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2 Interface to the ncurses Library
 2.1 The ncurses Library
 2.2 The ncurses GAP functions

2 Interface to the ncurses Library

In this chapter we describe the GAP interface to the GNU curses/ncurses C-library. This library contains routines to manipulate the contents of terminal windows. It allows one to write programs which should work on a wide variety of terminal emulations with different sets of capabilities.

This technical chapter is intended for readers who want to program new applications using the ncurses functionality. If you are only interested in the function NCurses.BrowseGeneric (4.3-1) from this package or some of its applications you can skip this chapter.

Detailed documentation of the ncurses library is probably available in your operating system (try man ncurses) and from the web (see for example [NCu]). Here, we only give short reminders about the functions provided in the GAP interface and explain how to use the GAP functions.

2.1 The ncurses Library

In this section we list the functions from the GNU ncurses library and its panel extension which are made available in GAP via the Browse package. See the following section 2.2 for explanations how to use these functions from within GAP.

The basic objects to manipulate are called windows, they correspond to rectangular regions of the terminal screen. Windows can overlap but ncurses cannot handle this for the display. Therefore windows can be wrapped in panels, they provide a display depth for windows and it is possible to move panels to the top and bottom of the display or to hide a panel.

We will not import all the functions of the ncurses library to GAP. For example, there are many pairs of functions with the same name except for a leading w (like move and wmove for moving the cursor in a window). Here, we only import the versions with w, which get a window as first argument. The functions without w are for the ncurses standard screen window stdscr which is available as window 0 in GAP. Similarly, there are functions with the same name except for an extra n (like waddstr and waddnstr for placing a string into a window). Here, we only import the safer functions with n which get the number of characters to write as argument. (More convenient functions are then implemented on the GAP level.)

2.1-1 Setting the terminal

We first list flags for setting the basic behavior of a terminal. With savetty/resetty a setting can be stored and recovered.


This stores the current setting of the terminal in a buffer.


This resets the terminal to what was stored in the last call to savetty.


In cbreak mode each input character from a terminal is directly forwarded to the application (but see keypad). With nocbreak this only happens after a newline or return is typed.

keypad(win, bool)

If set to true some special input like arrow or function keys can be read as single characters from the input (such keys actually generate certain sequences of characters), see also 2.1-4. (The win argument is irrelevant.)


This determines if input characters are automatically echoed by the terminal at the current cursor position.


This determines the visibility of the cursor. The argument vis=0 makes the cursor invisible. With vis=1 it becomes visible; some terminals allow also higher levels of visibility.

wtimeout(win, delay)

Here delay determines a timeout in milliseconds for reading characters from the input of a window. Negative values mean infinity, that is a blocking read.


With nl a return on input is translated to a newline character and a newline on output is interpreted as return and linefeed.

intrflush(win, bool)

This flag determines if after an interrupt pending output to the terminal is flushed. (The win argument is irrelevant.)

idlok(win, bool)

With true the library tries to use a hardware line insertion functionality (in particular for scrolling).

scrollok(win, bool)

If set to true moving the cursor down from the last line of a window causes scrolling of the whole window, otherwise nothing happens.

leaveok(win, bool)

If set to true a refresh of the window leaves the cursor at its current location, otherwise this is not guaranteed.

clearok(win, bool)

If set to true the next refresh of the window will clear the screen completely and redraw everything.

immedok(win, bool)

If set to true all changes of the window will automatically also call a wrefresh.


Similar to cbreak, usually not needed (see the ncurses documentation for details).

2.1-2 Manipulating windows

In ncurses an arbitrary number of windows which correspond to rectangular regions (maybe overlapping) of the screen can be handled. You should always delete windows which are no longer needed. To get a proper display of overlapping windows (which may occur by recursively called functions using this library) we suggest that you always wrap windows in panels, see 2.1-3.

For functions which involve coordinates recall that the upper left corner of the screen or internally of any window has the coordinates (0,0).

newwin(nlines, ncols, y, x)

This creates a new window whose upper left corner has the coordinates (y,x) on the screen and has nlines lines and ncols columns, if this is possible. The arguments nlines and ncols can be zero, then their maximal possible values are assumed.


