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Notcurses: blingful TUIs and character graphics

What it is: a library facilitating complex TUIs on modern terminal emulators, supporting vivid colors, multimedia, threads, and Unicode to the maximum degree possible. Things can be done with Notcurses that simply can't be done with NCURSES. It is furthermore fast as shit. What it is not: a source-compatible X/Open Curses implementation, nor a replacement for NCURSES on existing systems.

setting the standard (hype video)

for more information, see dankwiki and the man pages. in addition, there is Doxygen output. To subscribe to the mailing list, send an email to (the email contents don't matter). i wrote a coherent guidebook, which is available for free download (or paperback purchase).

i've not yet added many documented examples, but src/poc/ and src/pocpp/ contain many small C and C++ programs respectively. notcurses-demo covers most of the functionality of Notcurses.

If you're running Notcurses applications in a Docker, please consult "Environment notes" below.

Packaging status

Linux FreeBSD Windows macOS

Linux macOS Windows


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Notcurses abandons the X/Open Curses API bundled as part of the Single UNIX Specification. For some necessary background, consult Thomas E. Dickey's superb and authoritative NCURSES FAQ. As such, Notcurses is not a drop-in Curses replacement.

Wherever possible, Notcurses makes use of the Terminfo library shipped with NCURSES, benefiting greatly from its portability and thoroughness.

Notcurses opens up advanced functionality for the interactive user on workstations, phones, laptops, and tablets, possibly at the expense of e.g. some industrial and retail terminals. Fundamentally, Curses assumes the minimum and allows you (with effort) to step up, whereas Notcurses assumes the maximum and steps down (by itself) when necessary. The latter approach probably breaks on some older hardware, but the former approach results in new software looking like old hardware.

Why use this non-standard library?

  • Thread safety, and efficient use in parallel programs, has been a design consideration from the beginning.

  • A more orderly surface than that codified by X/Open: Exported identifiers are prefixed to avoid common namespace collisions. Where reasonable, static inline header-only code is used. This facilitates compiler optimizations, and reduces loader time. Notcurses can be built without its multimedia functionality, requiring a significantly lesser set of dependencies.

  • All APIs natively support the Universal Character Set (Unicode). The nccell API is based around Unicode's Extended Grapheme Cluster concept.

  • Visual features including images, fonts, video, high-contrast text, sprites, and transparent regions. All APIs natively support 24-bit color, quantized down as necessary for the terminal.

  • Portable support for bitmapped graphics, using Sixel, Kitty, and even the Linux framebuffer console.

  • Support for unambiguous keyboard protocols.

  • "TUI mode" facilitates high-performance, non-scrolling, full-screen applications. "CLI mode" supports scrolling output for shell utilities, but with the full power of Notcurses.

  • It's Apache2-licensed in its entirety, as opposed to the drama in several acts that is the NCURSES license (the latter is summarized as "a restatement of MIT-X11").

Much of the above can be had with NCURSES, but they're not what NCURSES was designed for. On the other hand, if you're targeting industrial or critical applications, or wish to benefit from time-tested reliability and portability, you should by all means use that fine library.


Minimum versions generally indicate the oldest version I've tested with; it may well be possible to use still older versions. Let me know of any successes!

  • (build) CMake 3.14.0+ and a C11 compiler
  • (OPTIONAL) (OpenImageIO, testing, C++ bindings): A C++17 compiler
  • (build+runtime) From NCURSES: terminfo 6.1+
  • (build+runtime) GNU libunistring 0.9.10+
  • (OPTIONAL) (build+runtime) libgpm 1.20+
  • (OPTIONAL) (build+runtime) From QR-Code-generator: libqrcodegen 1.5.0+
  • (OPTIONAL) (build+runtime) From FFmpeg: libswscale 5.0+, libavformat 57.0+, libavutil 56.0+, libavdevice 57.0+
  • (OPTIONAL) (build+runtime) OpenImageIO 2.15.0+, requires C++
  • (OPTIONAL) (testing) Doctest 2.3.5+
  • (OPTIONAL) (documentation) pandoc 1.19.2+
  • (OPTIONAL) (python bindings): Python 3.7+, CFFI 1.13.2+, pypandoc 1.5+
  • (runtime) Linux 2.6+, FreeBSD 11+, DragonFly BSD 5.9+, Windows 10 v1093+, or macOS 11.4+

More information on building and installation is available in


If you wish to use a language other than C to work with Notcurses, numerous wrappers are available. Several are included in this repository, while others are external.

