Linux Virtual Console Explained with Terminal and Shell

Linux Virtual Console Explained with Terminal and Shell


What is Virtual Console?

Linux consoles were much like today’s SSH sessions. The main difference is, a specific console connector cable was used in the past to connect to the server. So the user could enter commands and do things. Linux still emulates consoles. These are called virtual consoles.

Linux has 6 virtual consoles by default. On Red Hat, the first virtual console is the graphical user interface. The rest of the virtual consoles are text based.


Switching Between Virtual Consoles:

To switch between virtual consoles these days, all you need is a keyboard. 

Ctrl + Alt + F1 Switch to the first virtual console
Ctrl + Alt + F2 Switch to the second virtual console
Ctrl + Alt + F3 Switch to the third virtual console
Ctrl + Alt + F4 Switch to the fourth virtual console
Ctrl + Alt + F5 Switch to the fifth virtual console
Ctrl + Alt + F6 Switch to the sixth virtual console

You can combine Ctrl, Alt and function keys as mentioned in the table to switch between virtual consoles.

For example, I have a CentOS machine running on Virtual Box. It’s currently on the first virtual console.


Now let’s switch to the second virtual console by pressing Ctrl + Alt + F2.


Now you can login to your Red Hat operating system from this virtual console and execute commands as you would on a terminal.



If you need to keep a lot of users logged in for testing, then virtual consoles are a great way.


What is a Terminal?

A terminal is an emulated console of Linux. It’s a graphical program such as gnome-terminal, console etc.


This is a Linux terminal.


What are the difference between consoles and terminals?

The consoles are not that customizable. The consoles don’t support many colors as the terminals do. Terminals have modern features and much more customizable than traditional consoles. The text of terminals is smooth.

There are many benefits of using a terminal instead of consoles.

You can run as many terminals as you want on your Desktop, but you are limited to 6 virtual consoles on Linux.


What is Shell?

Shell is user software that runs on top of Linux kernel. Shell creates an environment for users. So the users can interact with the Linux system directly by executing commands.

The shell takes its input from the keyboard or from a file and outputs on the display or to a file or any other devices that the user configured. Shell provides all the basic commands that are needed for everyday tasks.

A shell can be compared with the interpreter of any programming language. Shell is also a programming language itself. For example, you can use bash shell scripts to automate Linux systems. The most common shells are bash, csh, dash etc.