Terminal-based browsers are of niche interest even among seasoned Linux users, and most mainstream distros will come with Firefox or Falkon pre-installed. But there are good reasons why you might want to experience the Internet through a browser in your terminal.
Here are some of the best terminal-based web browsers.
Why use a terminal-based web browser?
For example, at the time of writing The New York Times The home page weighs 24.8 MB. That’s a lot: it would take 35 old skool floppy disks to store a single copy of the NYT home page. You can put less than a month of the NYT homepage on a CD.
If you like to read the news every day and use a regular browser, it can add up quickly and bandwidth isn’t cheap. If you’re using a terminal-based browser, you load the HTML code, but not the images, videos, or ads, saving you hundreds of MB over the course of a day.
Images, autoplay videos and sound effects are also distracting. Using a text browser in your terminal, you can simply read.
As the graphical browser world has multiple alternatives such as Firefox, Falkon, Chrome and surf, so does the terminal browser universe. Here are some of the best:
Lynx is the oldest still-maintained web browser, and it was first released for Unix-like systems in 1992, less than a year after the web was made available to the general public.
The package is available in the default repositories of most distributions, and there are also versions available for DOS, Windows, macOS, Amiga, etc.
Using Lynx is easy, just open a terminal and type:
To enter a web address, tap g then enter the address and press Walk in.
Alternatively, to launch a web page directly from the command line, you can add the site name directly to the command before launching.
For example, if you enter:
…Lynx will open and attempt to connect to bbc, before smartly trying bbc.com.
Navigation is controlled by the keyboard: At the top and Down arrow keys to navigate to a link. So Right follow a link and Left flip.
Although Lynx is simple to install and use, it has hundreds of configuration options, relating to everything from how it handles cookies to specifying a text file from which to execute commands in sequence. You can get help on the command line for Lynx with:
w3m (pronounced W-three-M) is a text-based browser, similar to Lynx but with some major differences. While some terminal browsers reduce the web to the bare essentials, w3m allows for some graphical intricacies in your terminal. It can display tables in your terminal, and even frames (by converting them to tables first).
w3m can even display images, although most common terminals such as the GNOME terminal cannot display them. If you want images on the webpage in w3m you will need a terminal like xterm.
Like Lynx, w3m is available in most repositories by default. To install it on Ubuntu and other Debian-based distributionsWalk in:
sudo apt install w3m w3m-img
As w3m is technically a pager, it can read documents from standard input and will also exit if invoked without arguments. Walk in :
… will cause the application to close immediately, while:
… will take you to the home page of this site! However, you will not see images. w3m does not work well with lazy loading.
Navigation is, again, keyboard-driven, and to select a link, press Walk in. The application also has a context menu that you can activate by clicking the right mouse button.
3. Electronic Links
ELinks is a well-established and feature-rich text-based web browser with support for HTTP and FTP. It’s easy to use, straight out of the box, and is, in our eyes, more pleasing to the eye than w3m or Lynx.
Struck F10 on your keyboard will give you a menu bar where you can switch between images, save URLs, check your history, and more. Each entry in the menu system is accompanied by the appropriate keyboard shortcut. So while you may need to open a menu a few times at first, you’ll quickly master navigating proficiently using keyboard shortcuts.
There’s a terminal-based browser for everyone!
Remember that to see the full benefits of ELinks or w3m, your default system terminal won’t cut it – use xterm instead.
Explore the web like it’s 1993
Terminal-based web browsers allow you to browse the web on exceptionally low bandwidth and spec machines, while blocking out distractions and giving you greater control over privacy.
Another technology that existed when Lynx came on the scene is the Gopher network, later replaced by the Gemini protocol. This is enjoying a resurgence in popularity among niche tech enthusiasts.