Deletes a window.

mvwin(win, y, x)

Moves the upper left corner of the window to the given coordinates, if the window still fits on the screen. With panels don't use this function, but use move_panel mentioned below.


Writing to a window only changes some internal buffers, this function copies the window content to the actual display screen. You don't need this function if you wrap your windows in panels, use update_panels and doupdate instead.


Use this function to update the content of your display screen to the current content of all windows. If your terminal is not yet in visual mode this function changes to visual mode.


Use this function to leave the visual mode of your terminal. (Remark: If you use this function while not in visual mode the cursor will be moved to the line where the visual mode was started last time. To avoid this use isendwin first.)


Returns true if called while not in visual mode and false otherwise


Get the coordinates of the upper left corner of a window on the screen.


Get the number of lines and columns of a window.

2.1-3 Manipulating panels

Wrap windows in panels to get a proper handling of overlapping windows on the display. Don't forget to delete a panel before deleting the corresponding window.


Create a panel for a window.


Delete a panel.


Use this function to copy changes of windows and panels to a screen buffer. Then call doupdate() to update the display screen.

move_panel(pan, y, x)

Move top left corner of a panel wrapped window to coordinates (y,x) if possible.


Hide or show, respectively, the content of a panel on the display screen.


Move a panel to the top or bottom of all panels, respectively.


Return the panel directly below or above the given one, respectively. With argument 0 the top or bottom panel are returned, respectively. If argument is the bottom or top panel, respectively, then false is returned.

2.1-4 Getting keyboard input

If you want to read input from the user first adjust the terminal settings of cbreak, keypad, echo, wtimeout and curs_set to your needs, see 2.1-1. The basic functions are as follows.


Reads one character from user input (returned as integer). If wtimeout was set with a positive delay then the function returns false if there was no input for delay milliseconds. Note that in nocbreak mode typed characters reach the application only after typing a return. If the keypad flag is set to true some special keys can be read like single characters; the keys are explained below. (Note that there is only one input queue for all windows.)


Puts back the character char on the input queue.

Some terminals allow one to read special keys like one character, we import some of the symbolic names of such keys into GAP. You can check for such characters by comparing with the components of the record NCurses.keys, these are


the arrow keys


the page up and page down keys


the home and end keys


the backspace and delete keys


the insert key


the enter key


the function keys


a pseudo key to detect mouse events


the keys around the arrow keys on a num pad

It can happen that on a specific keyboard there is no key for some of these. Also, not all terminals can interpret all of these keys. You can check this with the function


Checks if the special key key is recognized by the terminal.

2.1-5 Writing to windows

The display of text in ncurses windows has two aspects. The first is to get actual characters on the screen. The second is to specify attributes which influence the display, for example normal or bold fonts or colors. This subsection is for the first aspect. Possible attributes are explained below in 2.1-7.

wmove(win, y, x)

Moves the cursor to position (y,x), recall that the coordinates are zero based, (0,0) being the top left corner.

waddnstr(win, str, len)

Writes the string str to the window starting from the current cursor position. Writes at most len characters. At end of line the cursor moves to the beginning of next line. The behavior at the end of the window depends on the setting of scrollok, see 2.1-1.

waddch(win, char)

Writes a character to the window at the current cursor position and moves the cursor on. The character char is given as integer and can include attribute information.

wborder(win, charlist)

Draws a border around the window. If charlist is a plain list of eight GAP characters these are taken for left/right/top/bottom sides and top-left/top-right/bottom-left/bottom-right corners. Otherwise default characters are used. (See NCurses.WBorder (2.2-9) for a more user friendly interface.)

wvline(win, char, len)

Writes a vertical line of length len (or as long as fitting into the window) starting from the current cursor position to the bottom, using the character char. If char=0 the default character is used.

whline(win, char, len)

Same as wvline but for horizontal lines starting from the cursor position to the right.


Deletes all characters in the window.


Like werase, but also calls clearok.


Deletes all characters from cursor position to the right and bottom.


Deletes all characters from cursor position to end of line.


Returns the character at current cursor position, as integer and including color and attribute information.