Language Lead(s) Repository
Ada Jeremy Grosser JeremyGrosser/notcursesada
C++ Marek Habersack, nick black internal
Dart Nelson Fernandez kascote/dart_notcurses
Julia Dheepak Krishnamurthy kdheepak/Notcurses.jl
Nim Michael S. Bradley, Jr. michaelsbradleyjr/nim-notcurses
Python nick black internal
Python igo95862 internal
Rust José Luis Cruz dankamongmen/libnotcurses-sys
Zig Jakub Dundalek dundalek/notcurses-zig-example

Included tools

Nine executables are installed as part of Notcurses:

  • ncls: an ls that displays multimedia in the terminal
  • ncneofetch: a neofetch ripoff
  • ncplayer: renders visual media (images/videos)
  • nctetris: a tetris clone
  • notcurses-demo: some demonstration code
  • notcurses-info: detect and print terminal capabilities/diagnostics
  • notcurses-input: decode and print keypresses
  • notcurses-tester: unit testing
  • tfman: a swank manual browser

To run notcurses-demo from a checkout, provide the data directory via the -p argument. Demos requiring data files will otherwise abort. The base delay used in notcurses-demo can be changed with -d, accepting a floating-point multiplier. Values less than 1 will speed up the demo, while values greater than 1 will slow it down.

notcurses-tester likewise requires that data, populated with the necessary data files, be specified with -p. It can be run by itself, or via make test.


With -DUSE_PANDOC=on (the default), a full set of man pages and XHTML will be built from doc/man. The following Markdown documentation is included directly:

If you (understandably) want to avoid the large Pandoc stack, but still enjoy manual pages, I publish a tarball with generated man/XHTML along with each release. Download it, and install the contents as you deem fit.

Environment notes

  • If your TERM variable is wrong, or that terminfo definition is out-of-date, you're going to have a very bad time. Use only TERM values appropriate for your terminal. If this variable is undefined, or Notcurses can't load the specified Terminfo entry, it will refuse to start, and you will not be going to space today.

  • Notcurses queries the terminal on startup, enabling some advanced features based on the determined terminal (and even version). Basic capabilities, however, are taken from Terminfo. So if you have, say, Kitty, but TERM=vt100, you're going to be able to draw RGBA bitmap graphics (despite such things being but a dream for a VT100), but unable to use the alternate screen (despite it being supported by every Kitty version). So TERM and an up-to-date Terminfo database remain important.

  • Ensure your LANG environment variable is set to a UTF8-encoded locale, and that this locale has been generated. This usually means "[language]_[Countrycode].UTF-8", i.e. en_US.UTF-8. The first part (en_US) ought exist as a directory or symlink in /usr/share/locales. This usually requires editing /etc/locale.gen and running locale-gen. On Debian systems, this can be accomplished with dpkg-reconfigure locales, and enabling the desired locale. The default locale is stored somewhere like /etc/default/locale.

  • If your terminal has an option about default interpretation of "ambiguous-width characters" (this is actually a technical term from Unicode), ensure it is set to Wide, not narrow (if that doesn't work, ensure it is set to Narrow, heh).

  • If your terminal supports 3x8bit RGB color via setaf and setbf (most modern terminals), but exports neither the RGB nor Tc terminfo capability, you can export the COLORTERM environment variable as truecolor or 24bit. Note that some terminals accept a 24-bit specification, but map it down to fewer colors. RGB is unconditionally enabled whenever most modern terminals are identified.


