This is the fourth in our series of articles highlighting essential system tools. These are small utilities, useful for system administrators as well as regular users of Linux based systems. The series examines both graphical and text based open source utilities. For details of all tools in this series, please check the table in the summary section.
The first tools under the spotlight were ps_mem, a small utility that accurately reports memory consumption of software, and gtop, a system monitoring dashboard. The third tool we showcased was pet, a simple command-line snippet manager. These utilities are console-based. This time we switch to a graphical utility. It’s a terminal emulator called Alacritty. But it’s different to most terminal emulators.
Linux has lots of terminal emulators. What distinguishes Alacritty from the vast majority of terminal emulators? It differentiates itself by offering GPU-acceleration combined with a minimal feature set.
The software is written in Rust, a popular programming language among developers. For example, Rust won the most loved language in Stack Overflow’s Developer Survey for the past 3 years.
My preferred way of installing software is to compile a program’s source code. For my Arch Linux distribution, I installed a few packages first.
Then it’s just a matter of cloning the software’s repository and building the software with cargo, Rust’s package manager. Cargo makes it easy to get up and running by downloading a Rust project’s dependencies, compiling the project, making packages, and more.
If you’re so inclined, there’s a snap available. And many popular distributions carry a package for the software.
Let’s go through a simple test to see how Alacritty performs in practice. Alacritty boasts that it’s the fastest terminal emulator available. Defining ‘fastest’ is subjective. Are we measuring the software’s latency? Or the completion of a basic test such as the ability to scroll text in the shortest time?
For simplicity, I compared the software with other popular terminal emulators, seeing how long it takes each emulator to scroll through 100MB of text. Here are the results:
As you can see, Alacritty completes the test in the quickest time. It’s about twice as quick as kitty, another GPU based terminal emulator. Most non-hardware accelerated terminal emulators lag behind in the test, although there are a few notable exceptions. I also tested a dozen other terminal emulator (results not shown, which were comparable with the results for Terminator and GNOME Terminal etc.), and Alacritty remains top. Different types of text manipulation tests also yielded similar results.
With the same set terminal emulators, let’s see how much memory each emulator consumes at startup in their default configuration, using the ps_mem utility.
Alacritty consumes the most memory. The default installation sets the scrollback buffer to hold 10,000 lines. You can reduce the software’s memory consumption by lowering the number of scrollback lines. Ideally, we’d like to see dynamic memory allocation, as it can be helpful to have a large scrollback buffer in some situations while minimizing memory consumption.
Features of Alacritty include:
- The software deliberately pares features to the bone. For example, tabs or splits are not offered. There’s no audio bell.
- Uses a system’s dedicated GPU to improve performance.
- Supports scrollback with definable number of lines to scrollback, together with control of the number of lines scrolled (faux scrolling).
- Option to open URLs on click.
- save_to_clipboard configuration option for copying selected text to the system clipboard.
- Support for the LCD-V pixel mode (vertical screens).
- Supports scancode-based key bindings.
- Support for bitmap fonts.
- Preliminary support for Wayland.
- Cross-platform support – runs under Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD. Windows support is planned.
Alacritty is a useful terminal emulator. While its features are frugal, it’s designed to be used together with other software such as tmux. It supports the Unix philosophy of composability, where components can be selected and assembled in various combinations to meet a user’s preferences.
It’s important to remember that Alacritty is in a fairly early stage of development. The developers consider the code to be alpha quality.
Developer: Joe Wilm, Christian Duerr, and many contributors
License: Apache License 2.0
Alacritty is written in Rust. Learn Rust with our recommended free books and free tutorials.
All the essential tools in this series:
|Essential System Tools|
|Alacritty||Innovative, hardware-accelerated terminal emulator|
|BleachBit||System cleaning software. Quick and easy way to service your computer|
|btop++||Monitor usage and stats for CPU, memory, disks, network and processes|
|catfish||Versatile file searching software|
|Clonezilla||Partition and disk cloning software|
|CPU-X||System profiler with both a GUI and text-based|
|Czkawka||Find duplicate files, big files, empty files, similar images, and much more|
|ddrescue||Data recovery tool, retrieving data from failing drives as safely as possible|
|dust||More intuitive version of du written in Rust|
|f3||Detect and fix counterfeit flash storage|
|Fail2ban||Ban hosts that cause multiple authentication errors|
|fdupes||Find or delete duplicate files|
|Firejail||Restrict the running environment of untrusted applications|
|Glances||Cross-platform system monitoring tool written in Python|
|GParted||Resize, copy, and move partitions without data|
|GreenWithEnvy||NVIDIA graphics card utility|
|gtop||System monitoring dashboard|
|gWakeOnLAN||Turn machines on through Wake On LAN|
|hyperfine||Command-line benchmarking tool|
|inxi||Command-line system information tool that's a time-saver for everyone|
|journalctl||Query and display messages from the journal|
|kmon||Manage Linux kernel modules with this text-based tool|
|Krusader||Advanced, twin-panel (commander-style) file manager|
|Neofetch||System information tool written in Bash|
|Nmap||Network security tool that builds a "map" of the network|
|nmon||Systems administrator, tuner, and benchmark tool|
|nnn||Portable terminal file manager that's amazingly frugal|
|pet||Simple command-line snippet manager|
|Pingnoo||Graphical representation for traceroute and ping output|
|ps_mem||Accurate reporting of software's memory consumption|
|Timeshift||Reliable system restore tool|
|QDirStat||Qt-based directory statistics|
|QJournalctl||Graphical User Interface for systemd’s journalctl|
|TLP||Must-have tool for anyone running Linux on a notebook|
|Unison||Console and graphical file synchronization software|
|VeraCrypt||Strong disk encryption software|
|Ventoy||Create bootable USB drive for ISO, WIM, IMG, VHD(x), EFI files|
|WTF||Personal information dashboard for your terminal|
You mean kitty in the article. Any chance of a kitty v Alacritty comparison article?
Is the output speed of a terminal emulator even relevant in any way nowadays? Even when you disable jump scroll in xterm on a very slow machine (like my HP Mini 210 with an Atom N450 CPU), it’ll scroll through text much faster than anyone can read: about 110 kB/s. At the default setting with jump scroll enabled it does about 678 kB/s. I suspect that if you still have a machine that is slow enough to make terminal speed an issue, you won’t have GPU acceleration available anyway.
The traditional test of the speed of a terminal emulator is still relevant. It serves as a competent test harness for testing other parameters. It’s not about being able to keep up with the text.
Probably latency is more important, but that’s harder to test objectively. Most latency tests aren’t worth their salt.