article about terminal emulators written in 2017-2018.

Table of Contents

Methodology

Those tests were built over a period of 6 months, with variable methodology for different tests. Two main family of tests were performed: features and performance.

Unless otherwise noted, all tests were performed with the same hardware (Intel i3-6100U CPU @ 2.30GHz, 16GiB DD4 RAM, Intel HD Graphics 520 controller and 1680x1050 screen @ 59.95Hz). If customization was performed on the terminal, a note was added in the summary. Some terminals had to use a special font for the latency test to work (e.g. using the then-standard -font '-adobe-courier-medium-r-normal--14-100-100-100-m-90-iso8859-1' argument), but were otherwise using the default font. A unicode locale (either fr_CA.UTF-8 or en_US.UTF-8) was used for all tests.

A battery of tests were done in July 17 on Debian 9.0, and tests were redone in March 2018 on Debian 9.4 and Fedora 27.

Terminal Debian Fedora Upstream Notes
Alacritty N/A N/A 6debc4f no releases Git head
GNOME Terminal 3.22.2 3.26.2 3.28.0 uses GTK3, VTE
Konsole 16.12.0 17.12.2 17.12.3 uses KDE libraries
mlterm 3.5.0 3.7.0 3.8.5 uses VTE, "Multi-lingual terminal"
pterm 0.67 0.70 0.70 PuTTY without ssh, uses GTK2
st 0.6 0.7 0.8.1 "simple terminal"
Terminator 1.90+bzr-1705 1.91 1.91 uses GTK3, VTE
urxvt 9.22 9.22 9.22 main rxvt fork, also known as rxvt-unicode
Xfce Terminal 0.8.3 0.8.7 0.8.7.2 uses GTK3, VTE
xterm 327 330 331 the original X terminal

Alacritty was only tested on Debian and doesn't have tagged releases yet. The latest commit available at the time of writing was:

commit 6debc4f3351446417d0c4e38173cd9ef0faa71d5
Author: YOSHIOKA Takuma <lo48576@hard-wi.red>
Date:   Tue Mar 13 20:16:01 2018 +0900

    Try to create window with different SRGB config when failed
    
    This may truly solve #921 (and issue caused by #1178)
    <https://github.com/jwilm/alacritty/issues/921#issuecomment-372619121>.

mlterm is not shipped with Fedora by default, so this copr repository was used as an alternative. Because it only supports F26 out of the box, the .repo file was modified to hardcode the version number:

--- /etc/yum.repos.d/rabiny-mlterm.repo.orig	2018-03-28 17:06:43.048093670 -0400
+++ /etc/yum.repos.d/rabiny-mlterm.repo	2018-03-28 17:06:19.671757651 -0400
@@ -1,6 +1,6 @@
 [rabiny-mlterm]
 name=Copr repo for mlterm owned by rabiny
-baseurl=https://copr-be.cloud.fedoraproject.org/results/rabiny/mlterm/fedora-$releasever-$basearch/
+baseurl=https://copr-be.cloud.fedoraproject.org/results/rabiny/mlterm/fedora-26-$basearch/
 type=rpm-md
 skip_if_unavailable=True
 gpgcheck=1

Feature tests

Those results cover the first part of the series, the features.

Unicode

Unicode rendering tests were performed in a Debian Stretch 9.4 virtual machine, using the following procedure:

vagrant up debian/stretch64
vagrant ssh -c "sudo apt install xorg xterm rxvt-unicode mlterm kterm gnome-terminal blackbox"
vagrant ssh -c "echo 'w6ksIM6ULCDQmSwg16cgLNmFLCDguZcsIOOBgizlj7YsIOiRiSwgYW5kIOunkAo=' | base64 -d > magicstring"

Then start VirtualBox, login (vagrant/vagrant) and start a GUI:

xinit blackbox

Tests were also performed on a clean, on-disk Fedora 27 install.

Once a GUI is available, start the terminal and cat the magic file:

cat magicstring

The magic string was taken from the Wikipedia Unicode page, with a "é" added to make the string a little more familiar to western readers:

For example, the references Δ, Й, ק, م, ๗, あ, 叶, 葉, and 말 (or the same numeric values expressed in hexadecimal, with &#x as the prefix) should display on all browsers as Δ, Й, ק ,م, ๗, あ, 叶, 葉, and 말.

In the magic string, all characters should be displayed properly, as long as one font on the system supports the script, even if it's not the font configured in the terminal. The Qoph and Mem characters should also be display "backwards", that is "right-to-left: the mem character should visually be displayed right after the Yot character (Й) even if it's actually listed after Qoph.