Glyph width, and indeed whether a glyph can be displayed at all, is dependent in part on the font configuration. Ideally, your font configuration has a glyph for every Unicode EGC, and each glyph's width matches up with the POSIX function's wcswidth() result for the EGC. If this is not the case, you'll likely get blanks or � (U+FFFD, REPLACEMENT CHARACTER) for missing characters, and subsequent characters on the line may be misplaced.

It is worth knowing that several terminals draw the block characters directly, rather than loading them from a font. This is generally desirable. Quadrants and sextants are not the place to demonstrate your design virtuosity. To inspect your environment's rendering of drawing characters, run notcurses-info. The desired output ought look something like this:

notcurses-info can be used to check Unicode drawing


If things break or seem otherwise lackluster, please consult the Environment Notes section! You need correct TERM and LANG definitions, and might want COLORTERM.

Can I use Notcurses in my closed-source program? Notcurses is licensed under Apache2, a demonstration that I have transcended your petty world of material goods, fiat currencies, and closed sources. Implement Microsoft Bob in it. Charge rubes for it. Put it in your ballistic missiles so that you have a nice LED display of said missile's speed and projected yield; right before impact, scroll "FUCK YOU" in all the world's languages, and close it out with a smart palette fade. Carve the compiled objects onto bricks and mail them to Richard Stallman, taunting him through a bullhorn as you do so.
Can I write a CLI program (scrolling, fits in with the shell, etc.) with Notcurses? Yes! Use the NCOPTION_CLI_MODE flag (an alias for several real flags; see notcurses_init(1) for more information). You still must explicitly render.
Can I have Notcurses without this huge multimedia stack? Again yes! Build with -DUSE_MULTIMEDIA=none.
Can I build this individual Notcurses program without aforementioned multimedia stack? Almost unbelievably, yes! Use notcurses_core_init() or ncdirect_core_init() in place of notcurses_init()/ ncdirect_init(), and link with -lnotcurses-core. Your application will likely start a few milliseconds faster; more importantly, it will link against minimal Notcurses installations.
We're paying by the electron, and have no C++ compiler. Can we still enjoy Notcurses goodness? Some of it! You won't be able to build several executables, nor the NCPP C++ wrappers, nor can you build with the OpenImageIO multimedia backend (OIIO ships C++ headers). You'll be able to build the main library, though, as well as notcurses-demo (and maybe a few other programs). Use -DUSE_CXX=off.
Do I want ffmpeg or OpenImageIO? While OpenImageIO is a superb library for dealing with single-frame images, its video support is less than perfect (blame me; I've been promising Larry I'd rewrite it for several months), and in any case implemented atop...ffmpeg. ffmpeg is the preferred multimedia backend.
Does it work with hardware terminals? With the correct TERM value, many hardware terminals are supported. In general, if the terminfo database entry indicates mandatory delays, Notcurses will not currently support that terminal properly. It's known that Notcurses can drive the VT320 and VT340, including Sixel graphics on the latter.
What happens if I try blitting bitmap graphics on a terminal which doesn't support them? Notcurses will not make use of bitmap protocols unless the terminal positively indicates support for them, even if NCBLIT_PIXEL has been requested. Likewise, sextants (NCBLIT_3x2) won't be used without Unicode 13 support, etc. ncvisual_blit() will use the best blitter available, unless NCVISUAL_OPTION_NODEGRADE is provided (in which case it will fail).
Notcurses looks like absolute crap in screen. screen doesn't support RGB colors (at least as of 4.08.00); if you have COLORTERM defined, you'll have a bad time. If you have a screen that was compiled with --enable-colors256, try exporting TERM=screen-256color as opposed to TERM=screen.
Notcurses looks like absolute crap in mosh. Yeah it sure does. I'm not yet sure what's up.
Notcurses looks like absolute crap in Windows Terminal. Go to Language Setting, click "Administrative language settings", click "Change system locale", and check the "Beta: Use Unicode UTF-8 for worldwide language support" option. Restart the computer. That ought help a little bit. Try playing with fonts—Cascadia Code and Cascadia Mono both seem to work well (quadrants and Braille both work), whereas Consolas and Courier New both have definite problems.
