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Is there a way to connect to a serial terminal just as you would do with SSH? There must be a simpler way than tools such as Minicom, like this

$ serial /dev/ttyS0 

I know I can cat the output from /dev/ttyS0 but only one way communication is possible that way, from the port to the console. And echo out to the port is just the same but the other way around, to the port.

How can I realize two way communication with a serial port the simplest possible way on Unix/Linux?

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Great answers people!. Unfortunately no one seem to fully fit my purpose when working with embedded systems with a limited set of commmands. I did however find another way using a shell scrip which I add as one of the answers to my question. – ihatetoregister Oct 18 '11 at 10:15

9 Answers 9

I find screen the most useful program for serial communication since I use it for other things anyway. It's usually just screen /dev/ttyS0 <speed>, although the default settings may be different for your device. It also allows you to pipe anything into the session by entering command mode and doing exec !! <run some program that generates output>.

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+1 for screen! Also, see: – Josh Oct 14 '11 at 13:16
See also and the manual page stty(1), I had to add extra options (e.g. parity) for it to work. – Lekensteyn Mar 20 '12 at 22:22
feels ashamed I wrongly connected the TX/RX :o – Lekensteyn Mar 20 '12 at 22:50


The main reason why you need any program like minicom to communicate over a serial port is that the port needs to be set up prior to initiating a connection. If it weren't set up appropriately, the cat and echo commands would not do for you what you might have expected. Notice that once you run a program like minicom, the port is left with the settings that minicom used. You can query the communication settings using stty program like this:

stty < /dev/ttyS0

If you have done it right; after booting the computer and before running any other program like minicom, the communication settings will be at their default settings. These are probably different then what you will need to make your connection. In this situation, sending the commands cat or echo to the port will either produce garbage or not work at all.

Run stty again after using minicom and you'll notice the settings are set to what the program was using.

Minimal serial communication

Basically, what needs to be done in order to have two-way communication through a serial port, is: 1) configuring the serial port, and 2) opening the pseudo-tty read-write.

The most basic program that I know that does this is picocom. You can also use a tool like setserial to set up the port and then interact with it directly from the shell.

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picocom also will let you connect to a serial port without reconfiguring it (--noinit) and will let you exit without restoring the serial port configuration (--noreset or use Ctrl-A/Ctrl-Q to quit picocom). I've found picocom to be much easier to use than minicom. For reasons I haven't figured out, minicom will sometime simply not send or receive data on a port that worked moments before or that picocom has no trouble with. It's probably some arcane configuration option, but whatever it is I can't figure it out (and this behavior has happened on more than one machine). – Michael Burr Oct 24 '13 at 21:11

If UUCP is installed on the system, you may use the command cu, e.g.

 $ cu -l /dev/ttyS0 -s 9600
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I found a way using a shell script here that put cat as a background process and a while loop that read the user input and echo it out to the port. I modified it to be more general and it fitted my purpose perfectly.



# Usage:
# $ <device> <port speed>
# Example: /dev/ttyS0 9600

# Set up device
stty -F $1 $2

# Let cat read the device $1 in the background
cat $1 &

# Capture PID of background process so it is possible to terminate it when done

# Read commands from user, send them to device $1
while read cmd
   echo "$cmd" 
done > $1

# Terminate background read process
kill $bgPid
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BTW, the putty package (which does run on Linux) does include serial support.

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It depends on what you want to do. Do you want to run a shell or applicaiton interactively from the terminal, connect out to another computer over the serial line, automate communication with a device over a serial port?

If you want bidirectional communication then I presume you want something interactive with a human on the terminal. You can configure the system to allow logins from a terminal over a serial port by seting up a getty(1) session on the serial port - getty is the tool for setting up a terminal and allowing logins onto it. Put an entry in your inittab(5) file to run it on the appropriate serial port on a respawn basis.

If you want to connect to a device and initiate automated two way conversations then you could see if expect will get you what you want. Use stty(1) to configure the port to the right parity, baud rate and other relevant settings.

If you want to communicate interactively with another computer over the serial port then you will need terminal emulation software. This does quite a lot - it sets up the port, interprets ANSI or other terminal command sequences (ANSI was far from being the only standard supported by serial terminals). Many terminal emulators also support file transfer protocols such as kermit or zmodem.

The ins and outs of serial communications and terminal I/O are fairly complex; you can read more than you ever wanted to know on the subject in the serial howto.

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You might want to take a look at

Pro: doesn't have obvious security problems like minicom or picocom (if you don't have a problem giving the users shell access, no problem, but you most likely do have one if you want to set up a terminal server...)

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Putty works well on Linux and offers some convenience, especially for serial communications. It has one drawback I haven't been able to directly solve: no copy-paste from the Putty window itself. The windows version has a lovely auto-copy to clipboard on highlight, right-click to paste behaviour (and there are excellent plugins for both chrome and firefox to enable the same behavior), but on Linux, no copy love AFAIK.

If the lack of copy is a problem (it is for me) then turn on logging in putty and open a standard terminal window and # tail -f putty.log and bidirectional text is available for standard copypasta action.

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As mentioned before you can try picocom. The latest release (2.0) can also be used (safely) to set-up a "terminal server" since it no longer permits shell command injection. See:

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