Based on what I have read about pseudoterminals in Linux, there are two types of pseudoterminals: BSD-style pseudoterminals (which is deprecated) and UNIX 98 pseudoterminals.

I have created two images that shows my understanding of these two types of pseudoterminals.

The following image shows how the BSD-style pseudoterminals works (please correct me if the image is wrong):

enter image description here

This type of pseudoterminals is not hard to understand, each terminal is connected to a unique master driver.

But in the UNIX 98 pseudoterminals, things are a little more confusing. The following image shows how I think this type of pseudoterminals works:

enter image description here

So basically all terminals use the same master driver (/dev/ptmx), but I am not sure how the master driver knows how to do the following:

  • If data is being sent from one of the terminal processes, how does the master driver knows to which TTY slave driver the data should be passed to?

  • If data is being sent from one of the TTY slave drivers, how does the master driver knows to which terminal process the data should be passed to?

Does the master driver knows how to do this in the way that I have shown in the image (i.e. the master driver have a mapping table that maps each terminal PID to its corresponding TTY slave driver)?

1 Answer 1


You are curiously fascinated by names. /dev/ptmx is not a "driver", it's just a name in the filesystem, which has a special meaning.

A process opens a new master pty by calling posix_openpt(), which returns a file descriptor; the same effect can be achieved by calling open() on /dev/ptmx. Each time a process calls open() of /dev/ptmx a new pseudoterminal is created; the pseudoterminal is destroyed when there are no more processes having this file descriptor open. This file descriptor refers to the master side of the pseudoterminal, and can be passed to descendant processes like any other file descriptor.

For more detailed information see unix.stackexchange.com/questions/117981. (Hat tip to @JdeBP for the suggestion.)

Once a process has a file descriptor referring to a master side of the pseudoterminal, it can find out the name of the slave side of the pseudoterminal by calling ptsname(), and can pass this name to any process it wants to control through the pseudoterminal.

  • I didn't mean that /dev/ptmx is a driver in the image, I was just implying that the /dev/ptmx device file points to the master driver. Nov 21, 2017 at 11:30
  • 1
    @user7681202: The point is that it does not point to the master "driver". It "points" to a routine which creates a new pseudoterminal. More specifically, when a process opens this special file a kernel routine creates a new pseudoterminal; when all processes have closed the file descriptor corresponding to the master side of the pseudoterminal another kernel routine destroys it.
    – AlexP
    Nov 21, 2017 at 11:50
  • I thought that a device file can only point to a driver! This article also uses the term "driver" to refer to the master side of a pty ("...a node for the master side driver /dev/ptmx and..."): docs.oracle.com/cd/E19253-01/816-4855/termsub15-14/index.html. Nov 21, 2017 at 12:17
  • You might want to point to unix.stackexchange.com/questions/117981 for further reading. It has diagrams.
    – JdeBP
    Nov 21, 2017 at 13:17
  • "This file descriptor refers to the master side of the pseudoterminal" Does each process that creates a new pseudoterminal will have a file descriptor that points to a unique master object/driver, or are all of the file descriptors points to the same master object/driver like I have showed in my second image? Nov 25, 2017 at 8:58

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