I'm getting strange and/or duplicate inputs in Kitty/foot. Notcurses supports Kitty's powerful keyboard protocol, which includes things like key release events and modifier keypresses by themselves. This means, among other things, that a program in these terminals will usually immediately get an NC_ENTER NCTYPE_RELEASE event, and each keypress will typically result in at least two inputs.
Why didn't you just render everything to bitmaps? That's not a TUI; it's a slow and inflexible GUI. Many terminal emulators don't support bitmaps. They doesn't work well with mouse selection. Sixels have a limited color palette. With that said, both Sixel and the Kitty bitmap protocol are well-supported.
My multithreaded program doesn't see NCKEY_RESIZE until I press some other key. You've almost certainly failed to mask SIGWINCH in some thread, and that thread is receiving the signal instead of the thread which called notcurses_getc_blocking(). As a result, the poll() is not interrupted. Call pthread_sigmask() before spawning any threads.
Using the C++ wrapper, how can I ensure that the NotCurses destructor is run when I return from main()? As noted in the C++ FAQ, wrap it in an artificial scope (this assumes your NotCurses is scoped to main()).
How do I hide a plane I want to make visible later? In order of least to most performant: move it offscreen using ncplane_move_yx(), move it underneath an opaque plane with ncplane_move_below(), or move it off-pile with ncplane_reparent().
Why isn't there an ncplane_box_yx()? Do you hate orthogonality, you dullard? ncplane_box() and friends already have far too many arguments, you monster.
Why doesn't Notcurses support 10- or 16-bit color? Notcurses supports 24 bits of color, spread across three eight-bit channels. You presumably mean 10-bit-per-channel color. I needed those six bits for other things. When terminals support it, Notcurses might support it.
The name is dumb. That's not a question?
I'm not finding qrcodegen on BSD, despite having installed graphics/qr-code-generator. Try cmake -DCMAKE_REQUIRED_INCLUDES=/usr/local/include. This is passed by
Do you support musl? I try to! You'll need at least 1.20.
I only seem to blit in ASCII, and/or can't emit Unicode beyond ASCII in general. Your LANG environment variable is underdefined or incorrectly defined, or the necessary locale is not present on your machine (it is also possible that you explicitly supplied NCOPTION_INHIBIT_SETLOCALE, but never called setlocale(3), in which case don't do that).
I pretty much always need an ncplane when using a nccell. Why doesn't the latter hold a pointer to the former? Besides the massive redundancy this would entail, nccell needs to remain as small as possible, and you almost always have the ncplane handy if you've got a reference to a valid nccell anyway.
I ran my Notcurses program under valgrind/ASAN, and it shows memory leaks from, what's up with that? Yeah, the NCURSES Terminfo leaks memory unless compiled a special, non-standard way (see the NCURSES FAQ). It shouldn't be a substantial amount; you're advised not to worry overmuch about it.
I ran notcurses-demo, but my table numbers don't match the Notcurses banner numbers, you charlatan. notcurses-demo renders several frames beyond the actual demos.
When my program exits, I don't have a cursor, or text is invisible, or colors are weird, ad nauseam. Ensure you're calling notcurses_stop()/ncdirect_stop() on all exit paths, including fatal signals (note that, by default, Notcurses installs handlers for most fatal signals to do exactly this).
How can I use Direct Mode in conjunction with libreadline? You can't anymore (you could up until 2.4.1, but the new input system is fundamentally incompatible with it). ncdirect_readline() still exists, though, and now actually works even without libreadline, though it is of course not exactly libreadline. In any case, you'd probably be better off using CLI mode with a ncreader.
So is Direct Mode deprecated or what? It is not currently deprecated, and definitely receives bugfixes. You are probably better served using CLI mode (see above), which came about somewhat late in Notcurses development (the 2.3.x series), but is superior to Direct Mode in pretty much every way. The only reason to use Direct Mode is if you're going to have other programs junking up your display.