Another magic string that was tested is the Hebrew name "Sarah" (שרה, or 16nXqNeUCg==), taken from the bi-directional text wikipedia page:

Many computer programs fail to display bi-directional text correctly. For example, the Hebrew name Sarah (שרה) is spelled: sin (ש) (which appears rightmost), then resh (ר), and finally heh (ה) (which should appear leftmost).

As a reference, the two test strings display up correctly in Emacs 25 on Fedora 27 and Debian 9. The two strings should look like this:

Magic string and Sarah in Hebrew correctly displayed by Emacs 25

To perform the test, the above two strings were stored in two distinct files (magicstring and sarah) and displayed, one at a time, with two distinct cat commands:

[anarcat@curiehat terms-benchmarks]$ cat magicstring
é, Δ, Й, ק ,م, ๗, あ,叶, 葉, and 말
[anarcat@curiehat terms-benchmarks]$ cat sarah

שרה

Note that the word "sarah" is surrounded by newlines otherwise it does not show up correctly in Emacs, which directions are per paragraph, not per line. Also note that Firefox displays the first string correctly, but fails to align the sarah string to right. I will not try to lose myself in the mists to figure out why this happens: if anything, it could be that browsers do this per DOM block or for the whole document.

Here are the results of a test performed on Debian 9 and verified on Fedora 27:

Terminal All Order From right
Alacritty x x
GNOME Terminal x x
Konsole x
mlterm ✓¹
pterm
urxvt x x
st x x
Terminator x x
Xfce Terminal x x
xterm x x x

¹ mlterm 3.5, as packaged in Debian, does not render all characters properly, most of them being rendered as boxes:

mlterm 3.5 in Debian not rendering characters correctly

Details:

  • All: all characters are properly displayed in the default configuration
  • Order: The "mem" and "qoph" characters are in the proper order
  • From right: the "Sara" word is display from the right margin

Paste protection

Here the test is to copy-paste the text in the first and second test boxes from Jann Horn's test site. Text was copied using the CLIPBOARD buffer (control-c, control-v) when possible, otherwise the middle mouse button was used to copy the content of the boxes. Here are the results, with and without the .inputrc configuration in Bash:

Terminal without with, 2nd box
Alacritty x x
GNOME Terminal x
Konsole x x
mlterm x x
pterm x x
st x x
Terminator x
urxvt x x
urxvt+confirm-paste
Xfce Terminal x
xterm x
  • without: test results without a .inputrc configured, same in the two boxes
  • with, 2nd box: test with a .inputrc, but with the second box (first box always succeeds in all tested terminals)

The test succeeds if the commands are not ran.

The magic .inputrc line is:

set enable-bracketed-paste on

This was tested on Debian 9 and Fedora 27.

Tabs and profiles

Terminal Tabs Profiles Linked
Alacritty x x N/A
GNOME Terminal
Konsole
mlterm x x N/A
pterm x x N/A
st x x N/A
Terminator
urxvt ✓² x x
Xfce Terminal x N/A
xterm x x N/A

² urxvt supports tabs through a plugin.

³ I couldn't figure out how to start a given profile in a given Terminator tab.

  • Tabs: display and manage multiple tabs (! means through a plugin)
  • Profiles: if custom settings or command can be retained in different profiles
  • Linked: if specific tabs can be made to start a specific profile out of the box. not applicable (N/A) for terminals without profile support, obviously.

This was verified by clicking around the terminal's GUI and looking at documentation, first on Debian 9 and then confirmed on Fedora 27.

Eye candy

This is more of a qualitative evaluation. This was done by inspecting the visible menus in the application and some reference manuals.

Terminal backgrounds transparency true-color URL text-wrap scrollback
Alacritty x x x x x
GNOME Terminal
Konsole x x x
mlterm ✓⁴ x x
pterm x x x x x
st x x x x x
Terminator x
urxvt x
Xfce Terminal
xterm x x x x x

⁴ mlterm fails the true-color test in Debian but succeeds in F27.

