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Screen vs. Tmux: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 9, 2023
Screen and tmux are terminal multiplexers, but tmux offers more modern features and an easier configuration process.

Key Differences

Screen and tmux both serve the same primary function: they are terminal multiplexers, allowing users to access multiple terminal sessions within a single window. However, where screen has been around since the 1980s, tmux is a newer tool that was introduced in 2009.
While both screen and tmux allow you to detach from a session and reattach later, tmux boasts a more user-friendly and intuitive interface. Screen's interface, by contrast, is often viewed as less intuitive, primarily because it's an older program with a more dated design.
A notable difference between screen and tmux is their configuration processes. Tmux uses a single configuration file, making it relatively straightforward to customize. Screen, on the other hand, has a more complex configuration setup.
In terms of feature set, while screen provides basic terminal multiplexing capabilities, tmux offers additional features such as vertical and horizontal splits, and it supports a status bar by default.
Compatibility is another area of distinction. Screen is widely available and installed on many systems by default. Tmux, being newer, might require manual installation on some systems, but it is also broadly compatible with most Unix-based systems.

Comparison Chart


Introduced in the 1980s
Introduced in 2009


Often viewed as less intuitive
More user-friendly and intuitive


More complex setup
Single configuration file


Basic terminal multiplexing
Offers vertical/horizontal splits, supports a status bar by default


Installed by default on many systems
Might require manual installation but broadly compatible

Screen and Tmux Definitions


A terminal multiplexer introduced in the 1980s.
He used screen to manage multiple sessions during his remote work.


A modern terminal multiplexer introduced in 2009.
She switched to tmux for its advanced features.


Allows users to detach and reattach to terminal sessions.
After detaching from the screen, he resumed his work the next day.


Uses a single configuration file for easy customization.
She quickly tailored tmux to her liking using the .tmux.conf file.


Uses multiple configuration files for customization.
Customizing screen required some digging into various config files.


Offers advanced features like pane splits and a status bar.
Using tmux, she split her terminal into multiple panes for efficient multitasking.


Widely available on many Unix-based systems.
The server had screen installed by default, making his work easier.


Known for its user-friendly and intuitive interface.
Getting started with tmux was a breeze thanks to its intuitive commands.


Provides basic terminal multiplexing features.
With screen, he could run several commands simultaneously.


Compatible with most Unix-based systems but might require manual installation.
After installing tmux on her new server, she was up and running in no time.


A movable device, especially a framed construction such as a room divider or a decorative panel, designed to divide, conceal, or protect.


One that serves to protect, conceal, or divide
Security guards formed a screen around the president. A screen of evergreens afforded privacy from our neighbors.


What is GNU Screen?

GNU Screen is a terminal multiplexer that allows a user to run multiple terminal sessions in a single window.

How is "screen" used in computing?

In computing, a "screen" typically refers to the display unit of a computer or the interface that users see.

What's the primary purpose of GNU Screen?

It allows users to detach and reattach to terminal sessions, keeping programs running even after logging out.

What is the verb form of "screen"?

To "screen" means to shield, protect, or sift through something. It can also mean to show a film or broadcast.

Which is older, screen or tmux?

Screen is older. It was first released in 1987, while tmux was introduced in 2009.

Can tmux sessions survive computer restarts?

No, tmux sessions do not persist through a system reboot. However, they do survive disconnections or logouts.

Is tmux a replacement for screen?

tmux can be viewed as an alternative with a more modern feature set. Many users prefer tmux over screen, but both tools serve similar purposes.

Are both screen and tmux available on all Unix-like systems?

Both tools are available for most Unix-like systems, but they might not be installed by default. You can install them using the system's package manager.

What is the primary purpose of tmux?

tmux allows users to run multiple terminal sessions inside a single window. It can split windows, detach and reattach sessions, and provides a persistent environment for terminals.

Can you nest sessions in both screen and tmux?

Yes, both screen and tmux allow for nesting of sessions, but it can be tricky and is generally not recommended due to key binding overlaps.

What does "screen" mean in general?

A screen can refer to a flat panel or area on which images or information are projected or displayed.

What does "tmux" stand for?

"tmux" stands for "terminal multiplexer".

How is tmux different from Screen?

Both are terminal multiplexers, but tmux offers a more modern and extensive feature set, including a more user-friendly status bar and better scripting capabilities.

Which one supports vertical splitting of windows out of the box?

tmux supports vertical splitting natively. For screen, this feature was added in later versions.

Can I use screen and tmux on Windows?

Directly, no. However, you can use them on Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) or in virtual machines running a Unix-like OS.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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