Fixing Shifted-Arrow Keys in 256-Color Terminals on Linux

The terminfo entry for “xterm-256color” that ships by default as part of ncurses-base on Debian Linux and its derivatives is a bit annoying. In particular, shifted up-arrow key presses work fine in some programs, but fail in others. It’s a bit of a gamble if Shift-Up works in joe, pico, vim, emacs, mutt, slrn, or what have you.

THis afternoon I got bored enough of losing my selected region in Emacs, because I forgot that I was typing in a terminal launched by a Linux desktop. SO I thought “what the heck… let’s give the FreeBSD termcap entry for xterm-256color a try”:

keramida> scp bsd:/etc/termcap /tmp/termcap-bsd
keramida> captoinfo -e $(                                  \
  echo $( grep '^xterm' termcap | sed -e 's/[:|].*//' ) |  \
  sed -e 's/ /,/g'                                         \
  ) /tmp/termcap  > /tmp/terminfo.src
keramida> tic /tmp/terminfo.src

Restarted my terminal, and quite unsurprisingly, the problem of Shift-Up keys was gone.

The broken xterm-256color terminfo entry from /lib/terminfo/x/xterm-256color is now shadowed by ~/.terminfo/x/xterm-256color, and I can happily keep typing without having to worry about losing mental state because of this annoying little misfeature of Linux terminfo entries.

The official terminfo database sources[1], also work fine. So now I think some extra digging is required to see what ncurses-base ships with. There’s definitely something broken in the terminfo entry of ncurses-base, but it will be nice to know which terminal capabilities the Linux package botched.


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3 Responses to Fixing Shifted-Arrow Keys in 256-Color Terminals on Linux

  1. Mikhail says:

    Hello there! A nice idea. I was also frustrated by the fact that I can either have 256 colors OR shift+arrows working (with xterm-vt220). I’ve got FreeBSD’s termcap.src from their SVN (as I don’t have a machine running it). Your approach almost worked, except that I still don’t have “End” key working in Emacs, it’s being recognized as the key. Are you having the same issue?

  2. Mikhail says:

    Whoops, WordPress ate the key name in angled braces. The next to last sentence should end as “…it’s being recognized as the ‘select’ key”

  3. keramida says:

    Hi Mikhail. I don’t have that Linux installation anymore, but I’ll give it a try and let you know. I think ‘End’ is recognized as something different from ‘End’ indeed.

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