The Open Group Base Specifications Issue 6
IEEE Std 1003.1, 2004 Edition
Copyright © 2001-2004 The IEEE and The Open Group
A newer edition of this document exists here

A.11 General Terminal Interface

If the implementation does not support this interface on any device types, it should behave as if it were being used on a device that is not a terminal device (in most cases errno will be set to [ENOTTY] on return from functions defined by this interface). This is based on the fact that many applications are written to run both interactively and in some non-interactive mode, and they adapt themselves at runtime. Requiring that they all be modified to test an environment variable to determine whether they should try to adapt is unnecessary. On a system that provides no general terminal interface, providing all the entry points as stubs that return [ENOTTY] (or an equivalent, as appropriate) has the same effect and requires no changes to the application.

Although the needs of both interface implementors and application developers were addressed throughout IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, this section pays more attention to the needs of the latter. This is because, while many aspects of the programming interface can be hidden from the user by the application developer, the terminal interface is usually a large part of the user interface. Although to some extent the application developer can build missing features or work around inappropriate ones, the difficulties of doing that are greater in the terminal interface than elsewhere. For example, efficiency prohibits the average program from interpreting every character passing through it in order to simulate character erase, line kill, and so on. These functions should usually be done by the operating system, possibly at the interrupt level.

The tc*() functions were introduced as a way of avoiding the problems inherent in the traditional ioctl() function and in variants of it that were proposed. For example, tcsetattr() is specified in place of the use of the TCSETA ioctl() command function. This allows specification of all the arguments in a manner consistent with the ISO C standard unlike the varying third argument of ioctl(), which is sometimes a pointer (to any of many different types) and sometimes an int.

The advantages of this new method include:

The disadvantages include:

The issue of modem control was excluded from IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 on the grounds that:

A.11.1 Interface Characteristics

Opening a Terminal Device File

There is no additional rationale provided for this section.

Process Groups

There is a potential race when the members of the foreground process group on a terminal leave that process group, either by exit or by changing process groups. After the last process exits the process group, but before the foreground process group ID of the terminal is changed (usually by a job control shell), it would be possible for a new process to be created with its process ID equal to the terminal's foreground process group ID. That process might then become the process group leader and accidentally be placed into the foreground on a terminal that was not necessarily its controlling terminal. As a result of this problem, the controlling terminal is defined to not have a foreground process group during this time.

The cases where a controlling terminal has no foreground process group occur when all processes in the foreground process group either terminate and are waited for or join other process groups via setpgid() or setsid(). If the process group leader terminates, this is the first case described; if it leaves the process group via setpgid(), this is the second case described (a process group leader cannot successfully call setsid()). When one of those cases causes a controlling terminal to have no foreground process group, it has two visible effects on applications. The first is the value returned by tcgetpgrp(). The second (which occurs only in the case where the process group leader terminates) is the sending of signals in response to special input characters. The intent of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 is that no process group be wrongly identified as the foreground process group by tcgetpgrp() or unintentionally receive signals because of placement into the foreground.

In 4.3 BSD, the old process group ID continues to be used to identify the foreground process group and is returned by the function equivalent to tcgetpgrp(). In that implementation it is possible for a newly created process to be assigned the same value as a process ID and then form a new process group with the same value as a process group ID. The result is that the new process group would receive signals from this terminal for no apparent reason, and IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 precludes this by forbidding a process group from entering the foreground in this way. It would be more direct to place part of the requirement made by the last sentence under fork(), but there is no convenient way for that section to refer to the value that tcgetpgrp() returns, since in this case there is no process group and thus no process group ID.

One possibility for a conforming implementation is to behave similarly to 4.3 BSD, but to prevent this reuse of the ID, probably in the implementation of fork(), as long as it is in use by the terminal.

Another possibility is to recognize when the last process stops using the terminal's foreground process group ID, which is when the process group lifetime ends, and to change the terminal's foreground process group ID to a reserved value that is never used as a process ID or process group ID. (See the definition of process group lifetime in the definitions section.) The process ID can then be reserved until the terminal has another foreground process group.

The 4.3 BSD implementation permits the leader (and only member) of the foreground process group to leave the process group by calling the equivalent of setpgid() and to later return, expecting to return to the foreground. There are no known application needs for this behavior, and IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 neither requires nor forbids it (except that it is forbidden for session leaders) by leaving it unspecified.

