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Your Pretty Linux GUI Fails and Dumps You to a Console. Now What?

Staring At A Black Screen and a Command Prompt. Now What?

February 3, 2009

What can a Linux user do if you've been dumped to a black screen with a terminal prompt with a cursor blinking at you and you REALLY need access to troubleshooting information NOW? No GUI, no Firefox, no Opera. Hard drive indexing tools are generally GUI access, and just because the info is on your hard drive does not mean you necessarily know where in the filetree it is, and the locate command doesn't seem to work all the time.

But if one still has network access all is not lost.

The majority of Linux distros have a text-based web browser available, either installed by default or readily available via automated repository installation. You can use it to search for troubleshooting information.

It's called lynx. While any long-time Linux user knows lynx, long-time Linux users are becoming an increasingly small fraction of the Linux userbase. That's the reason for this article.

How to find out if lynx is installed, and how to install it if it isn't:

Open a terminal and type:

# aptitude install lynx

or in Ubuntu

$ sudo aptitude install lynx

Figure 1 shows you what Lynx looks like. The yellow-highlighted word at the top of the display is the highlighted link. The bottom of the display shows status messages, hints at what to do next and program options.

The terminal window surround aside, how much your lynx display resembles the above, including the colors depends on on your specific OS configuration. My computer shows the console (full-screen terminal instead of GUI) the same way, but with larger characters.

Basic commands

To display a complete list of current options before opening lynx:

lynx -help

start lynx at specific URL

lynx URL

e.g. $ lynx www.google.com


Down arrow:    go to and highlight next link
Left arrow:    return to previous (or first) web document = back or < on a GUI browser
Up arrow:    go to highlight previous link
Right arrow:    go to link URL
Enter:    go to link URL
tab:    go to and highlight next link
shift-tab:    go to previous page link

When moving down page gets you to a dotted line, that's a text entry box. What to put in it depends on what it's to. If it's a search box at Google, enter your search terms.

When the question accept cookies comes up, type Y or A; you won't get far in a data search if you don't accept them.

Note: these commands don't work if you've got a highlighted text entry area onscreen:

exit browser    q
history     backspace
add bookmark:    a - then add link using l
View bookmarks:     v
go to URL:    g then enter URL.

Google is your online basic troubleshooting resource.