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What is Minicom?

By S.A. Keel
Updated May 16, 2024
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Minicom is a freely available serial communication program that runs under LINUX™ and other UNIX™ operating system variants. It works by providing a terminal emulator for communicating with other devices via a computer's serial port. This can be a direct computer-to-computer communication or for controlling a modem connected to the serial port. Many of the program's functions can be automated through the use of its own scripting language.

It was developed with the intent to provide a free, open source serial communications and modem control application for UNIX™-like computer systems. Inspired by the Telix program written for MS-DOS, in many ways, Minicom offers the same functions available to the HyperTerminal software used in Microsoft® Windows® operating systems. Minicom, however, is not a typical application with a graphical user interface (GUI). Instead, it runs via the command line and provides a text-based series of menu options for configuration. Once it is up and running, its operation is handled with keyboard commands and shortcut keys.

Since the serial port on the system is only accessible by the super-user account, known as root on UNIX™ systems, or those belonging to a special privilege group, called the dial-out group, regular users are unable to configure Minicom. For security purposes, most users aren't added to the dial-out group, so the system administrator typically configures the software for everybody through the root account. Once the serial port has been configured, the modem needs to be set up as well to tell the software what speed it is capable of and so forth. Additional settings for the software's operation can also be configured, such as specific locations for saving files, the location scripts should be run from, as well as other protocol settings.

Minicom is capable of using file transfer protocols (FTP) for uploading and downloading data. During setup, options to establish the protocol name, the program to run, and any additional FTP parameters are available in the main menu. After these protocols have been set up, as well as the other primary configuration options, some of Minicom's operations can be automated with the use of its scripting language.

Another bit of software is included with Minicom, but runs separately, and gives the ability to provide automation for frequently-used tasks. The runscript command is the interpreter used for just this purpose. It offers a series of keywords, many of which come with additional variable options. Scripts can be used for things like dialing an often-used number with the modem and logging into a server, downloading some data, and disconnecting from a server, and more.

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