  • Backgrounds: if arbitrary images can be set in the background
  • Transparency: if we can see under the windows
  • True-color: does the terminal display more than 256 colors?
  • URL: detect URLs and make them clickable or activate with a keybinding
  • text-wrap: properly reflow long lines instead of trimming or stripping them
  • Scrollback: if screen history is preserved

The true-color test was the following:

awk 'BEGIN{
    s="/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\"; s=s s s s s s s s;
    for (colnum = 0; colnum<77; colnum++) {
        r = 255-(colnum*255/76);
        g = (colnum*510/76);
        b = (colnum*255/76);
        if (g>255) g = 510-g;
        printf "\033[48;2;%d;%d;%dm", r,g,b;
        printf "\033[38;2;%d;%d;%dm", 255-r,255-g,255-b;
        printf "%s\033[0m", substr(s,colnum+1,1);
    }
    printf "\n";
}'

The text-wrap test consists of showing the tail of a file with long lines, for example a logfile (e.g. /var/log/messages in Debian or /var/log/dnf.log in Fedora), and resizing the windows. A successful test will keep all characters as the window is resized, and reflow long lines. A failure is, for example, when characters disappear when a window is shrinked and expanded or when an expanded window doesn't rejoin long lines previously broken up.

All tests were done on Debian 9 and verified Fedora 27.

Original feature review

This is a more elaborate table of tests performed on Debian 9 in July, but not validated on later versions with Fedora 27.

Terminal backgrounds transparency freetype true-color profiles scripting daemon tab URL paste text-wrap scrollback unicode version
alacritty 3df394d
gnome 3.22.2-1
konsole 4:16.12.0-4
kterm 6.2.0-46.2
mlterm ? ? 3.5.0-1+b2
mrxvt ? 0.5.4-2
pterm ? 0.67-3
st 0.6-1
terminator 1.90+bzr-1705-1
urxvt 9.22-1+b1
xfce 0.8.3-1
xterm 327-2

What follows is a very rough/early draft of the first part of the series giving a qualitative review of each terminal emulator.

alacritty

Alphabetical order forces me to start with an apology: I have added alacritty to this list even though it is not actually packaged in Debian. It seemed to me it had a novel approach of using GPU acceleration that merited further inspection. Like other projects, its focus is not on features (it doesn't even have a scrollback buffer!) but on performance. It does feature excellent unicode and color support, but unfortunately fails the line-wrapping and bracketed paste tests.

Compiling alacritty was a little bit of a challenge. I wanted to avoid using rustup.sh because I do not endorse sites telling users to blindly run curl | sh commandlines. Instead, I installed alacritty using the following sequence:

sudo apt install -t unstable rustc # need 1.15 or later
sudo apt install cargo cmake libfreetype6-dev libfontconfig1-dev xclip
git clone https://github.com/jwilm/alacritty && cd alacritty
cargo build --release

Since there are no public releases of alacritty, this ended up testing the 08b5ae52c1c7dc3587ad31eee3036b58c3df394d git version.

Eterm

Eterm was the default emulator for the [Englightenment][] desktop environment, a long time ago. It is derived from rxvt and is designed as a "feature rich replacement for xterm", which also shows a bit of its age. Its unicode support is poor: only the latin1 character is displayed properly, and it has trouble displaying a simple sudo prompt in the test locale. It is unclear if freetype fonts are supported as the font choices are limited to "font 1, 2, 3 and 4"...

gnome-terminal

GNOME terminal is the default terminal emulator shipped with the GNOME desktop environment. gnome-terminal supports tabs, URL detection, text-wrapping, customizable backgrounds, freetype fonts and multiple profiles. gnome-terminal claims to have several "compatibility features" but, in my experience, it sometimes struggles to display exotic escape sequences. I had, in particular, trouble operating menus on the serial console of a HP ProCurve switch, for which I had to revert to xterm.

gnome-terminal is, like many other terminals evaluated here, based on the libvte library which handles the basic terminal emulation features, and so will act as a poster child for the other emulators derived from that library.

konsole

konsole is the default terminal emulator of the KDE desktop environment. Using libvte brings it good unicode support but it doesn't have as good line-wrap support as gnome-terminal: expanding a window doesn't flow the lines back again. Like gnome-terminal, it also features profile support but also includes interesting features like bookmarks and activity / silence notifications.

kterm

kterm, also known as "Kagotani term" (not to be confused with the kindle terminale emulator) is another old terminal emulator derived from xterm to enable multiple language support, especially japanese. It fails the unicode test, but that may be because of limitations in the default "fixed" font chosen by the terminal.

The custom font was used for the latency test.

mlterm

mlterm is one of the only terminals supporting right-to-left languages. It supports a graphical preferences dialog where features like input methods, background image or transparency can be set. The dialog also features a crude scp client. It failed to unicode test because the asian characters were displayed as boxes, probably an issue with the default font chosen.

mrxvt

mrxvt is a fork of rxvt from 2004 that aims to provide multiple tabs support. It claims multi-language support, but unicode support is actually not implemented and it had trouble displaying a simple sudo prompt in the test locale. Profiles are implemented, in a way, by having custom commands per tab.

