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Announcing ncurses 5.9
The ncurses (new curses) library is a free software emulation of
curses in System V Release 4.0, and more. It uses terminfo format,
supports pads and color and multiple highlights and forms characters
and function-key mapping, and has all the other SYSV-curses
enhancements over BSD curses.
In mid-June 1995, the maintainer of 4.4BSD curses declared that he
considered 4.4BSD curses obsolete, and encouraged the keepers of Unix
releases such as BSD/OS, FreeBSD and NetBSD to switch over to ncurses.
The ncurses code was developed under GNU/Linux. It has been in use for
some time with OpenBSD as the system curses library, and on FreeBSD
and NetBSD as an external package. It should port easily to any
ANSI/POSIX-conforming UNIX. It has even been ported to OS/2 Warp!
The distribution includes the library and support utilities, including
a terminfo compiler tic(1), a decompiler infocmp(1), clear(1),
tput(1), tset(1), and a termcap conversion tool captoinfo(1). Full
manual pages are provided for the library and tools.
The ncurses distribution is available via anonymous FTP at the GNU
distribution site [1] .
It is also available at [2] .
Release Notes
This release is designed to be upward compatible from ncurses 5.0
through 5.8; very few applications will require recompilation,
depending on the platform. These are the highlights from the
change-log since ncurses 5.8 release.
This is a bug-fix release, correcting a small number of urgent
problems in the ncurses library from the 5.8 release.
It also improves the Ada95 binding:
* fixes a longstanding portability problem with its use of the
[3]set_field_type function. Because that function uses
variable-length argument lists, its interface with gnat does not
work with certain platforms.
* improves configurability and portability, particularly when built
separately from the main ncurses tree. The 5.8 release introduced
scripts which can be used to construct separate tarballs for the
Ada95 and ncurses examples.
Those were a proof of concept. For the 5.9 release, those scripts
are augmented with rpm- and dpkg-scripts used in test builds
against a variety of gnat- and system ncurses versions as old as
gnat 3.15 and ncurses 5.4 (see snapshots and systems tested
* additional improvements were made for portability of the ncurses
examples, adding rpm- and dpkg-scripts for test-builds. See
[5]this page for snapshots and other information.
Features of Ncurses
The ncurses package is fully compatible with SVr4 (System V Release 4)
* All 257 of the SVr4 calls have been implemented (and are
* Full support for SVr4 curses features including keyboard mapping,
color, forms-drawing with ACS characters, and automatic
recognition of keypad and function keys.
* An emulation of the SVr4 panels library, supporting a stack of
windows with backing store, is included.
* An emulation of the SVr4 menus library, supporting a uniform but
flexible interface for menu programming, is included.
* An emulation of the SVr4 form library, supporting data collection
through on-screen forms, is included.
* Binary terminfo entries generated by the ncurses tic(1)
implementation are bit-for-bit-compatible with the entry format
SVr4 curses uses.
* The utilities have options to allow you to filter terminfo entries
for use with less capable curses/terminfo versions such as the
HP/UX and AIX ports.
The ncurses package also has many useful extensions over SVr4:
* The API is 8-bit clean and base-level conformant with the X/OPEN
curses specification, XSI curses (that is, it implements all BASE
level features, and most EXTENDED features). It includes many
function calls not supported under SVr4 curses (but portability of
all calls is documented so you can use the SVr4 subset only).
* Unlike SVr3 curses, ncurses can write to the rightmost-bottommost
corner of the screen if your terminal has an insert-character
* Ada95 and C++ bindings.
* Support for mouse event reporting with X Window xterm and FreeBSD
and OS/2 console windows.
* Extended mouse support via Alessandro Rubini's gpm package.
* The function wresize allows you to resize windows, preserving
their data.
* The function use_default_colors allows you to use the terminal's
default colors for the default color pair, achieving the effect of
transparent colors.
* The functions keyok and define_key allow you to better control the
use of function keys, e.g., disabling the ncurses KEY_MOUSE, or by
defining more than one control sequence to map to a given key
* Support for 256-color terminals, such as modern xterm, when
configured using the --enable-ext-colors option.
* Support for 16-color terminals, such as aixterm and modern xterm.
* Better cursor-movement optimization. The package now features a
cursor-local-movement computation more efficient than either BSD's
or System V's.