Returns the current cursor position.

waddstr(win, str)

Delegates to waddnstr(win, str, Length(str)).

2.1-6 Line drawing characters

For drawing lines and grids in a terminal window you should use some "virtual" characters which are available as components of the record NCurses.lineDraw. On some terminals these are nicely displayed as proper lines (on others they are simulated by ASCII characters). These are:


solid block


board of squares


bottom/left/right/top tee




checker board


down/left/right/up arrow


degree symbol




greater than or equal


horizontal/vertical line


lantern symbol


less than or equal


lower left/lower right/upper left/upper right corner


not equal


letter pi




crossing lines like a plus


scan line 1/3/7/9


pound sterling

2.1-7 Text attributes and colors

In addition to the actual characters to be written to the screen the way they are displayed can be changed by additional attributes. (There should be no danger to mix up this notion of attributes with the one introduced in Reference: Attributes.) The available attributes are stored in the record NCurses.attrs, they are


normal display with no extra attributes.


displays text in the best highlighting mode of the terminal.


underlines the text.


display in reverse video by exchanging the foreground and background color.


displays the text blinking.


displays the text half bright.


displays the text in a bold font.

Note that not all of these work with all types of terminals, or some may cause the same display. Furthermore, if NCurses.attrs.has_colors is true there is a list NCurses.attrs.ColorPairs of attributes to set the foreground and background color. These should be accessed indirectly with NCurses.ColorAttr (2.2-1). Attributes can be combined by adding their values (internally, they are represented by integers). They can also be added to the integer representing a character for use with waddch.

The library functions for setting attributes are:

wattrset(win, attr)

This sets the default (combined) attributes for a window which is added to all characters written to it; using NCurses.attrs.NORMAL as attribute is a reset.

wattron(win, attr)/wattroff(win, attr)

This sets or unsets one or some default attributes of the window without changing the others.


This returns the current default attribute and default color pair of a window.

wbkgdset(win, attr)

This is similar to wattrset but you can also add a character to attr which is used as default instead of blanks.

wbkgd(win, attr)

This function changes the attributes for all characters in the window to attr, also used for further characters written to that window.

2.1-8 Low level ncurses mouse support

Many xterm based terminals support mouse events. The recognition of mouse events by the ncurses input queue can be switched on and off. If switched on and a mouse event occurs, then NCurses.wgetch gets NCurses.keys.MOUSE if the keypad flag is true (see 2.1-4). If this is read one must call NCurses.getmouse which reads further characters from the input queue and interprets them as details on the mouse event. In most cases the function NCurses.GetMouseEvent (2.2-10) can be used in applications (it calls NCurses.getmouse). The following low level functions are available as components of the record NCurses.

The names of mouse events which may be possible are stored in the list NCurses.mouseEvents, which starts [ "BUTTON1_PRESSED", "BUTTON1_RELEASED", "BUTTON1_CLICKED", "BUTTON1_DOUBLE_CLICKED", "BUTTON1_TRIPLE_CLICKED", ... and contains the same for buttons number 2 to 5 and a few other events.


The argument intlist is a list of integers specifying mouse events. An entry i refers to the event described in NCurses.mouseEvents[i+1]. It returns a record with components .new (for the current setting) and .old (for the previous setting) which are again lists of integers with the same meaning. Note that .new may be different from intlist, it is always the empty list if the terminal does not support mouse events. In applications use NCurses.UseMouse (2.2-10) instead of this low level function.


This function must be called after a key NCurses.keys.MOUSE was read. It returns a list with three entries [y, x, intlist] where y and x are the coordinates of the character cell where the mouse event occured and intlist describes the event, it should have length one and refers to a position in NCurses.mouseEvents.

wenclose(win, y, x)

This functions returns true if the screen position y, x is within window win and false otherwise.


Sets the time to recognize a press and release of a mouse button as a click to t milliseconds. (Note that this may have no effect because a window manager may catch this.)

2.1-9 Miscellaneous function

We also provide the ncurses function mnap(msec) which is a sleep for msec milliseconds.

Furthermore, there a two utilities which can be useful for scripts and testing, namely a check if standard input or standard output are connected to terminals. These can be called as NCurses.IsStdinATty() or NCurses.IsStdoutATty(), respectively.

