I have an old IBM 3151 Terminal that I'd like to play around with a bit. The terminal was designed for use with Enterprise AIX systems and the documentation for that still exists, but I don't have any AIX servers.

I do have spare machines that I can load something like Ubuntu Server on and I'm wondering if I could get that working. While there are many tutorials on connecting to serial devices such as networking equipment and microcontrollers, the documentation for connecting modern operating systems to output to physical ascii terminals seems scarce.

I'd like to get started by I'm confused on a couple of things.

  1. The terminal connects via DB25 serial ports. Of course, I don't have any computers that have a DB25 serial port, but I do have an adapter that goes from USB -> DB9 -> DB25. Is this enough. Is there going to be any data loss / corruption going from modern USB to the terminal?

  2. What tools / commands should I use to go about redirecting standard input / standard output to the terminal as opposed the the computer's screen / keyboard?

  • 1
    1. USB to DB9 to DB25 should be fine. Typical problems were getting hardware flow control working properly. Ideally you'll want an RS232 breakout box to check the wiring is working as expected. 2. In the old days you'd have enabled agetty on the TTY line in /etc/inittab. I don't know what the equivalent would be with systemd otherwise I'd make this an answer. Mar 18, 2018 at 16:40
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    For systemd you can do a one-off sudo systemctl start [email protected], but look in /lib/systemd/system/[email protected] and worry about the baud rate: I think you need 9600.
    – meuh
    Mar 18, 2018 at 16:51

2 Answers 2

  1. Most USB-to-serial adapters work fine, including when chained to multiple adapters; you might want to check you’re using a real FTDI chip.

  2. Most current distributions use systemd. There you can enable logins on serial terminals by enabling the serial-getty service on the appropriate port; for example

    systemctl enable [email protected] --now

    will start a login session on ttyUSB0.

  • Cool, I believe that's what I'm looking for. Unfortunately, something seems to be broken, but I didn't expect this to be easy :P
    – an earwig
    Mar 18, 2018 at 17:52

First, check if the terminal is working properly:

On a RS-232 serial terminal with standard pinout (DTE)



You can short-circuit pin 2 and 3 and if the terminal is working the character typed on keyboard will be echoed on screen.

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