The Controlling Terminal

IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 does not specify a mechanism by which to allocate a controlling terminal. This is normally done by a system utility (such as getty) and is considered an administrative feature outside the scope of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001.

Historical implementations allocate controlling terminals on certain open() calls. Since open() is part of POSIX.1, its behavior had to be dealt with. The traditional behavior is not required because it is not very straightforward or flexible for either implementations or applications. However, because of its prevalence, it was not practical to disallow this behavior either. Thus, a mechanism was standardized to ensure portable, predictable behavior in open().

Some historical implementations deallocate a controlling terminal on the last system-wide close. This behavior in neither required nor prohibited. Even on implementations that do provide this behavior, applications generally cannot depend on it due to its system-wide nature.

Terminal Access Control

The access controls described in this section apply only to a process that is accessing its controlling terminal. A process accessing a terminal that is not its controlling terminal is effectively treated the same as a member of the foreground process group. While this may seem unintuitive, note that these controls are for the purpose of job control, not security, and job control relates only to a process' controlling terminal. Normal file access permissions handle security.

If the process calling read() or write() is in a background process group that is orphaned, it is not desirable to stop the process group, as it is no longer under the control of a job control shell that could put it into the foreground again. Accordingly, calls to read() or write() functions by such processes receive an immediate error return. This is different from 4.2 BSD, which kills orphaned processes that receive terminal stop signals.

The foreground/background/orphaned process group check performed by the terminal driver must be repeatedly performed until the calling process moves into the foreground or until the process group of the calling process becomes orphaned. That is, when the terminal driver determines that the calling process is in the background and should receive a job control signal, it sends the appropriate signal (SIGTTIN or SIGTTOU) to every process in the process group of the calling process and then it allows the calling process to immediately receive the signal. The latter is typically performed by blocking the process so that the signal is immediately noticed. Note, however, that after the process finishes receiving the signal and control is returned to the driver, the terminal driver must re-execute the foreground/background/orphaned process group check. The process may still be in the background, either because it was continued in the background by a job control shell, or because it caught the signal and did nothing.

The terminal driver repeatedly performs the foreground/background/orphaned process group checks whenever a process is about to access the terminal. In the case of write() or the control tc*() functions, the check is performed at the entry of the function. In the case of read(), the check is performed not only at the entry of the function, but also after blocking the process to wait for input characters (if necessary). That is, once the driver has determined that the process calling the read() function is in the foreground, it attempts to retrieve characters from the input queue. If the queue is empty, it blocks the process waiting for characters. When characters are available and control is returned to the driver, the terminal driver must return to the repeated foreground/background/orphaned process group check again. The process may have moved from the foreground to the background while it was blocked waiting for input characters.

Input Processing and Reading Data

There is no additional rationale provided for this section.

Canonical Mode Input Processing

The term "character" is intended here. ERASE should erase the last character, not the last byte. In the case of multi-byte characters, these two may be different.

4.3 BSD has a WERASE character that erases the last "word" typed (but not any preceding <blank>s or <tab>s). A word is defined as a sequence of non- <blank>s, with <tab>s counted as <blank>s. Like ERASE, WERASE does not erase beyond the beginning of the line. This WERASE feature has not been specified in POSIX.1 because it is difficult to define in the international environment. It is only useful for languages where words are delimited by <blank>s. In some ideographic languages, such as Japanese and Chinese, words are not delimited at all. The WERASE character should presumably go back to the beginning of a sentence in those cases; practically, this means it would not be used much for those languages.

It should be noted that there is a possible inherent deadlock if the application and implementation conflict on the value of {MAX_CANON}. With ICANON set (if IXOFF is enabled) and more than {MAX_CANON} characters transmitted without a <linefeed>, transmission will be stopped, the <linefeed> (or <carriage-return> when ICRLF is set) will never arrive, and the read() will never be satisfied.

An application should not set IXOFF if it is using canonical mode unless it knows that (even in the face of a transmission error) the conditions described previously cannot be met or unless it is prepared to deal with the possible deadlock in some other way, such as timeouts.

It should also be noted that this can be made to happen in non-canonical mode if the trigger value for sending IXOFF is less than VMIN and VTIME is zero.

Non-Canonical Mode Input Processing

Some points to note about MIN and TIME:

  1. The interactions of MIN and TIME are not symmetric. For example, when MIN>0 and TIME=0, TIME has no effect. However, in the opposite case where MIN=0 and TIME>0, both MIN and TIME play a role in that MIN is satisfied with the receipt of a single character.