The custom font was used for the latency test.

pterm

pterm is the terminal emulator of the famous putty ssh client, mostly designed for the Windows operating system, but also ported to UNIX. It has excellent unicode support and has a graphical preferences dialog, but fails the true-color test and is otherwise generally limited in terms of feature.

A custom font (Courier 12) was used for the latency test.

rxvt-unicode

rxvt-unicode "is a fork of the well known terminal emulator rxvt" (acronym for our extended virtual terminal), designed as a simplified version of xterm. rxvt-unicode naturally supports unicode but also adds a significant number of features over the base rxvt terminal:

  • daemon mode: improves startup time and memory usage
  • embeded perl customization, which allows for:
    • tab support
    • regex scrollback searches
    • popup menus
    • URL detection
    • copy-paste injection protection
  • improved line-wrap support
  • freetype font support

rxvt-unicode claims to have an "improved and corrected terminfo", but in reality, certain key escapes do not work really reliably across operating systems. For example, "control-left" and "control-right" skip words correctly on a urxvt terminal, but when you start a screen session, those keybindings stop working. gnome-terminal and xterm do not show the same behavior.

I have some customization in rxvt which may have affected the early tests, including:

  • scrollbar disabled (URxvt*scrollBar: False)
  • 10 000 lines scrollback buffer (URxvt*saveLines: 10000)
  • plugins: URL matching and paste protection (URxvt.perl-ext-common: default,matcher,confirm-paste)

As you can see, rxvt-unicode is my primary terminal and that may bias the results and conclusions shown in this article. I would argue it would be difficult for any seasoned UNIX operator to not be biased in writing such an article, unfortunately.

st

st or "simple terminal", is the (very) basic terminal emulator from the suckless tools project. It features excellent unicode and color support, but doesn't have a scrollback buffer at all, claiming that is the task of a terminal multiplexer like tmux or screen. It doesn't, unfortunately, handle line wrapping very well.

terminator

terminator is another terminal emulator based on libvte which brings the usual excellent unicode and color support, but adds interesting features like typing to multiple terminals and tiling tabs.

xfce4-terminal

Like gnome-terminal, XFCE's terminal default terminal emulator has excellent unicode and color support thanks to the libvte backend. It makes up for the lack of profile support by supporting background images and transparency out of the box.

xterm

xterm is the "standard terminal emulator" for the X Window System. It's one of the oldest terminal emulators out there, written in 1984 when the work on X started.

Xterm has obscure features like Tektronix emulation, which allows to display graphics in the terminal. Unicode support is provided by a separate binary, uxterm. xterm has support for "bracketed paste", but fails the advanced Jann Horn test. Otherwise, Xterm's feature set is fairly limited by modern standards: it has only 256 colors support, the background color can be changed, but no transparency or background image support.

I had a slightly customized xterm configuration:

  • font changed to Monospace Regular (freetype font)
  • scrollback history of 6 000 lines

xvt

xvt is yet another xterm derivatives that aims to remove the extra features of xterm. It seems like a mostly abandoned project: I couldn't find a home page and the only reason it's mentioned here is because it is available in Debian. It hasn't seen an upstream update in Debian as far back as 2006, according to the snapshot archive, which makes it pretty old indeed.

The custom font was used for the latency test.

Performance tests

Those tests are for the second article in the series. Two main kind of tests were performed here: latency and resources tests. Latency tests aim at evaluating the input latency of the terminals, and resources looks at how much bandwidth can be dumped in the terminal, and how much CPU and memory the terminal uses in the process.

Results are in this iPython notebook. To interact with the notebook, you can use mybinder.org or download this repository locally and open the notebook with:

jupyter benchmarks.ipynb

Latency

Those are a reroll of tests performed by Pavel Fatin in Typing with pleasure, but for terminals instead of text editors.

The following procedure was used:

  • installed Typometer 1.0 from the binary releases
  • ran with java -jar typometer-1.0.jar
  • for each terminal:
    1. open terminal in new workspace
    2. switch to typometer workspace
    3. click benchmark
    4. switch back
    5. some font tweaks if typometer complains

The results were saved in the latency.csv file.

Some notes:

  • typometer wasn't configured in any special way: we used the default settings, which are:

    • Chars: 200
    • Delay: 150ms
    • Native API
    • Sync (async unchecked)
  • ran a bunch of tests first by hand, then re-ran the whole list systematically

  • repeated test seem to give similar results within ~0.2ms margins (including stddev) except max values

  • some tests were made to verify that workrave, redshift and other apps do not seem to influence latency. they do not, whereas Fatin said they did in his experiments.

