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Terminal emulation

Terminal emulation definition

Terminal emulation is the process of duplicating the functionality and behavior of a physical computer terminal on a different device or platform (e.g., a personal computer or workstation). Terminal emulation allows users to interact with a remote computer system as if using a traditional terminal directly connected to that system. Terminal emulation is used when legacy systems still play an active role in the organization’s infrastructure.

How terminal emulation works

  • Establishing a connection. The user launches a terminal emulation software or application on their device (e.g., a PC or laptop). To launch it, they need to enter details like the IP address or hostname of the remote system and the communication protocol to be used (e.g., Telnet, SSH).
  • Emulating terminal characteristics. Once the connection is established, the terminal emulation software emulates the behavior and characteristics of a physical terminal. For example, it sets up the display settings (e.g., screen size, font, and color) to match the desired terminal environment.
  • Sending and receiving data. The user types commands or uses the device’s keyboard to interact with the software. The software sends these inputs to the remote system over the established connection. The system processes the received input and generates a response.
  • Displaying output. The terminal emulation software receives the response from the remote system and displays it on the user's device screen. This output typically includes the execution results of the entered commands, system messages, or any other information sent by the remote system.
  • Handling terminal functions. Terminal emulation software handles various terminal functions (e.g., cursor movement, screen scrolling) to maintain compatibility with the emulated terminal. This way, the user can navigate and interact with the remote system efficiently.
  • Ending the session. Users can close the terminal emulation software or explicitly terminate the connection using specific commands.

Organizations that use terminal emulation

  • Banks
  • Insurance companies
  • Governments
  • Any other organization with decades-old programs