I'm a long time linux/unix user, as almost anyone working with this kind of OSs I use the terminal or a terminal emulator a lot, but I never understood why it's so hard for any GNU/Linux distribution to offer a decent color palette inside a terminal or a terminal emulator ( even with properly installed drivers ) .

For example under Ubuntu you GTK that "prettifies" everything, but even if you have a VGA capable of rendering a palette of million of colours you are still likely to be confined to a 8 or 256 color palette: Why ? What's the missing piece ? What is the reasoning adopted by who still writes terminal emulators ?

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  • I never understood the need for a multi-color terminal myself. I always set up my Linux terminals to be green-on-black and disable ANSI colors. I find them distracting.
    – samiam
    Feb 7, 2014 at 14:36
  • @samiam It can really be awesome when search in a dense text context or to identify folders file and links doings a ls -l, htop is yes too colorful but still color enhance readability sometime, sometimes not
    – Kiwy
    Feb 7, 2014 at 14:46

1 Answer 1


The answer likely has zero to do with GTK or even modern computing, and absolutely everything to do with ANSI/VT100 graphics, which is what the huge majority of terminals emulate. The colors you get are those that are capable of being sent in an eight-bit escape sequence. Yes, theoretically, folks could ramp up the terminal protocol to something New and Improved, but I'm afraid that a) people are pretty happy with the status quo, so there's no real groundswell for any changes, and b) EVERYTHING supports VT100 -- your terminal, that Cisco router over there, the RS-232-accessible BIOS on the server in the server room, my phone... the list goes on. Basically, if it's not connected to an IBM mainframe (in which case 3270 emulation with EBCDIC comes into play -- with pretty much all the same limitations), it's VT100. "Entrenched" barely scratches the surface.

So, until such time as a multi-byte replacement for ANSI/VT100 "graphics" comes into play, I'm afraid we're stuck. I'm aware that the newer terminals do support Unicode characters -- but as far as I'm aware, Unicode addresses just characters, and not colors. There does seem to be some fairly esoteric debate on this (see https://stackoverflow.com/questions/9626115/color-in-the-unicode-standard), but I certainly don't see anything like a firm consensus.

Bottom line: most folk consider it "not broke," so they ain't rushing to fix it.

  • really ugly situation, but thanks for the neat explanation. Mar 2, 2014 at 5:40

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