Direct Mode sounds fast! Since it's, like, direct. Direct mode is substantially slower than rendered mode. Rendered mode assumes it knows what's on the screen, and uses this information to generate optimized sequences of escapes and glyphs. Direct mode writes everything it's told to write. It is furthermore far less capable—all widgets etc. are available only to rendered mode, and will definitely not be extended to Direct Mode.
Will there ever be Java wrappers? I should hope not. If you want a Java solution, try @klamonte's Jexer. Autumn's a good woman, and thorough. We seem to have neatly partitioned the language space.
Given that the glyph channel is initialized as transparent for a plane, shouldn't the foreground and background be initialized as transparent, also? Probably (they are instead by default initialized to opaque). This would change some of the most longstanding behavior of Notcurses, though, so it isn't happening.
I get linker errors when statically linking. Are you linking all necessary libraries? Use pkg-config --static --libs notcurses (or --libs notcurses-core) to discover them.
Notcurses exits immediately in MSYS2/Cygwin. Notcurses requires the Windows ConPTY layer. This is available in Cygwin by default since 3.2.0, but is disabled by default in MSYS. Launch mintty with -P on arguments, or export MSYS=enable_pcon before launching it.
Can I avoid manually exporting COLORTERM=24bit everywhere? Sure. Add SendEnv COLORTERM to .ssh/config, and AcceptEnv COLORTERM to sshd_config on the remote server. Yes, this will probably require root on the remote server. Don't blame me, man; I didn't do it.
How about arbitrary image manipulation here functionality? I'm not going to beat ImageMagick et al. on image manipulation, but you can load an ncvisual from RGBA memory using ncvisual_from_rgba().
My program locks up during initialization. Notcurses interrogates the terminal. If the terminal doesn't reply to standard interrogations, file a Notcurses bug, send upstream a patch, or use a different terminal. No known terminal emulators exhibit this behavior.
How can I draw a large plane, and only make a portion of it visible? The simplest way is probably to create a plane of the same dimensions immediately above the plane, and keep a region of it transparent, and the rest opaque. If you want the visible area to stay in the same place on the display, but the portion being seen to change, try making a plane twice as large in each dimension as the original plane. Make the desired area transparent, and the rest opaque. Now move the original plane behind this plane so that the desired area lines up with the “hole”.
Why no NCSTYLE_REVERSE? It would consume a precious bit. You can use ncchannels_reverse() to correctly invert fore- and background colors.
How do I mix Rendered and Direct mode? You really don't want to. You can stream a subprocess to a plane with the ncsubproc widget.
How can I clear the screen on startup in Rendered mode when not using the alternate screen? Call notcurses_refresh() after notcurses_init() returns successfully.
Why do the stats show more Linux framebuffer bitmap bytes written than total bytes written to the terminal? And why don't Linux console graphics work when I ssh? Linux framebuffer graphics aren't implemented via terminal writes, but rather writes directly into a memory map. This memory map isn't available on remote machines, and these writes aren't tracked by the standard statistics.
What is the possessive form of Notcurses? Notcurses'. I cite Garner's Modern English Usage in its third edition: "POSSESSIVES. A. Singular Possessives.…Biblical and Classical names that end with a /zəs/ or /eez/ sound take only the apostrophe." Some ask: is Notcurses then Biblical, or is it Classical? Truly, it is both.
I just want to display a bitmap on my terminal. Your library is complex and stupid. You are simple and stupid. If you're willing to call a binary, use ncplayer to put an image, with desired scaling, anywhere on the screen and call it a day. Otherwise, call notcurses_init(), ncvisual_from_file(), ncvisual_blit(), notcurses_render(), and notcurses_stop(). It's not too tough. And thanks—your thoughtful comments and appreciative tone are why I work on Free Software.

Useful links

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