  • graphs sorted by average latency

About the graph types: I originally chose a scattered graph inspired by this technique, after using a swarmplot but that actually moves the dots to space them out, which gives a wrong impression. The stripplot with a tuned jitter is better. Also experimented with a violinplot to better show the averages but went back to swarmplot after feedback from mxs: easier to read and the point is not to be accurate as much as to show things. In the end, noticed that the regular boxplot shows outliers in Seaborn, so decided to use that more conventional approach instead, although it makes it difficult (if not impossible) to overlay multiple graphs together.

I also contacted Fatin on Twitter (through a Direct Message) for his R sources to avoid duplicating work, but failed to get a response. He might have used this jitter technique to get the diffuse effect.

I have also mostly reproduced Fatin's results in the latency tests, as is shown in the editors.csv file.

All the latency tests were performed on Debian 9 (stretch) in a Xmonad or i3 session.

Like Fatin, I ignored load in the tests but Luu actually added load as a test component, doing a series of test with, and another without load. I don't know if that's really useful: while his tests show that load impact terminals differently, I am not sure this is caused by the terminals themselves as much as the actual load used:

The loaded measurements were done while compiling Rust (as before, with full battery and running off of A/C power, and in order to make the measurements reproducible, each measurement started 15s after a clean build of Rust after downloading all dependencies, with enough time between runs to avoid thermal throttling interference across runs).

Compiling rust, while maybe deterministic, certainly creates a variable load during the test period, so the test bed is not as uniform as (say) a busy loop. So I haven't tried reproducing those results.

{Also explain why boxplots... i had a blurb on that where did it go?}

Reroll

This is a rerun of the latency test, in a clean Debian 9 profile.

Terminal Debian 9 xorg Fedora 27 xorg Debian xorg i3
Alacritty N/A
GNOME Terminal
Konsole
mlterm
pterm Courier 12 courier 10-pitch 12 font Courier 12
st
Terminator
urxvt -font req'd -font special -*-fixed-*-*-*-*-16-*-*-*-*-*
Xfce Terminal
xterm "large" font "large font" same

All tests failed in Wayland (Fedora 27), as the JRE completely crashed:

# A fatal error has been detected by the Java Runtime Environment:
#
#  SIGSEGV (0xb) at pc=0x00007fde3f5115f9, pid=4558, tid=0x00007fde3c155700
#
# JRE version: OpenJDK Runtime Environment (8.0_161-b14) (build 1.8.0_161-b14)
# Java VM: OpenJDK 64-Bit Server VM (25.161-b14 mixed mode linux-amd64 compressed oops)
# Problematic frame:
# C  [libawt_xawt.so+0x415f9]
#
# Core dump written. Default location: /home/anarcat/Downloads/typometer-1.0/core or core.4558
#
# An error report file with more information is saved as:
# /home/anarcat/Downloads/typometer-1.0/hs_err_pid4558.log
#
# If you would like to submit a bug report, please visit:
#   http://bugreport.java.com/bugreport/crash.jsp
# The crash happened outside the Java Virtual Machine in native code.
# See problematic frame for where to report the bug.
#

tests were rerun in i3 on Debian, in a clean session, to see the effects of GNOME and its compositor, which seems significant as well.

Resources

Resources tests were done in three different ways:

  1. first tests (performance.csv and performance.py, also in the notebook) were done with:

    time seq -f "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog %g" 1000000
    

    qualitative results of those are also visible below.

  2. then a more formal test was done to generate the times-100x100000.csv files, with reproduce.sh. That starts each terminal with the above benchmark and collects the results automatically. it is better than the above because it gets the metrics from the terminal, not the seq command.

  3. finally, this was all re-written in Python to also extract some I/O statiatics, and allow custom tests to be used. the default test is the old bw-test.sh which still runs the seq command.

In the second test, we only run 100,000 loops because our original loop (one million lines) means xterm take 30 seconds per test so 100 tests take 40 minutes, just for xterm. We shorten this by an order of magnitude: rxvt still takes around 40ms and xterm takes 250ms.

Printing a single line in rxvt takes only a fraction of that time (9ms), similar to xterm (10ms), which is small enough to be ignored in our tests, so we consider that startup time to be negligible. Ideally, that script would do a similar loop with a one-line test, and substract the average to discount the startup time, but that's getting complicated for probably no gain.

Those tests were performed on Debian 9 in Xorg and i3 and Fedora 27 on GNOME with Wayland and Xorg backends. There is a separate directory for each series of tests.

