DragonFly On-Line Manual Pages
start_color, init_pair, init_color, has_colors, can_change_color,
color_content, pair_content, COLOR_PAIR - curses color manipulation
# include <ncursesw/curses.h>
int init_pair(short pair, short f, short b);
int init_color(short color, short r, short g, short b);
int color_content(short color, short *r, short *g, short *b);
int pair_content(short pair, short *f, short *b);
curses supports color attributes on terminals with that capability. To
use these routines start_color must be called, usually right after
initscr. Colors are always used in pairs (referred to as color-pairs).
A color-pair consists of a foreground color (for characters) and a
background color (for the blank field on which the characters are dis-
played). A programmer initializes a color-pair with the routine
init_pair. After it has been initialized, COLOR_PAIR(n), a macro de-
fined in <curses.h>, can be used as a new video attribute.
If a terminal is capable of redefining colors, the programmer can use
the routine init_color to change the definition of a color. The rou-
tines has_colors and can_change_color return TRUE or FALSE, depending
on whether the terminal has color capabilities and whether the program-
mer can change the colors. The routine color_content allows a program-
mer to extract the amounts of red, green, and blue components in an
initialized color. The routine pair_content allows a programmer to
find out how a given color-pair is currently defined.
The curses library combines these inputs to produce the actual fore-
ground and background colors shown on the screen:
o per-character video attributes (e.g., via waddch),
o the window attribute (e.g., by wattrset), and
o the background character (e.g., wbkgdset).
Per-character and window attributes are usually set by a parameter con-
taining video attributes including a COLOR_PAIR value. Some functions
such as wattr_set use a separate parameter which is the color pair num-
The background character is a special case: it includes a character
value, just as if it were passed to waddch.
The curses library does the actual work of combining these color pairs
in an internal function called from waddch:
o If the parameter passed to waddch is blank, and it uses the special
color pair 0,
o curses next checks the window attribute.
o If the window attribute does not use color pair 0, curses uses
the color pair from the window attribute.
o Otherwise, curses uses the background character.
o If the parameter passed to waddch is not blank, or it does not use
the special color pair 0, curses prefers the color pair from the
parameter, if it is nonzero. Otherwise, it tries the window at-
tribute next, and finally the background character.
Some curses functions such as wprintw call waddch. Those do not com-
bine its parameter with a color pair. Consequently those calls use on-
ly the window attribute or the background character.
The start_color routine requires no arguments. It must be called if
the programmer wants to use colors, and before any other color manipu-
lation routine is called. It is good practice to call this routine
right after initscr. start_color does this:
o It initializes two global variables, COLORS and COLOR_PAIRS (re-
spectively defining the maximum number of colors and color-pairs
the terminal can support).
o It initializes the special color pair 0 to the default foreground
and background colors. No other color pairs are initialized.
o It restores the colors on the terminal to the values they had when
the terminal was just turned on.
o If the terminal supports the initc (initialize_color) capability,
start_color initializes its internal table representing the red,
green and blue components of the color palette.
The components depend on whether the terminal uses CGA (aka "ANSI")
or HLS (i.e., the hls (hue_lightness_saturation) capability is
set). The table is initialized first for eight basic colors
(black, red, green, yellow, blue, magenta, cyan, and white), and
after that (if the terminal supports more than eight colors) the
components are initialized to 1000.
start_color does not attempt to set the terminal's color palette to
match its built-in table. An application may use init_color to al-
ter the internal table along with the terminal's color.
These limits apply to color values and color pairs. Values outside
these limits are not legal, and may result in a runtime error:
o COLORS corresponds to the terminal database's max_colors capabili-
ty, which is typically a signed 16-bit integer (see terminfo(5)).
o color values are expected to be in the range 0 to COLORS-1, inclu-
sive (including 0 and COLORS-1).
o a special color value -1 is used in certain extended functions to
denote the default color (see use_default_colors).
o COLOR_PAIRS corresponds to the terminal database's max_pairs capa-
bility, which is typically a signed 16-bit integer (see termin-
o legal color pair values are in the range 1 to COLOR_PAIRS-1, inclu-
o color pair 0 is special; it denotes "no color".
Color pair 0 is assumed to be white on black, but is actually what-
ever the terminal implements before color is initialized. It can-
not be modified by the application.
