Using screen to keep things running

Learning Objectives

  • Create a new screen session

  • Disconnect from a screen session

  • Reconnect to an existing screen session

  • End an existing screen session

  • Handling of Kerberos tokens

Often we want to run a program for a long time on a computer we connected to via ssh, like the lxplus machines. The screen program allows you to keep programs running on the remote computer even if you disconnect from it. For example when putting your laptop to sleep or losing wifi.

Connect to lxplus:

$ ssh

You can start screen by simply typing its name:

$ screen

Once you do this it will look as if nothing has happened. However you now have a fresh terminal inside what is refered to as a “screen session”. Let’s type some commands that generate some output:

$ uptime
 11:48:02 up 15 days, 20:36, 105 users,  load average: 2.26, 2.10, 3.16
$ date
Thu Apr 16 11:48:32 CEST 2015

To disconnect from this session press Ctrl-a d. We are now back to the terminal that we first started in. You can check that your screen session is still running by typing screen -list, which will list all active sessions:

$ screen -list
There is a screen on:
      25593.pts-44.lxplus0234   (Detached)
1 Socket in /var/run/screen/S-thead.

To reconnect to the session you use screen -rD. When there is just one session running (like now) then it will reconnect you to that session. Try it and you should see the date and time output by the date command we ran earlier.

When you have more than one session you need to provide the name of the session as an argument to screen -rD. The name of the above session is: 25593.pts-44.lxplus0234. You can reconnect to it with:

$ screen -rD 25593.pts-44.lxplus0234

To end a screen session you are currently connected to, simply press Ctrl-d. Just like you would to disconnect from a ssh session.

A screen session is tied to a specific computer. This means you need to remember which computer you connected to. Even if your screen session keeps running, you can only resume it from the same machine as you started it.

When connecting to lxplus you are assigned to a random computer, but you can find out its name with hostname:

$ hostname

This tells you that the computer you are connected to is called Later on you can re-connect to exactly this machine with:

$ ssh

On lxplus, you will need to ensure your session is not killed and your write permissions continue when you log out. See the persistent screen lesson for more information.


tmux is another program you can use to keep things running remotely. In practice, it is very similar to screen, but it has some minor differences. You can find syntax guides easily online, including guides showing the equivalent commands in tmux and screen (this one is quite good), but here’s a quick list of equivalent commands to those used in this lesson:

  • tmux ls instead of screen -list

  • Ctrl-b d to detach instead of Ctrl-a d (tmux in general uses Ctrl-b instead of Ctrl-a)

  • tmux a or tmux attach instead of screen -rD