GNOME Terminal was excluded from those tests because it doesn't wait until the command completes before exiting, which makes testing unnecessarily hard.

After reviewing the Danluu article, I tested other bandwidth tests, but results seemed consistent with the seq results during anecdotal tests of gnome-terminal, xfce4-terminal, urxvt and xterm. We did confirm a problem with cat $largefile in Emacs eshell, but that seems particular to the cat command there: a shell script wrapping the same command takes 3 times less time, and is perfectly interruptible. The script is in test-cat-src.sh. A similar test is simply to run cat bytes.raw after bootstraping a large file with test-bytes-helper.sh script. A file about as large as the default seq test can be built with 5000000 bytes of entropy (sh bytes.sh 5000000). One final test that was designed is the test-cat-src-100.sh, which aims at replicating the xterm test. It shows similar result to the largefile tests.

Here's a table of raw results extracted from the summed results across the three test platforms, which are fairly consistent overall.

out_bytes ru_maxrss ru_stime ru_utime wtime
('alacritty', 'mean') 0 29032.9 0.3 0.5 0.5
('alacritty', 'std') 0 138.2 0 0 0
('alacritty', 'min') 0 28688 0.3 0.4 0.5
('alacritty', '90%') 0 29157.2 0.4 0.5 0.5
('alacritty', 'max') 0 29276 0.4 0.5 0.5
('konsole', 'mean') 84855.5 67052.1 0.3 0.8 0.8
('konsole', 'std') 111980 2397 0 0.1 0.1
('konsole', 'min') 8192 62804 0.2 0.6 0.6
('konsole', '90%') 135168 69153.2 0.3 0.8 0.9
('konsole', 'max') 1.76947e+06 69344 0.3 0.9 1
('mlterm', 'mean') 5515.9 11194.4 0.2 1.3 1.2
('mlterm', 'std') 8025.7 181.4 0 0.2 0.2
('mlterm', 'min') 4096 10868 0.2 1 0.9
('mlterm', '90%') 4096 11444 0.3 1.5 1.4
('mlterm', 'max') 53248 11652 0.3 1.6 1.5
('pterm', 'mean') 13.7 20495.5 0.2 1 0.9
('pterm', 'std') 236.5 688.4 0 0 0
('pterm', 'min') 0 19652 0.2 1 0.9
('pterm', '90%') 0 21537.6 0.3 1 1
('pterm', 'max') 4096 21728 0.3 1.1 1
('st', 'mean') 0 8546.4 0.2 0.4 0.4
('st', 'std') 0 543.3 0 0 0
('st', 'min') 0 7972 0.1 0.4 0.3
('st', '90%') 0 9088 0.3 0.5 0.4
('st', 'max') 0 9092 0.3 0.5 0.4
('terminator', 'mean') 202069 58244.9 0.4 0.9 1.1
('terminator', 'std') 286247 1514.5 0 0 0
('terminator', 'min') 0 56224 0.3 0.8 1.1
('terminator', '90%') 606208 60792 0.5 1 1.2
('terminator', 'max') 606208 61420 0.5 1 1.2
('terminology', 'mean') 0 39741 0.2 0.9 0.9
('terminology', 'std') 0 171 0 0 0
('terminology', 'min') 0 39452 0.2 0.9 0.9
('terminology', '90%') 0 39916.4 0.3 0.9 1
('terminology', 'max') 0 40520 0.3 1 1
('urxvt', 'mean') 0 14473.2 0.3 0.4 0.4
('urxvt', 'std') 0 514.3 0 0 0
('urxvt', 'min') 0 13536 0.2 0.3 0.4
('urxvt', '90%') 0 14928.4 0.3 0.4 0.4
('urxvt', 'max') 0 15012 0.4 0.4 0.4
('uxterm', 'mean') 1365.3 12297.3 0.6 1 1.8
('uxterm', 'std') 1934.1 247.8 0.1 0.5 1
('uxterm', 'min') 0 11540 0.5 0.9 1.3
('uxterm', '90%') 4096 12664.4 0.7 1 2.4
('uxterm', 'max') 4096 12756 1.1 5.7 10
('xfce4-terminal', 'mean') 202001 40117.7 0.4 0.8 0.9
('xfce4-terminal', 'std') 286150 2233.5 0 0 0
('xfce4-terminal', 'min') 0 36844 0.3 0.7 0.9
('xfce4-terminal', '90%') 606208 43107.2 0.4 0.8 1
('xfce4-terminal', 'max') 606208 43572 0.5 0.9 1

