I need to identify what this escape sequences represents. I see this sequence is autogenerating on my server's console, but I'm not sure what is the reason for that.

Escape sequence: ^[[[D

I've checked this chart of escape sequences as reference: http://ascii-table.com/ansi-escape-sequences-vt-100.php , but haven't found anything matching.

  • When do you see these characters being printed out (when a prompt is shown, when a specific application is run, randomly, etc)? Also can you confirm there are 3 [ characters, not 2?
    – phemmer
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 0:13
  • When a prompt is shown. It's on a specific server, specific system - Cisco Unified Communication manager which is based on RHEL distribution. I can confirm it's 3 '[' character, not 2 of them. I was able to interpret ^[[D sequence :) Thanks for your questions
    – Pavel
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 3:28

2 Answers 2


NOTE: This is as I understand things, so it might be a bit off!

The characters ^[ typically signifies the Escape key itself. That's a Control (^) + a open square bracket ([).

excerpt from Escape characters - ASCII escape character

The ASCII "escape" character (octal: \033, hexadecimal: \x1B, or ^[, or, in decimal, 27) is used in many output devices to start a series of characters called a control sequence or escape sequence. Typically, the escape character was sent first in such a sequence to alert the device that the following characters were to be interpreted as a control sequence rather than as plain characters, then one or more characters would follow to specify some detailed action, after which the device would go back to interpreting characters normally. For example, the sequence of ^[, followed by the printable characters [2;10H, would cause a DEC VT102 terminal to move its cursor to the 10th cell of the 2nd line of the screen. This was later developed to ANSI escape codes covered by the ANSI X3.64 standard. The escape character also starts each command sequence in the Hewlett Packard Printer Command Language.

On systems where you're using UTF-8 this escape sequence is actually 2 characters, so it's now ^[ followed by an additional [.

excerpt from ANSI escape code - Sequence Elements

There is a single-character CSI (155/0x9B/0233) as well. The ESC+[ two-character sequence is more often used than the single-character alternative, for details see C0 and C1 control codes. Only the two-character sequence is recognized by devices that support just ASCII (7-bit bytes) or devices that support 8-bit bytes but use the 0x80–0x9F control character range for other purposes. On terminals that use UTF-8 encoding, both forms take 2 bytes (CSI in UTF-8 is 0xC2, 0x9B)[discuss] but the ESC+[ sequence is clearer.

Knowing the above 2 pieces of information this would make your escape sequence Esc+[+D which works out to be, big surprise, the backspace character.

excerpt from ANSI Escape sequences

Esc[ValueD     Cursor Backward: Moves the cursor back by the specified 
               number of columns without changing lines. If the cursor is 
               already in the leftmost column, ANSI.SYS ignores this 


  • Thank you! Now I see. It was weird for me because I didn't know about ^[[ is a UTF-8 escape sequence.
    – Pavel
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 3:26
  • I found out how to generate the sequence on console screen. Pressing "cursor left" give us the sequence.
    – Pavel
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:28
  • @Pavel - so the cursor backwards at the end of my answer is correct, and now we know how it's getting generated. That key is probably mapped to send the "cursor backward" sequence. The mapping can happen in a number of places, so it might not be worth investigating further. It could be a set through stty or setterm among several other places.
    – slm
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:40
  • @Pavel - please mark this answer as accepted if you feel it resovled your issue. This will let others know that your issue's been resolved so they won't attempt to continue with assisting any further.
    – slm
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 22:53

This sounds like a bad copy paste into a shell profile script.

As @slm indicated, ' ^[ + [ ' is the usual escape sequence, but you're saying you have '^[ + [ + ['. When I look through my terminal emulator's escape codes, I don't see any codes which are ESC followed by 2 brackets.

Since an ESC is a non-printable character, it is often represented in text editors as ^[. I'm guessing someone was editing a profile script which had this escape code, and tried to copy/paste it onto another system. But they copied the visual representation of ESC (^[) instead of the ESC itself.
However this would result in just seeing ^[[D, not ^[[[D. For this, maybe the copy/paste was done by typing it instead, and it's a typo.

In any case, to fix this, you'll need to find the profile script which has this and fix it. If using bash, try the following:

fgrep -r '[[[' /etc/bashrc /etc/bashrc.d /etc/bash_profile /etc/profile /etc/profile.d ~/.profile ~/.bashrc ~/.bash_profile

Once you've found it, it's easy to fix. In the vi editor, just delete the ^[[ characters and in insert mode do Ctrl + v then ESC. This will insert a literal ESC character.

  • Hi Patrick, Thank you for your opinion. I have several screenshots with such symbols on it. It wasn't a copy/paste error. And I can reproduce this symbol now. For that I just press on "cursor left" button to get a ^[[[D sequence.
    – Pavel
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:27

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