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Last pushed: 10 months ago
Short Description
A fully interactive X Linux desktop rendered to ASCII and streamed over SSH
Full Description

A fully interactive X Linux desktop rendered to TTY and streamed over SSH

or Firefox in your terminal 😲

This Youtube video gives a more faithful rendition of the experience.

I'm travelling around the world and sometimes I don't have very good Internet. If all I have is a 3kbps connection
tethered from my phone then it's good to SSH into my server and browse the web through elinks.
That way my server downloads the web pages and uses the limited bandwidth of my SSH connection to display the result. But
it lacks JS support and all that other modern HTML5 goodness. Texttop is simply a way to have the power of a remote
server running a desktop, but interfaced through the simplicity of a terminal and very low bandwidth.

Why not VNC? Well VNC is certainly one solution but it doesn't quite have the same ability to deal with extremely bad
Internet. Texttop uses MoSH to further reduce the bandwidth and stability requirements of the connection. Mosh offers features like
automatic reconnection of dropped connections and diff-only screen updates. Also, other than SSH or MoSH, Texttop doesn't
require a client like VNC. But of course another big reason for Texttop is that it's just very cool geekery.

If you just want to have a play on your local machine:

docker run --rm -it tombh/texttop sh

You can either pull from the Docker Registry:
docker pull tombh/texttop
or, build yourself:

git clone
cd texttop
docker build -t texttop .

The docker image is only ~275MB.

On your remote server (this will pull the docker image the first time you issue it):

docker run -d \
  -p 7777:7777 -p 60000-60020:60000-60020/udp \
  -v ${HOME}/.ssh:/root/.ssh:ro \

Note that this assumes you already have SSH setup on your server and that you have your public key there. Password
logins work fine too. The 60000-60020 port range is for MoSH.

Then on your local machine:

mosh user@yourserver:7777

MoSH is available through most system package managers. SSH can be used exactly the same, just replace mosh with ssh.

user@yourserver is the normal URI you would use to connect via SSH.

CTRL+ALT+Q will drop you back to the docker container's CLI. You can start again with ./

If MoSH or SSH become unresponsive you can exit MoSH with CTRL+^ . or SSH with ENTER ~ .


  • CTRL + mousewheel to zoom
  • CTRL + click/drag to pan

Most mouse and keyboard input is exactly the same as a normal desktop. If your terminal is active then you can click,
type, scroll, use arrow keys and drag things around. However there are still some things not available, like copy and
paste. The main difference from a normal desktop is that you can zoom and pan the desktop by using CTRL + mousewheel and
CTRL + drag. This is very handy as it's hard to see what's what when you're zoomed right out.

###Keyboard Mode
If your terminal doesn't support mouse input then you can switch in and out of keyboard mode with CTRL+ALT+M.
This will give you the following shortcuts:

u mouse up
n mouse down
h mouse left
k mouse right

SHIFT+u pan up
SHIFT+n pan down
SHIFT+h pan left
SHIFT+k pan right

CTRL+u zoom in
CTRL+n zoom out

j left-click
r right-click
t middle-click

###Adding new applications
Currently, only Firefox is installed on this extremely minimal Alpine Linux distro. However you can add new packages
with apk. Example;

# Login with a seperate session
apk --no-cache add xterm
export DISPLAY=:0
xterm &

Just remember that you will lose any system changes once you restart the docker container. I'm thinking about ways to
save state. You may experiment with mounting certain system directories. Eg;

docker run -d \
  -p 7777:7777 -p 60000-60020:60000-60020/udp \
  -v ${HOME}/.ssh:/root/.ssh:ro \
  -v ${HOME}/.texttop/var:/var \

##Known Issues
The Docker Hub version is built against Intel CPU architectures, this causes hiptext to fail on AMD chips. In which
case you will need to build texttop yourself:

git clone
cd texttop
docker build -t texttop .

Working terminals

Problematic terminals

  • konsole: neither CTRL+click/drag nor CTRL+mousewheel are forwarded (perhaps mouse reporting is disabled by default)
  • xterm: CTRL+click/drag is intercepted by the GUI menu
  • rxvt: rendering issues

Yes please.

GNU General Public License v3.0

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