start_color, init_pair, init_color, has_colors, can_change_color, color_content,
pair_content, COLOR_PAIR - curses color manipulation routines
# include <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 support 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 charac-
ters) and a background color (for the blank field on which the characters are displayed).
A programmer initializes a color-pair with the routine init_pair. After it has been ini-
tialized, COLOR_PAIR(n), a macro defined in <curses.h>, can be used as a new video at-
If a terminal is capable of redefining colors, the programmer can use the routine
init_color to change the definition of a color. The routines has_colors and
can_change_color return TRUE or FALSE, depending on whether the terminal has color capa-
bilities and whether the programmer can change the colors. The routine color_content al-
lows a programmer to extract the amounts of red, green, and blue components in an initial-
ized color. The routine pair_content allows a programmer to find out how a given color-
pair is currently defined.
The start_color routine requires no arguments. It must be called if the programmer wants
to use colors, and before any other color manipulation routine is called. It is good
practice to call this routine right after initscr. start_color initializes eight basic
colors (black, red, green, yellow, blue, magenta, cyan, and white), and two global vari-
ables, COLORS and COLOR_PAIRS (respectively defining the maximum number of colors and col-
or-pairs the terminal can support). It also restores the colors on the terminal to the
values they had when the terminal was just turned on.
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 foreground color number, and the back-
ground color number. For portable applications:
o The value of the first argument must be between 1 and COLOR_PAIRS-1, except that if
default colors are used (see use_default_colors) the upper limit is adjusted to allow
for extra pairs which use a default color in foreground and/or background.
o The value of the second and third arguments must be between 0 and COLORS. Color pair
0 is assumed to be white on black, but is actually whatever the terminal implements
before color is initialized. It cannot be modified by the application.
If the color-pair was previously initialized, the screen is refreshed and all occurrences
of that color-pair are changed to the new definition.
As an extension, ncurses allows you to set color pair 0 via the assume_default_colors rou-
tine, or to specify the use of default colors (color number -1) if you first invoke the
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 value of the first argument must be between 0 and COL-
ORS. (See the section Colors for the default color index.) Each of the last three argu-
ments must be a value between 0 and 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 manipu-
late colors; otherwise, it returns FALSE. This routine facilitates writing terminal-inde-
pendent programs. For example, a programmer can use it to decide whether to use color or
some other video attribute.
The can_change_color routine requires no arguments. It returns TRUE if the terminal sup-
ports colors and can change their definitions; other, it returns FALSE. This routine fa-
cilitates writing terminal-independent programs.
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 components in the given color. The value of the first argument must be between 0 and
COLORS. The values that are stored at the addresses pointed to by the last three argu-
ments are between 0 (no component) and 1000 (maximum amount of component).
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 value of the
first argument must be between 1 and COLOR_PAIRS-1. The values that are stored at the ad-
dresses pointed to by the second and third arguments are between 0 and COLORS.
In <curses.h> the following macros are defined. These are the default colors. curses al-
so 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 completion.
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 exten-
sion), 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 ini-
tialize_color capability is absent from the terminal description.
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 COLOR_PAIRS counts for each screen; the
start_color function only affects the current screen. The SVr4/XSI interface is not real-
ly designed with this in mind, and historical implementations may use a single shared col-
Note that setting an implicit background color via a color pair affects only character
cells that a character write operation explicitly touches. To change the background color
used when parts of a window are blanked by erasing or scrolling operations, see
Several caveats apply on 386 and 486 machines with VGA-compatible graphics:
o COLOR_YELLOW is actually brown. To get yellow, use COLOR_YELLOW combined with the
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 and COLOR_PAIRS.
The init_pair routine accepts negative values of foreground and background color to sup-
port 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 parameters when null.
curses(3X), curs_initscr(3X), curs_attr(3X), curs_variables(3X), default_colors(3X)