The init_pair routine changes the definition of a color-pair. It takes
three arguments: the number of the color-pair to be changed, the fore-
ground color number, and the background color number. For portable ap-
o The first argument must be a legal color pair value. If default
colors are used (see use_default_colors) the upper limit is adjust-
ed to allow for extra pairs which use a default color in foreground
o The second and third arguments must be legal color values.
If the color-pair was previously initialized, the screen is refreshed
and all occurrences of that color-pair are changed to the new defini-
As an extension, ncurses allows you to set color pair 0 via the as-
sume_default_colors routine, or to specify the use of default colors
(color number -1) if you first invoke the use_default_colors routine.
The init_color routine changes the definition of a color. It takes
four arguments: the number of the color to be changed followed by three
RGB values (for the amounts of red, green, and blue components). The
first argument must be a legal color value; default colors are not al-
lowed here. (See the section Colors for the default color index.)
Each of the last three arguments must be a value in the range 0 through
1000. When init_color is used, all occurrences of that color on the
screen immediately change to the new definition.
The has_colors routine requires no arguments. It returns TRUE if the
terminal can manipulate colors; otherwise, it returns FALSE. This rou-
tine facilitates writing terminal-independent programs. For example, a
programmer can use it to decide whether to use color or some other
The can_change_color routine requires no arguments. It returns TRUE if
the terminal supports colors and can change their definitions; other,
it returns FALSE. This routine facilitates writing terminal-indepen-
The color_content routine gives programmers a way to find the intensity
of the red, green, and blue (RGB) components in a color. It requires
four arguments: the color number, and three addresses of shorts for
storing the information about the amounts of red, green, and blue com-
ponents in the given color. The first argument must be a legal color
value, i.e., 0 through COLORS-1, inclusive. The values that are stored
at the addresses pointed to by the last three arguments are in the
range 0 (no component) through 1000 (maximum amount of component), in-
The pair_content routine allows programmers to find out what colors a
given color-pair consists of. It requires three arguments: the color-
pair number, and two addresses of shorts for storing the foreground and
the background color numbers. The first argument must be a legal color
value, i.e., in the range 1 through COLOR_PAIRS-1, inclusive. The val-
ues that are stored at the addresses pointed to by the second and third
arguments are in the range 0 through COLORS, inclusive.
In <curses.h> the following macros are defined. These are the standard
colors (ISO-6429). curses also assumes that COLOR_BLACK is the default
background color for all terminals.
The routines can_change_color() and has_colors() return TRUE or FALSE.
All other routines return the integer ERR upon failure and an OK (SVr4
specifies only "an integer value other than ERR") upon successful com-
X/Open defines no error conditions. This implementation will return
ERR on attempts to use color values outside the range 0 to COLORS-1
(except for the default colors extension), or use color pairs outside
the range 0 to COLOR_PAIRS-1. Color values used in init_color must be
in the range 0 to 1000. An error is returned from all functions if the
terminal has not been initialized. An error is returned from secondary
functions such as init_pair if start_color was not called.
returns an error if the terminal does not support this feature,
e.g., if the initialize_color capability is absent from the
returns an error if the color table cannot be allocated.
In the ncurses implementation, there is a separate color activation
flag, color palette, color pairs table, and associated COLORS and COL-
OR_PAIRS counts for each screen; the start_color function only affects
the current screen. The SVr4/XSI interface is not really designed with
this in mind, and historical implementations may use a single shared
Note that setting an implicit background color via a color pair affects
only character cells that a character write operation explicitly touch-
es. To change the background color used when parts of a window are
blanked by erasing or scrolling operations, see curs_bkgd(3X).
Several caveats apply on 386 and 486 machines with VGA-compatible
o COLOR_YELLOW is actually brown. To get yellow, use COLOR_YELLOW
combined with the A_BOLD attribute.
o The A_BLINK attribute should in theory cause the background to go
bright. This often fails to work, and even some cards for which it
mostly works (such as the Paradise and compatibles) do the wrong
thing when you try to set a bright "yellow" background (you get a
blinking yellow foreground instead).
o Color RGB values are not settable.
This implementation satisfies XSI Curses's minimum maximums for COLORS
The init_pair routine accepts negative values of foreground and back-
ground color to support the use_default_colors extension, but only if
that routine has been first invoked.
The assumption that COLOR_BLACK is the default background color for all
terminals can be modified using the assume_default_colors extension.
This implementation checks the pointers, e.g., for the values returned
by color_content and pair_content, and will treat those as optional pa-
rameters when null.
curses(3X), curs_initscr(3X), curs_attr(3X), curs_variables(3X), de-