Qualitative evaluation

This is the result of manual tests, which were turned (by hand) into performance.csv. Note that CPU and memory usage here represent the seq(1) command, not the terminal itself, so they are irrelevant.

urxvt

1.02user 1.64system 0:02.79elapsed 95%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1824maxresident)k 0inputs+0outputs (0major+78minor)pagefaults 0swaps

clean display

gnome-termixnal

(libvte)

1.01user 1.63system 0:06.90elapsed 38%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1944maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+80minor)pagefaults 0swaps

clean display

xterm

1.23user 2.15system 0:26.05elapsed 13%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1876maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+82minor)pagefaults 0swaps

lots of jitter in the display

xvt

5.22user 7.16system 5:27.89elapsed 3%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1804maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+77minor)pagefaults 0swaps

really, really slow. doesn't focus.

some display jitter

couldn't run the latency test ("could not detect reference pattern"), success with this font:

xvt -font '-adobe-courier-medium-r-normal--14-100-100-100-m-90-iso8859-1'

pterm (putty)

1.25user 1.40system 0:18.67elapsed 14%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1888maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+78minor)pagefaults 0swaps

only jitter on last line

had to switch font to Courier 12 (from fixed) for latency test to work as well.

kterm

2.50user 4.58system 0:24.17elapsed 29%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1820maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+77minor)pagefaults 0swaps

screen flashes a lot

also font problem, startup:

kterm -font '-adobe-courier-medium-r-normal--14-100-100-100-m-90-iso8859-1'

mrxvt

1.13user 1.57system 0:02.71elapsed 99%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 2000maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+83minor)pagefaults 0swaps

no noticeable screen flashing, very fast, tabs.

also font problem:

mrxvt -font '-adobe-courier-medium-r-normal--14-100-100-100-m-90-iso8859-1'

mlterm

1.12user 1.68system 0:09.08elapsed 30%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1984maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+82minor)pagefaults 0swaps

some jitter here and there

xfce4-terminal

0.92user 1.72system 0:06.94elapsed 38%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1884maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+80minor)pagefaults 0swaps

(libvte)

no jitter

eterm

1.22user 1.75system 0:55.65elapsed 5%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1888maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+80minor)pagefaults 0swaps

no jitter, but slow

latency test completely failed with errors: "available line length too short" and "cannot detect reference pattern". given up.

st

1.04user 1.44system 0:03.15elapsed 79%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1800maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+76minor)pagefaults 0swaps

some jitter on last line

alacritty

0.90user 1.60system 0:02.52elapsed 99%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 2000maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+81minor)pagefaults 0swaps

not in debian so had to build from source. avoidied rustup.sh because of bad security practices, instead used this:

sudo apt install -t unstable rustc # need 1.15 or later
sudo apt install cargo cmake libfreetype6-dev libfontconfig1-dev xclip
git clone https://github.com/jwilm/alacritty && cd alacritty
cargo build --release

uses wayland?

no releases, used 08b5ae52c1c7dc3587ad31eee3036b58c3df394d on Debian stretch with rustc from unstable to run the first informal (and latency) tests.

tried to rerun the tests, but rebuild of july code segfaults in march. ended up pulling in new code for the formal resource tests (6debc4f3351446417d0c4e38173cd9ef0faa71d5).

konsole

1.16user 1.40system 0:05.32elapsed 48%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1880maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+83minor)pagefaults 0swaps

no jitter but display hangs ever other second - kind of cheats performance tests because it doesn't display the whole lot.

right-click pops a menu instead of extending primary selection

Terminator

1.00user 1.84system 0:07.18elapsed 39%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1984maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+82minor)pagefaults 0swaps

(libvte)

no visible jitter

Terminus

1.34user 2.31system 0:03.83elapsed 95%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 1944maxresident)k
0inputs+0outputs (0major+96minor)pagefaults 0swaps

1.0.0alpha42

takes 1m53 (wall clock, so does not match the above). cannot be tested like other terminals because it doesn't support -e. terminal completely unresponsive during the test. seems to do weird things to the primary selection in an emacs running in another workspace.

latency test said "timeout expired", catastrophic delays in the provisional results:

min: 61.8 | max: 611.6 | avg: 159.6 | SD: 135.7

starting then killing:

0.77user 0.18system 0:05.46elapsed 17%CPU (0avgtext+0avgdata 107676maxresident)k
0inputs+24outputs (0major+21109minor)pagefaults 0swaps

takes 100MB of ram! says this on startup:

Host startup: 38ms

installed with the Debian package.