2.2 The ncurses GAP functions

The functions of the ncurses library are used within GAP very similarly to their C equivalents. The functions are available as components of a record NCurses with the name of the C function (e.g., NCurses.newwin).

In GAP the ncurses windows are accessed via integers (as returned by NCurses.newwin). The standard screen stdscr from the ncurses library is available as window number 0. But this should not be used; to allow recursive applications of ncurses always create a new window, wrap it in a panel and delete both when they are no longer needed.

Each window can be wrapped in one panel which is accessed by the same integer. (Window 0 cannot be used with a panel.)

Coordinates in windows are the same zero based integers as in the corresponding C functions. The interface of functions which return coordinates is slightly different from the C version; they just return lists of integers and you just give the window as argument, e.g., NCurses.getmaxyx(win) returns a list [nrows, ncols] of two integers.

Characters to be written to a window can be given either as GAP characters like 'a' or as integers like INT_CHAR('a') = 97. If you use the integer version you can also add attributes including color settings to it for use with NCurses.waddch.

When writing an application decide about an appropriate terminal setting for your visual mode windows, see 2.1-1 and the utility function NCurses.SetTerm (2.2-2) below. Use NCurses.savetty() and NCurses.resetty() to save and restore the previous setting.

We also provide some higher level functionality for displaying marked up text, see NCurses.PutLine (2.2-6) and NCurses.IsAttributeLine (2.2-3).

We now describe some utility functions for putting text on a terminal window.

2.2-1 NCurses.ColorAttr
‣ NCurses.ColorAttr( fgcolor, bgcolor )( function )

Returns: an attribute for setting the foreground and background color to be used on a terminal window (it is a GAP integer).

‣ NCurses.attrs.has_colors( global variable )

The return value can be used like any other attribute as described in 2.1-7. The arguments fgcolor and bgcolor can be given as strings, allowed are those in [ "black", "red", "green", "yellow", "blue", "magenta", "cyan", "white" ]. These are the default foreground colors 0 to 7 on ANSI terminals. Alternatively, the numbers 0 to 7 can be used directly as arguments.

Note that terminals can be configured in a way such that these named colors are not the colors which are actually displayed.

The variable NCurses.attrs.has_colors is set to true or false if the terminal supports colors or not, respectively. If a terminal does not support colors then NCurses.ColorAttr always returns NCurses.attrs.NORMAL.

For an attribute setting the foreground color with the default background color of the terminal use -1 as bgcolor or the same as fgcolor.

gap> win := NCurses.newwin(0,0,0,0);; pan := NCurses.new_panel(win);;
gap> defc := NCurses.defaultColors;;
gap> NCurses.wmove(win, 0, 0);;
gap> for a in defc do for b in defc do
>      NCurses.wattrset(win, NCurses.ColorAttr(a, b));
>      NCurses.waddstr(win, Concatenation(a,"/",b,"\t"));
>    od; od;
gap> if NCurses.IsStdoutATty() then
>      NCurses.update_panels();; NCurses.doupdate();;
>      NCurses.napms(5000);;     # show for 5 seconds
>      NCurses.endwin();; NCurses.del_panel(pan);; NCurses.delwin(win);;
>    fi;

2.2-2 NCurses.SetTerm
‣ NCurses.SetTerm( [record] )( function )

This function provides a unified interface to the various terminal setting functions of ncurses listed in 2.1-1. The optional argument is a record with components which are assigned to true or false. Recognised components are: cbreak, echo, nl, intrflush, leaveok, scrollok, keypad, raw (with the obvious meaning if set to true or false, respectively).

The default, if no argument is given, is rec(cbreak := true, echo := false, nl := false, intrflush := false, leaveok := true, scrollok := false, keypad := true). (This is a useful setting for many applications.) If there is an argument record, then the given components overwrite the corresponding defaults.

2.2-3 NCurses.IsAttributeLine
‣ NCurses.IsAttributeLine( obj )( function )

Returns: true if the argument describes a string with attributes.