* Super hardware scrolling support. The screen-update code
incorporates a novel, simple, and cheap algorithm that enables it
to make optimal use of hardware scrolling, line-insertion, and
line-deletion for screen-line movements. This algorithm is more
powerful than the 4.4BSD curses quickch routine.
* Real support for terminals with the magic-cookie glitch. The
screen-update code will refrain from drawing a highlight if the
magic- cookie unattributed spaces required just before the
beginning and after the end would step on a non-space character.
It will automatically shift highlight boundaries when doing so
would make it possible to draw the highlight without changing the
visual appearance of the screen.
* It is possible to generate the library with a list of pre-loaded
fallback entries linked to it so that it can serve those terminal
types even when no terminfo tree or termcap file is accessible
(this may be useful for support of screen-oriented programs that
must run in single-user mode).
* The tic(1)/captoinfo utility provided with ncurses has the ability
to translate many termcaps from the XENIX, IBM and AT&T extension
* A BSD-like tset(1) utility is provided.
* The ncurses library and utilities will automatically read terminfo
entries from $HOME/.terminfo if it exists, and compile to that
directory if it exists and the user has no write access to the
system directory. This feature makes it easier for users to have
personal terminfo entries without giving up access to the system
terminfo directory.
* You may specify a path of directories to search for compiled
descriptions with the environment variable TERMINFO_DIRS (this
generalizes the feature provided by TERMINFO under stock System
* In terminfo source files, use capabilities may refer not just to
other entries in the same source file (as in System V) but also to
compiled entries in either the system terminfo directory or the
user's $HOME/.terminfo directory.
* A script (capconvert) is provided to help BSD users transition
from termcap to terminfo. It gathers the information in a TERMCAP
environment variable and/or a ~/.termcap local entries file and
converts it to an equivalent local terminfo tree under
* Automatic fallback to the /etc/termcap file can be compiled in
when it is not possible to build a terminfo tree. This feature is
neither fast nor cheap, you don't want to use it unless you have
to, but it's there.
* The table-of-entries utility toe makes it easy for users to see
exactly what terminal types are available on the system.
* The library meets the XSI requirement that every macro entry point
have a corresponding function which may be linked (and will be
prototype-checked) if the macro definition is disabled with
* An HTML "Introduction to Programming with NCURSES" document
provides a narrative introduction to the curses programming
State of the Package
Numerous bugs present in earlier versions have been fixed; the library
is far more reliable than it used to be. Bounds checking in many
`dangerous' entry points has been improved. The code is now type-safe
according to gcc -Wall. The library has been checked for malloc leaks
and arena corruption by the Purify memory-allocation tester.
The ncurses code has been tested with a wide variety of applications
including (versions starting with those noted):
Curses Development Kit
the underlying application used in Slackware's setup, and the
basis for similar applications on GNU/Linux.
the character-screen WWW browser
Midnight Commander
file manager
mail utility
file-transfer utility
New vi versions 1.50 are able to use ncurses versions 1.9.7 and
Lynx-like info browser.
newsreader, supporting color, MIME [16]
as well as some that use ncurses for the terminfo support alone:
terminal emulator
The ncurses distribution includes a selection of test programs
(including a few games).
Who's Who and What's What
Zeyd Ben-Halim started it from a previous package pcurses, written by
Pavel Curtis. Eric S. Raymond continued development. Juergen Pfeifer
wrote most of the form and menu libraries. Ongoing work is being done
by [19]Thomas Dickey. Thomas Dickey acts as the maintainer for the
Free Software Foundation, which holds the copyright on ncurses.
Contact the current maintainers at [20]
To join the ncurses mailing list, please write email to containing the line:
subscribe <name>@<host.domain>
This list is open to anyone interested in helping with the development
and testing of this package.
Beta versions of ncurses and patches to the current release are made
available at [21] .
Future Plans
* Extended-level XPG4 conformance, with internationalization
* Ports to more systems, including DOS and Windows.
We need people to help with these projects. If you are interested in
working on them, please join the ncurses list.
Other Related Resources
The distribution provides a newer version of the terminfo-format
terminal description file once maintained by [22]Eric Raymond . Unlike
the older version, the termcap and terminfo data are provided in the
same file, and provides several user-definable extensions beyond the
X/Open specification.
You can find lots of information on terminal-related topics not
covered in the terminfo file at [23]Richard Shuford's archive .
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