Not evaluated

Terminals were selected based on their availability in Debian stretch at first, and then only if they had an active upstream. Alacritty is an exception to this, as the poster child for GPU-optimized terminals built with trendy new programming languages (Rust, in this case).

Here is a non-exhaustive list of terminals that were explicitly excluded from this review with some extra reasons when relevant:

  • dead upstream:
    • aterm: obsolete rxvt fork, for Afterstep
    • eterm: inactive rxvt fork, for Enlightenment
    • multi-aterm: fork of aterm, removed from Debian in 2010
    • Multi GNOME Terminal: largely superseded by GNOME Terminal, abandoned upstream, removed from Debian in 2008
    • wterm: abandoned rxvt fork, for Window Maker, not to be confused with the Wayland rewrite of st (see below)
    • xiterm+thai: inactive fork of (x)iterm, which is itself an inactive (removed from Debian in 2010) fork of aterm
    • xvt: ancestor of rxvt, mostly inactive
  • not in Debian stable (might overlap with the above of course):
  • too similar to other stuff:
    • all the GNOME terminal forks (MATE, LXTerminal, Cinnamon, etc)
    • lilyterm: "Very light and easy to use X Terminal Emulator", vte-based
    • QTerminal
    • sakura: another vte-derivative
    • termit: yet another vte terminal, with Lua scripting
    • termite: another vte
    • tilix: vte-based tiling term
  • drop-down terminals went under my radar:
    • guake: drop-down terminal for GNOME
    • tilda: "Gtk based drop down terminal"
    • Yakuake: Konsole-based
  • were too big or hard to install
    • Gate One
    • anyterm
    • domterm
    • hyper
    • shellinabox
    • terminus
    • upterm
    • ... or any Electron/web apps: adding those to the benchmarks would require me to change the Y scale to be logarithmic, which would be silly. preliminary results for Terminus were catastrophic: 100ms latency, 100MB memory usage, 2min test run time, completely hangs during test, etc.
  • others:
    • Emacs. Yes, it runs in a terminal, but it can also be a terminal. There are (at least) two modes (term-mode and eshell-mode) that allow such functionality and I simply forgot to test those. Preliminary tests didn't show good performance, and I've always had serious compatibility issues with those, enough that I never use them so it never crossed my mind to seriously consider this. Sorry fellow Emacs fans!

The Linux console itself wasn't directly tested, as it was too difficult to instrument performance tests, which would have been mostly meaningless, except for the bandwidth tests, which is the least important.

A more exhaustive list of terminal emulators is also available on the Arch wiki.

See also issue #1 for a discussion about which terminals were selected. Additions to the review are, of course, welcome if verified.

Final notes

This would be hosted on GitLab, like my other repos, but they have trouble rendering the images here so this will have to do.

Future work

This is not exhaustive, as we've seen above, and there are probably some serious problems with the bandwidth test, as explained in the article. One way to fix this would be to perform a test with the dots command from the ncurses package, but (1) it's not well instrumeted for benchmarking and (2) it may be biased towards xterm. This is how I was able to run it for 3 seconds:

timeout -s ALRM 3 /usr/lib/ncurses/examples/dots

Luu tests "responsiveness" in the bandwidth test: that's a good metric which we should use as well, although most terminals were responsive in an informal review.

Further debugging of eshell would seem important to try and figure out why it fails to cat a 1MB file reasonably, while it can call a script that does without problems.

Resource tests are only performed on the ASCII character set. It would be interesting to have results for wider unicode, indeed Luu quotes someone saying there are slow downs on Terminal.app on latin1 characters. Memory usage could also suffer.

Testing latency under Wayland would seem critical, in general.

Terminal multiplexers like screen or tmux were not tested as Dan Luu claims it has no effect, and I did not verify that claim.

No comparison was done on detailed dependencies lists: some of those programs require the whole kitchen sink (e.g. I was surprised to see Konsole links against libFLAC) and that might matter to some people.

We haven't examined the advantage (or not) of "daemon" mode. In fact, it's caused more problems than it solved for the purpose of those tests, because GNOME Terminal couldn't behave properly. It might save memory for large number of terminals, however, but I am really not sure it's still worth doing anymore, apart for features like Terminator's multi-terminal entry support.

A whole article could be written about compatibility issues. It's tricky, because ncurse and xterm seem to have the same maintainer which could mean one has a bias towards the other which could skew results. There are also OS-specific (or at least Debian-specific) changes in termcap and so on which confuse things. Future tests here should include using the vttest package but preliminary tests showed that even xterm failed to run some tests in there. Tests on serial console hardware like Procurve switches should be performed as well.