More Short Cut Keys: Linux only

Continuing with our shortcut key tips …. let’s look at some that you can only use if you are using Linux, but likely, if you are a New Linuxer (like, you just installed Ubuntu a couple of months ago) you wont’ know about these.

Don’t press these buttons until you know what you are doing:

CTRL-ALT followed by a function key will swap you to a totally different place, like the twilight zone but mostly black. F1 will get you to the first available text terminal. There are probably, on your system, six of these “virtual terminals” that can be accessed in this way.

F7 is probably the terminal that is running your default desktop GUI. So when you do press these buttons, CTRL-ALT F7 should, maybe, get you back home. Or maybe not. OK, go give it a try!

Hey, you made it back! Great.

That might have been a little traumatic so I’m only going to give you one more. In gnome, assuming you have multiple desktops, ALT-CTRL arrow sends you flying between the desktops. If you have Copmriz or any similar fancy eye candy running, this may invoke some of the desktop effects you see here:

But you’ll have to provide your own music.

Have fun!


  1. #1 llewelly
    September 24, 2008

    Did you know it’s possible to run X on more than one VT?

    Aside from that … I’d like to know, for the novice user, how is a VT running an ordinary getty any better than an xterm?
    And how is a set of 6 (the common, easily changed default) VTs running ordinary gettys better than running screen inside an xterm?

    But forget that. You should do a post on screen.

  2. #2 llewelly
    September 24, 2008

    So when you do press these buttons, CTRL-ALT F7 should, maybe, get you back home. Or maybe not. OK, go give it a try!

    Actually, on a typical linux system, once you’ve switched to a text terminal, it’s ALT+Fn that changes VTs. So CTRL + ALT + F1 to go to the first term, ALT + F7 to go back.
    Remember – if you’re moving back and forth between a text terminal and X, it’s asymetric.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    September 25, 2008


    Good questions. First, yes, everybody knows that! Why is it better? A terminal window in the GUI is not a character based terminal. It is an emulation of the character based terminal. The CBT looks and feels totally different.

    Another difference, and this is the whole point of there being six of them, I think, is that these character based virtual terminals come up as un-assigned. You must log in. The point is to log in as someone else. These terminals are your portals to the system when your x craps out. If all you can see is funny lines and stuff, hit AltCtrl F1 and log on as root. Multiple terminals come in handy under the not impossible condition where root gets frozen because of something fundementally wrong. Then you go to the next vterm. You have six chances to get it right.

    I think the main reason is that your average old time *nix geek needs lots of terminals but only one GUI.

    As far as switching back goes, both work in Debian Linux.