Proposal for extended keyboard protocol

See discussion in
parent ba3a5e27
* Name: Extended keyboard protocol
* Start Date: 2019-02-06
# Summary
A new extended keyboard protocol for terminal emulators that allows
terminal applications to make full use of the keyboard, including all modifier
keys, special keys, etc. The protocol is opt-in, so has no backwards
compatibility constraints.
# Motivation
There are various problems with the current state of keyboard handling. They
* No way to use modifiers other than ``Ctrl`` and ``Alt``
* No way to reliably use multiple modifier keys, other than, ``Shift+Alt``.
* No way to handle different types of keyboard events, such as press, release or repeat
* No reliable way to distinguish single ``Esc`` keypresses from the start of a
escape sequence. Currently, client programs use fragile timing related hacks
for this, leading to bugs
# Detail
There are already two distinct keyboard handling modes, *normal mode* and
*application mode*. These modes generate different escape sequences for the
various special keys (arrow keys, function keys, home/end etc.) Most terminals
start out in normal mode, however, most shell programs like ``bash`` switch them to
application mode. We propose adding a third mode, named *full mode* that addresses
the shortcomings listed above.
Switching to the new *full mode* is accomplished using the standard private
mode DECSET escape sequence:
To leave *full mode*, use DECRST::
The number ``2017`` above is not used for any existing modes, as far as is known.
Client programs can query if the terminal emulator is in *full mode* by using
the standard [DECRQM]( escape sequence.
Further, this specification reserves the numbers ``2018-2025`` for future
keyboard protocols.
The new mode works as follows:
* All printable key presses without modifier keys are sent just as in the
*normal mode*. This means all printable ASCII characters and in addition,
``Enter``, ``Space`` and ``Backspace``. Also any unicode characters generated by
platform specific extended input modes, such as using the ``AltGr`` key. This
is done so that client programs that are not aware of this mode can still
handle basic text entry, so if a *full mode* using program crashes and does
not reset, the user can still issue a ``reset`` command in the shell to restore
normal key handling. Note that this includes pressing the ``Shift`` modifier
and printable keys. Note that this means there are no repeat and release
events for these keys and also for the left and right shift keys.
* For non printable keys and key combinations including one or more modifiers,
an escape sequence encoding the key event is sent. For details on the
escape sequence, see below.
The escape sequence encodes the following properties:
* Type of event: ``press,repeat,release``
* Modifiers pressed at the time of the event
* The actual key being pressed
Where ``<type>`` is one of ``p`` -- press, ``r`` -- release and ``t`` --
repeat. Modifiers is a bitmask represented as a single base64 digit. Shift --
``0x1``, Alt -- ``0x2``, Control -- ``0x4`` and Super -- ``0x8``. ``<key>`` is
a short text-string corresponding to the key pressed. The key name to
text-string mapping is defined in [this
Client programs must ignore events for keys they do not know. The mapping in
the above table is stable and will never change, however, new codes might be
added to it in the future, for new keys.
For example:
<ESC>_KpGp<ESC>\ is <Ctrl>+<Alt>+x (press)
<ESC>_KrP8<ESC>\ is <Ctrl>+<Alt>+<Shift>+<Super>+PageUp (release)
This encoding means each key event is represented by 8 or 9 printable ASCII
only bytes, for maximum robustness.
Support for this mode is also indicated by the ``fullkbd2017`` boolean capability
in the terminfo database, in case querying for it via DECQRM is inconvenient.
For a demo of this specification, you can install the
[kitty]( terminal emulator and inside it, run:
kitty +kitten key_demo
# Open Questions
A future protocol for gaming, which has key repeat/key up events for normal key
presses as well.
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