An attribute line describes a string with attributes. It is represented by either a string or a dense list of strings, integers, and Booleans immediately following integers, where at least one list entry must not be a string. (The reason is that we want to be able to distinguish between an attribute line and a list of such lines, and that the case of plain strings is perhaps the most usual one, so we do not want to force wrapping each string in a list.) The integers denote attribute values such as color or font information, the Booleans denote that the attribute given by the preceding integer is set or reset.

If an integer is not followed by a Boolean then it is used as the attribute for the following characters, that is it overwrites all previously set attributes. Note that in some applications the variant with explicit Boolean values is preferable, because such a line can nicely be highlighted just by prepending a NCurses.attrs.STANDOUT attribute.

For an overview of attributes, see 2.1-7.

gap> NCurses.IsAttributeLine( "abc" );
gap> NCurses.IsAttributeLine( [ "abc", "def" ] );
gap> NCurses.IsAttributeLine( [ NCurses.attrs.UNDERLINE, true, "abc" ] );
gap> NCurses.IsAttributeLine( "" );  NCurses.IsAttributeLine( [] );

The empty string is an attribute line whereas the empty list (which is not in IsStringRep (Reference: IsStringRep)) is not an attribute line.

2.2-4 NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines
‣ NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines( lines[, keep] )( function )

Returns: an attribute line.

For a list lines of attribute lines (see NCurses.IsAttributeLine (2.2-3)), NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines returns the attribute line obtained by concatenating the attribute lines in lines.

If the optional argument keep is true then attributes set in an entry of lines are valid also for the following entries of lines. Otherwise (in particular if there is no second argument) the attributes are reset to NCurses.attrs.NORMAL between the entries of lines.

gap> plain_str:= "hello";;
gap> with_attr:= [ NCurses.attrs.BOLD, "bold" ];;
gap> NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines( [ plain_str, plain_str ] );
gap> NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines( [ plain_str, with_attr ] );
[ "hello", 2097152, "bold" ]
gap> NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines( [ with_attr, plain_str ] );
[ 2097152, "bold", 0, "hello" ]
gap> NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines( [ with_attr, with_attr ] );
[ 2097152, "bold", 0, 2097152, "bold" ]
gap> NCurses.ConcatenationAttributeLines( [ with_attr, with_attr ], true );
[ 2097152, "bold", 2097152, "bold" ]

2.2-5 NCurses.RepeatedAttributeLine
‣ NCurses.RepeatedAttributeLine( line, width )( function )

Returns: an attribute line.

For an attribute line line (see NCurses.IsAttributeLine (2.2-3)) and a positive integer width, NCurses.RepeatedAttributeLine returns an attribute line with width displayed characters (see NCurses.WidthAttributeLine (2.2-7)) that is obtained by concatenating sufficiently many copies of line and cutting off a tail if applicable.

gap> NCurses.RepeatedAttributeLine( "12345", 23 );
gap> NCurses.RepeatedAttributeLine( [ NCurses.attrs.BOLD, "12345" ], 13 );
[ 2097152, "12345", 0, 2097152, "12345", 0, 2097152, "123" ]

2.2-6 NCurses.PutLine
‣ NCurses.PutLine( win, y, x, lines[, skip] )( function )

Returns: true if lines were written, otherwise false.

The argument lines can be a list of attribute lines (see NCurses.IsAttributeLine (2.2-3)) or a single attribute line. This function writes the attribute lines to window win at and below of position y, x.

If the argument skip is given, it must be a nonnegative integer. In that case the first skip characters of each given line are not written to the window (but the attributes are).

2.2-7 NCurses.WidthAttributeLine
‣ NCurses.WidthAttributeLine( line )( function )

Returns: number of displayed characters in an attribute line.

