In my .screenrc I have the following stanza:

# Change command key to ctrl+space
escape ^@a

I found this magic incantation in a forum I can no longer find; it allows me to hit ctrl+space to invoke screen commands, so ctrl+space c (or ctrl+space ctrl+c) will create a new window, and ctrl+space space (or ctrl+space ctrl+space) will switch to the last window, etc.

This is very useful in avoiding the problem of precluding the ctrl+a beginning-of-line terminal functionality, is easy to type and doesn't conflict with any standard keybindings.

Can anyone explain why and how this works? I have searched through https://www.gnu.org/software/screen/manual/screen.html for any reference to the character @ and found nothing relevant.


With a lot of terminal programs (but not every one), control-SPACE sends the ASCII 00 character (NUL).

You can see this, eg with od -cx and entering control-SPACE, RETURN, control_D. You'll see output similar to:

% od -cx
0000000  \0  \n

Control-@ is also the NUL character (@ is ASCII 64, so control-@ is ASCII 00).

So mapping control-@ inside screen has the effect of mapping control-SPACE... because of how the terminal handles control-SPACE.

  • Wow. And to corroborate further, ctrl+shift+2 (ctrl+@) works for me too :-) – cachvico Jun 13 '18 at 5:24

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