  2. Also note that in case A (MIN>0, TIME>0), TIME represents an inter-character timer, while in case C (MIN=0, TIME>0), TIME represents a read timer.

These two points highlight the dual purpose of the MIN/TIME feature. Cases A and B, where MIN>0, exist to handle burst-mode activity (for example, file transfer programs) where a program would like to process at least MIN characters at a time. In case A, the inter-character timer is activated by a user as a safety measure; in case B, it is turned off.

Cases C and D exist to handle single-character timed transfers. These cases are readily adaptable to screen-based applications that need to know if a character is present in the input queue before refreshing the screen. In case C, the read is timed; in case D, it is not.

Another important note is that MIN is always just a minimum. It does not denote a record length. That is, if a program does a read of 20 bytes, MIN is 10, and 25 characters are present, 20 characters are returned to the user. In the special case of MIN=0, this still applies: if more than one character is available, they all will be returned immediately.

Writing Data and Output Processing

There is no additional rationale provided for this section.

Special Characters

There is no additional rationale provided for this section.

Modem Disconnect

There is no additional rationale provided for this section.

Closing a Terminal Device File

IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 does not specify that a close() on a terminal device file include the equivalent of a call to tcflow( fd,TCOON).

An implementation that discards output at the time close() is called after reporting the return value to the write() call that data was written does not conform with IEEE Std 1003.1-2001. An application has functions such as tcdrain(), tcflush(), and tcflow() available to obtain the detailed behavior it requires with respect to flushing of output.

At the time of the last close on a terminal device, an application relinquishes any ability to exert flow control via tcflow().

A.11.2 Parameters that Can be Set

The termios Structure

This structure is part of an interface that, in general, retains the historic grouping of flags. Although a more optimal structure for implementations may be possible, the degree of change to applications would be significantly larger.

Input Modes

Some historical implementations treated a long break as multiple events, as many as one per character time. The wording in POSIX.1 explicitly prohibits this.

Although the ISTRIP flag is normally superfluous with today's terminal hardware and software, it is historically supported. Therefore, applications may be using ISTRIP, and there is no technical problem with supporting this flag. Also, applications may wish to receive only 7-bit input bytes and may not be connected directly to the hardware terminal device (for example, when a connection traverses a network).

Also, there is no requirement in general that the terminal device ensures that high-order bits beyond the specified character size are cleared. ISTRIP provides this function for 7-bit characters, which are common.

In dealing with multi-byte characters, the consequences of a parity error in such a character, or in an escape sequence affecting the current character set, are beyond the scope of POSIX.1 and are best dealt with by the application processing the multi-byte characters.

Output Modes

POSIX.1 does not describe postprocessing of output to a terminal or detailed control of that from a conforming application. (That is, translation of <newline> to <carriage-return> followed by <linefeed> or <tab> processing.) There is nothing that a conforming application should do to its output for a terminal because that would require knowledge of the operation of the terminal. It is the responsibility of the operating system to provide postprocessing appropriate to the output device, whether it is a terminal or some other type of device.

Extensions to POSIX.1 to control the type of postprocessing already exist and are expected to continue into the future. The control of these features is primarily to adjust the interface between the system and the terminal device so the output appears on the display correctly. This should be set up before use by any application.

In general, both the input and output modes should not be set absolutely, but rather modified from the inherited state.

Control Modes

This section could be misread that the symbol "CSIZE" is a title in the termios c_cflag field. Although it does serve that function, it is also a required symbol, as a literal reading of POSIX.1 (and the caveats about typography) would indicate.

Local Modes

Non-canonical mode is provided to allow fast bursts of input to be read efficiently while still allowing single-character input.

The ECHONL function historically has been in many implementations. Since there seems to be no technical problem with supporting ECHONL, it is included in POSIX.1 to increase consensus.

The alternate behavior possible when ECHOK or ECHOE are specified with ICANON is permitted as a compromise depending on what the actual terminal hardware can do. Erasing characters and lines is preferred, but is not always possible.

Special Control Characters

Permitting VMIN and VTIME to overlap with VEOF and VEOL was a compromise for historical implementations. Only when backwards-compatibility of object code is a serious concern to an implementor should an implementation continue this practice. Correct applications that work with the overlap (at the source level) should also work if it is not present, but not the reverse.

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