For an attribute line line (see NCurses.IsAttributeLine (2.2-3)), the function returns the number of displayed characters of line.

gap> NCurses.WidthAttributeLine( "abcde" );
gap> NCurses.WidthAttributeLine( [ NCurses.attrs.BOLD, "abc",
>        NCurses.attrs.NORMAL, "de" ] );

2.2-8 NCurses.Grid
‣ NCurses.Grid( win, trow, brow, lcol, rcol, rowinds, colinds )( function )

This function draws a grid of horizontal and vertical lines on the window win, using the line drawing characters explained in 2.1-6. The given arguments specify the top and bottom row of the grid, its left and right column, and lists of row and column numbers where lines should be drawn.

gap> fun := function() local win, pan;
>      win := NCurses.newwin(0,0,0,0);
>      pan := NCurses.new_panel(win);
>      NCurses.Grid(win, 2, 11, 5, 22, [5, 6], [13, 14]);
>      NCurses.PutLine(win, 12, 0, "Press <Enter> to quit");
>      NCurses.update_panels(); NCurses.doupdate();
>      NCurses.wgetch(win);
>      NCurses.endwin();
>      NCurses.del_panel(pan); NCurses.delwin(win);
> end;;
gap> fun();

2.2-9 NCurses.WBorder
‣ NCurses.WBorder( win[, chars] )( function )

This is a convenient interface to the ncurses function wborder. It draws a border around the window win. If no second argument is given the default line drawing characters are used, see 2.1-6. Otherwise, chars must be a list of GAP characters or integers specifying characters, possibly with attributes. If chars has length 8 the characters are used for the left/right/top/bottom sides and top-left/top-right/bottom-left/bottom-right corners. If chars contains 2 characters the first is used for the sides and the second for all corners. If chars contains just one character it is used for all sides including the corners.

2.2-10 Mouse support in ncurses applications
‣ NCurses.UseMouse( on )( function )

Returns: a record

‣ NCurses.GetMouseEvent( )( function )

Returns: a list of records

ncurses allows on some terminals (xterm and related) to catch mouse events. In principle a subset of events can be caught, see mousemask in 2.1-8. But this does not seem to work well with proper subsets of possible events (probably due to intermediate processes X, window manager, terminal application, ...). Therefore we suggest to catch either all or no mouse events in applications.

This can be done with NCurses.UseMouse with argument true to switch on the recognition of mouse events and false to switch it off. The function returns a record with components .new and .old which are both set to the status true or false from after and before the call, respectively. (There does not seem to be a possibility to get the current status without calling NCurses.UseMouse.) If you call the function with argument true and the .new component of the result is false, then the terminal does not support mouse events.

When the recognition of mouse events is switched on and a mouse event occurs then the key NCurses.keys.MOUSE is found in the input queue, see wgetch in 2.1-4. If this key is read the low level function NCurses.getmouse must be called to fetch further details about the event from the input queue, see 2.1-8. In many cases this can be done by calling the function NCurses.GetMouseEvent which also generates additional information. The return value is a list of records, one for each panel over which the event occured, these panels sorted from top to bottom (so, often you will just need the first entry if there is any). Each of these records has components .win, the corresponding window of the panel, .y and .x, the relative coordinates in window .win where the event occured, and .event, which is bound to one of the strings in NCurses.mouseEvents which describes the event.

Suggestion: Always make the use of the mouse optional in your application. Allow the user to switch mouse usage on and off while your application is running. Some users may not like to give mouse control to your application, for example the standard cut and paste functionality cannot be used while mouse events are caught.

2.2-11 NCurses.SaveWin
‣ NCurses.SaveWin( win )( function )
‣ NCurses.StringsSaveWin( cont )( function )
‣ NCurses.RestoreWin( win, cont )( function )
‣ NCurses.ShowSaveWin( cont )( function )

Returns: a GAP object describing the contents of a window.

These functions can be used to save and restore the contents of ncurses windows. NCurses.SaveWin returns a list [nrows, ncols, chars] giving the number of rows, number of columns, and a list of integers describing the content of window win. The integers in the latter contain the displayed characters plus the attributes for the display.

The function NCurses.StringsSaveWin translates data cont in form of the output of NCurses.SaveWin to a list of nrows strings giving the text of the rows of the saved window, and ignoring the attributes. You can view the result with NCurses.Pager (3.1-4).

The argument cont for NCurses.RestoreWin must be of the same format as the output of NCurses.SaveWin. The content of the saved window is copied to the window win, starting from the top-left corner as much as it fits.

The utility NCurses.ShowSaveWin can be used to display the output of NCurses.SaveWin (as much of the top-left corner as fits on the screen).

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