I'm currently trying to install Debian on a system with no video output. All I have is serial console.
I know how to get it started and all, and even made it install automatically with a preseeded config. The installation itself is absolutely no issue.

Now what I haven't figured out is how I can switch between the different tabs the installer has:


I'd love to have that so I can switch to the log and follow the installation in much more detail for debugging purposes (the installation itself runs fully automatically).

I already tried

  • Alt + 1-4
  • Alt + F1-F4
  • Ctrl + Alt + 1-4
  • Ctrl + Alt + F1-F4

Though none of those worked. It might very well be that one of those is the correct shortcut, but PuTTy is not sending them because either PuTTy or Windows itself is handling it (Like Alt + F4).

2 Answers 2


It looks like the Debian installer might use the well-known screen utility to implement multiple tabs on a serial console, so use its key combinations to switch tabs:

Ctrl+A, then 1-4

An alternative tool for the same purpose is tmux, which might be newer than screen... but apparently screen is a GNU project and tmux might be BSD. I would guess that screen is still the more widespread one. Debian is likely to prefer GNU software anyway.

Some other distribution might use tmux instead, and its basic key combinations are very similar to screen's, but the prefix key combination is Ctrl+B instead of Ctrl+A.


In addition to @telcoM answer:

For those running the Debian installer through screen itself, like a UART connection to some monitor-less device, you can't use Ctrl+a directly. That would be picked up by your local screen instance.

Instead, you need to perform Ctrl+a then a first to send Ctrl+a to the installer, followed by the number.

So Ctrl+a, then a, then 1-4.

  • Awesome! I was struggling with exactly this issue. Thanks!
    – frsc
    Dec 20, 2023 at 15:43
  • I ran into the same issue, but with minicom - I had to use Ctrl+a Ctrl+a and then 1 - 4 to get the proper sequence of escapes and literal keys. Yeesh!
    – Jacob Hume
    Feb 12 at 3:00
  • FYI, I had to ctrl+a ctrl+a 2 to get that on QEMU's -nographic console for sparc64. It seems that ctrl+a is escaped by ctrl+a,ctrl+a so double 'em.
    – KJ7LNW
    Apr 22 at 1:57

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